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Pen Neighbour 笔邻: A Research-Creation Approach to Intervening in Short-Term Volunteer Programs in Rural China

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Pen Neighbour 笔邻: A Research-Creation Approach to Intervening in Short-Term Volunteer Programs in Rural China

Zhou, Mandi (2020) Pen Neighbour 笔邻: A Research-Creation Approach to Intervening in Short-Term Volunteer Programs in Rural China. Masters thesis, Concordia University.

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Abstract

Education inequality is one of the most pressing concerns in rural China today. Every summer, thousands of volunteers, mostly Chinese highschool and college students, travel from other cities and countries to help fill the education gaps in China by teaching the students. However, as volunteerism becomes more and more popular, the quality of short-term volunteer programs has become questionable, in terms of improving students' academic performance. This research-creation project investigates three critical questions: Are the short-term volunteer
programs in rural China genuinely effective? How can I intervene as a designer? What would be a solution or an alternative to the short-term volunteer programs?
From evaluating Chinese economic disparity to learning from several case studies of volunteer programs in a closer lens, this paper is divided into three parts: the first part paints a picture of the current landscape of short-term volunteer programs in China; the second part of the research explores the potential for a creative intervention through design justice, design for pluriverse, participatory design, and embodiment; lastly, the third part walks through the development of an interactive application entitled Pen Neighbour with generative research methods, such as cultural probe study, participatory observation, surveys, interviews, and user testing.
Based on the research results, short-term volunteer programs do not ultimately fulfill the educational gaps in rural China due to short service periods and a lack of supervision and training. Therefore, the goal of the project is to fill the gaps in traditional short-term volunteer programs in rural China by providing an alternative volunteer approach that incorporates the principle of design justice throughout the research and design process. The participatory research method empowers the students and other stakeholders of the programs by giving them voices. It allows them to make design decisions based upon their opinions and preferences in every step of the research-creation process. Through an iterative design process, Pen Neighbour has evolved from a traditional one-on-one penpal program to an embodied experience on a digital mobile application prototype. The current design of Pen Neighbour prolongs the service period of the volunteer programs by building long-term relationships between the volunteers and the students, one letter at a time. In Pen Neighbour, volunteers are no longer limited to being
trained teachers; instead, they become mentors, friends, big brothers, and sisters with the students. Most importantly, it gives an equal opportunity for both the students and volunteers to design the program and their own Pen Neighbour experience, which is something that
traditional volunteer programs lack.

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Fine Arts > Design and Computation Arts
Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Authors:Zhou, Mandi
Institution:Concordia University
Degree Name:M.Des.
Program:Design
Date:31 January 2020
Thesis Supervisor(s):Wright, M
ID Code:986494
Deposited By: Mandi Zhou
Deposited On:26 Jun 2020 13:45
Last Modified:26 Jun 2020 13:45
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