Indigenous Language Preservation project won two Human-Computer Interaction Awards

Heike Winschiers-Theophilus, Director/Professor in the School of Computing and Informatics won two prestigious IFIP TC.13 awards; the Brian Shackel Award and the Interaction Design for International Development Award 2015 for her outstanding paper entitled “Penan’s Oroo’ Short Message Signs (PO-SMS): Co-design of a Digital Jungle Sign Language Application” as co-authored with Tariq Zaman from the University of Malaysia Sarawak. The awards were handed over during the opening ceremony of the INTERACT 2015 conference, held at the Welcome Centre Bamberg, Germany, on the 16th of September. INTERACT is a prestigious bi-annual international conference, which received 651 submission, with an acceptance rate of 29.6 %, only 93 full research papers were accepted.

The IFIP Brian Shackel Award recognises the most outstanding contribution with international impact, which draws attention to the need for a comprehensive human-centred approach in the design and use of information technology in which the human and social implications have been taken into account. The Interaction Design for International Development Award recognizes the most outstanding contribution to the application of interactive systems for social and economic development of people in developing countries. This is the first time that a paper has won two awards handed out at an INTERACT conference.

The paper presents one of the most recent technology co-design ventures as part of a larger project on indigenous knowledge management and language preservation within a long term community development collaboration established between the Institute of Social Informatics and Technological Innovations (ISITI) at the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS), and the Long Lamai community. The Oroo’ project under the leadership of Tariq Zaman is run in close collaboration with Heike Winschiers-Theophilus from the Polytechnic of Namibia. Oroo’, a very peculiar jungle sign language of the semi-nomadic Penan in Malaysia, Borneo Island, is at the virtue of extinction with recent changes in lifestyle. The youth inhabiting the rainforest are more drawn to technology than traditional forest activities needing cognizance of Oroo’. Complementing previous efforts of database, tangible and game developments, the researchers postulated that a language can only be revitalized if integrated in daily use. Thus the Penan’s Oroo’ Short Message Signs (PO-SMS) application, which extends current technology driven communication means, was developed following a community-based co-design approach, where a group of local youth and elders have led the unique design of their own digital indigenous communication tool.

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