Two groups of children, from two different classrooms, talk to each other via an Internet-enabled screen. The first group asks the second group: “Is it hot where you are?" The second group replies, and then asks the first group a question: “Do you speak Spanish?" The first group replies, and asks another question. Both sets of children continuously refer to their world maps and try and work out in which cities their counterparts could be located.

This is Mystery Skype, a new way of teaching geography to schoolchildren. Teachers and students in two classrooms in different countries are connected over Skype. Students play a structured, real-time guessing game to find out the other classroom’s location.

Mystery Skype is part of a suite of online tools connecting educators around the world, collectively called “Skype in the classroom", developed for Skype by Made by Many, a London-based company specializing in developing digital tools and products.

“Skype realized that teachers were using their software in incredible ways that they hadn’t imagined, setting up new classroom experiences through classroom-to-classroom sessions, as well as classroom-to-expert sessions. These were pioneering and motivated teachers with their own blogs. The problem was that they just couldn’t find each other very easily. Skype wanted to encourage them, so we just helped them, as facilitators, by developing a tool for them to do so," explains Tim Malbon, founding partner, Made by Many. “Skype in the classroom" serves as an online directory and resource for educators so that communication is easier and more effective.

Malbon was one of over 20 international speakers sharing innovative work at the IAA (International Advertising Association) Kyoorius DigiYatra in Goa on 11 September. The DigiYatra focuses on digital design and was a part of the three-day Kyoorius DesignYatra, an annual design, branding and communication conference, now in its ninth year.

Unlike last year’s edition, where speakers highlighted how companies were investing in digital properties to engage consumers, this year the common theme running through presentations was the close interweaving of digital properties and personal lives.

If you would like to know what it really feels like to step into someone else’s shoes, or if you are running late and need a gentle prod to nudge you towards your meeting, maybe you need a pair of “SuperShoes". Invented by India-born Dhairya Dand, a graduate of the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Media Lab, US, SuperShoes is a tool that unites any pair of shoes, a mobile phone, a computer app and a silicon insole. The insole has several pieces of hardware, including a Bluetooth device, microcontroller, batteries, “vibrotactile ticklers" and a capacitive pad, to sense a user’s walk and receive and share information with his/her computer and phone.

Once you insert the insole in your shoes and switch on the app (already loaded with schedule), the shoes effectively turn into a real-time navigation device—if you’re walking and take a left instead of a right, the right shoe “tickles" you, through the three ticklers. Or if you’re late for an appointment, both shoes tickle you. Simultaneously, you receive an alert on your phone, notifying about change in direction or reminding about an appointment.

“My group at the Media Lab worked a lot in physicality of digital information. I’m interested in exploring how can you mix the two and how can that lead to richer experience for people," says Dand, who was present at the event. His other inventions include colour-changing ice cubes, which morph from green to red to caution heavy drinkers to stop drinking. He and other collaborators have also devised “shape changing" display screens and interfaces, which have attracted the attention of automobile manufacturers, to make car seats more ergonomic for individual users.

Those struggling with email proliferation might have a solution to help them understand why that is the case. Fellow MIT Media Lab graduate Deepak Jagdish, in partnership with colleagues at the Lab, created “Immersion", a tool that provides a “person-centric view of one’s email life". On logging into Immersion, the tool uses the “From", “To", “CC" and “Timestamp" fields of the mail in the account you are signing in with, to create a “spider’s web-like" map depicting the people you connect with most often. Larger hubs depict greater frequency of communication and different nodes capture varied groups of friends, family members or colleagues.

Data privacy concerns are addressed, as Immersion will not access the subject or the body content of any mails. Once the chart of connection is created, users can decide whether they would like Immersion to save or delete their mail data, emphasizes Jagdish. The goal is to lead users to think about their communication patterns, he says. “After using Immersion, our adviser realized that the bulk of his email and correspondence was with our group, where work happens. But his face-time was low because he was travelling so much. He didn’t like this situation, and so he cancelled his travel for next seven months, and was at the lab instead. Our group’s productivity increased due to his decision," notes Jagadish. Jagdish is working on a more advanced version that allows users to search by event, in addition to searching by people.

Keeping human needs and emotions is central to digital design, even in everyday products such as websites. London-based independent content strategist Elizabeth McGuane offered practical advice for anyone with an interest in digital publishing at the event. A former journalist and user experience designer, McGuane’s clients include large healthcare and insurance companies.

“Companies are interested in user testing, but not always in testing content. They are not always looking to understand how users react emotionally to issues. They are more focused on the interface: Why are you looking at this? How will you get through the flow? But especially when you’re dealing with products such as mortgages and life insurance, emotional responses to online content, both written and images, are important," she says.

Clearly, the relationship between people and technology is becoming more nuanced in many ways in everyday life.

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