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Posts Tagged ‘distance learning’

I had the great pleasure of participating and serving as a moderator* for TechChange’s Mobiles for International Development course from October 15-November 4, 2011, along with a great group of people interested in how mobile phones can support development processes.

Course topics included mMoney; mHealth; mobiles for monitoring, evaluation and data collection; mobiles and radio; and mobiles in education.

The first week of the course went both broad and deep via a compilation of blogs, videos and longer documents from a range of thinkers and doers in the mobile space.

The second week introduced participants to a number of mobile tools, including MPesa (Mobile Money Transfer Platform), InSTEDD GeoChat and Riff (Mobile Collaboration and Data Stream Analysis Software), RapidSMS/Souktel (Mass Texting Software Interface), Sana Mobile (Mobile Diagnostics Platform), Medic Mobile, TxtEagle, FreedomFone.

The third week offered a number of chats with well-known practitioners and thinkers in the above mentioned areas or developers of particular tools that had been covered in week 2.

Things I liked about the course:

  • Platform. The TechChange platform is really nice. It’s engaging and well-designed. Things are easy to find making participation smooth. It took me a day or so to learn where to find things, but after that, it was easy to join in and access the course materials.
  • Format. This was my first ever on-line course and I found it very energizing and thought-provoking. I loved that the first week was an in depth overview on ICTs and development in general. We were exposed to a huge range of thinking from very positive to very wary and critical of the use mobiles and ICTs in development work. Long and short videos, blogs, guides and research were made available and these really stimulated a lot of discussion around development models and frameworks, the role of NGOs and corporations, e-waste, top down vs bottom up, innovation and local capacities, and all kinds of issues. The second week dove deeper into particular areas and many of these discussions continued, but now with different groups as people began self-selecting according to their particular interests (health, education, etc.) Unfortunately I missed most of the 3rd week because I was out at another conference, but the roster of experts who came onto the platform to chat with the group was stellar and according to participant feedback, quite stimulating as well.
  • Discussions. The format was conducive to great discussions, from small group Skype discussions (each participant was assigned to a small group at the beginning, and these groups held a few discussions over the course period), to random chats, to forums and sometimes Twitter. These discussions were very useful to generate new ideas and dig into topics and tricky issues.
  • Participants. On the one hand it might be nice to have courses aimed at levels of experience, but on the other hand I liked that there were all levels of expertise chatting and discussing, and people from a wide range of backgrounds. This enriched the group discussions and the variety of inputs.
  • Organizers. The organizers did a stellar job of engaging and encouraging the group and being responsive to any technical difficulties encountered.

Things I would like to see in future courses:

  • Less hours per week. It was hard for me to clear my schedule to participate in everything as I would have liked. Dispersing the activities over 4 rather than 3 weeks (as the organizers are planning for the future) might help with that. Of course this might be an issue with me, not with everyone. The good thing is that course materials are available for a few months after the course has closed.
  • Short sessions on setting up specific tools. I was really glad that Tech Change took the full first week to look at the big picture before focusing in on tools and  I was super impressed with the wide range of materials they pulled together to get people thinking and discussing all the different aspects that need considering before deciding on a technology tool or “solution.” I think it would be really helpful, following the big picture thinking, to offer some short courses or sessions focusing on the actual technical use of particular tools so that participants can get hands-on experience also.
  • General courses as well as in-depth courses. This course was fantastic for getting a general overview, and good for both people with little experience with mobiles in development and for those who already have technical or practical experiences with programs with a mobile or ICT element. It would be great to also have courses that focus an entire 2-3 weeks on one aspect such as ICTs in Education, mHealth or mMoney. I certainly could have spent 2-3 weeks learning about and discussing a single aspect of “m” something. I’m sure TechChange has their hands full with new course offerings, but as they expand, this would be great to see.
Overall, I really enjoyed the course and hope to participate in another one in the future. I’d definitely recommend these courses to others interested in ICTs and development.
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*Note – I attended the course gratis in exchange for helping TechChange shape the content and curriculum and serving as a moderator during the course. (Thank you, social media. Thank you, barter system!)
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A few other posts related to development of the course:
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Almost a year ago, I met Ernst Suur (@ernstsuur) for the first time. We bonded in frustration over the irony of not being able to find any on-line courses to study ICT4D. We each did some research and didn’t come up with much, so we agreed I should write a blog post (See: Where’s the ICT4D distance learning?) to see if we could crowd source anything to help us out. We got some great comments with some good resources for the few courses that do exist or the ones that are in design.

We also discovered TechChange, a newish organization looking to develop some on-line ICT4D courses. We all chatted a couple of times and decided to co-host a ICT4D chat on Twitter to see if we could come up with some additional ideas on what kinds of courses people were interested in. (See the chat summary here). I also had a chance to meet with Nick, Mark and Jordan in their DC office to discuss ideas.

So I’m really excited to see that now TechChange has 3 new on-line courses happening this year:

1) Tech Tools and Skills for Emergency Management from September 5-23.

‘This course will explore how new communication and mapping technologies are being used to respond to disasters, create early warning mechanisms, improve coordination efforts and much more. It will also consider some of the key challenges related to access, implementation, scale, and verification that working with new platforms present. The course is designed to assist professionals in developing concrete strategies and technological skills to work amid this rapidly evolving landscape.  Participants can expect a dynamic and interactive learning environment with a variety of real world examples from organizations working in the field including those involved in the humanitarian response to the Haitian earthquake’

Course topics include: Crisis mapping, human rights violations and elections monitoring, citizen journalism and crowd sourcing, and information overload and decision-making in real-time.

ICT tools covered include: Ushahidi, Quantum GIS, FrontlineSMS, Open Street Map, Managing News.

2) Global Innovations for Digital Organizing: New Media Tactics for Democratic Change from September 26-October 4.

‘New platforms of communication are revolutionizing social dynamics by democratizing access to and production of media. From Barack Obama’s youth mobilization efforts to the ongoing uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa, this course will examine how new channels of communication are being utilized and to what extent these efforts and techniques are successful or unsuccessful in a given context.  It will also provide participants with strategies for maximizing the impact of new media and train them in the effective use of a range of security and privacy tools.’

Course topics include: the new media landscape, offline organization and change through online mobilization, data and metrics, censorship, privacy and security.

3) Mobiles for International Development: New Platforms for Health, Finance and Education from October 16-November4.

‘The mobile phone is rapidly bringing communication to the most remote areas of the world. NGOs, governments and companies alike are beginning to realize the potential of this ubiquitous tool to address social challenges. This course will explore successful applications that facilitate economic transactions, support public health campaigns and connect learners to educational content. It will also critically engage with issues of equity, privacy and access.’

Course topics include: mobile money systems, mHealth and mobile diagnostics, data management for monitoring and evaluation, many-to-many communications integrating mobiles and radio, and mobile learning.

ICT tools covered include: mPesa, RapidSMS/Souktel, Sana Mobile, Medic Mobile, TxtEagle and FreedomFone.

Modalities:

Each course costs $350 (or $250 early bird price) and runs for 3 weeks. The courses require a time commitment of at least 6 hours per week in order to earn the certificate. There are also plenty of opportunities for those that want to spend more time to engage with additional materials and students can access content up to 6 months after course is over. The entire course will be delivered on-line ‘involving a variety of innovative online teaching approaches, including presentations, discussions, case studies, group exercises, simulations and will make extensive use of multimedia.’

I’ll be attending the 3rd course gratis in exchange for helping TechChange continue to shape the content and curriculum and providing feedback on the features and content. (Thank you, social media. Thank you, barter system!)

Register for any of the 3 courses here.

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On January 11, 2011 from 11-12am, TechChange and I co-hosted a tweet chat on ICT for Development (ICT4D) distance learning. The idea came up after Ernst Suur and I spent a few months lamenting the irony that we couldn’t find any good on-line training around ICT4D, nor did we see ourselves being able to quit our jobs or reduce our work-related travel, move to where a university offering ICT4D is located, and accumulate a huge debt by going back to get an advanced university degree the traditional way. We wrote a post asking “Where’s the ICT4D Distance Learning” and had a few conversations with the guys at TechChange and a few others who are working on developing some solutions to that issue.

During the Twitter chat, we asked a set of questions about topics, timing, accreditation, skills, and delivery models to get a sense of what might appeal to potential learners. We had almost 60 people participate in the chat, and apparently our hashtag, #ICT4DDL, was even a top trending topic in Washington DC at around 11:30. Here’s the archive.

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I had a chance to meet in person with Mark, Nick and Jordan from TechChange last week while I was in DC and these guys are smoking! They are seriously moving on creating visually attractive, stimulating and engaging e-learning in the area of ICT4D. I’m looking forward to collaborating more with them as they develop courses and methodologies that can help people from different backgrounds and with different needs to access ICT4D training and learning. I like their approach of involving practitioners, looking at ICT4D strategically (eg, integrating it to achieve goals, learning how to choose the right technology and decide if technology is necessary at all) and supporting on the practical side (how to use specific ICT tools) and I think this type of training, if all goes well, will be a great opportunity for us all to get trained up in those areas we feel we are still missing.

Mark wrote up the following summary of the themes and highlights from the chat [the original post is here on TechChange’s site: Recap of ICT4D Tweet Chat (#ICT4DDL)].

Course Topics: Some of the most popular ideas for courses included: social media for social change, sustainability, mobiles for development, and a course on ways to create and sustain collaboration through an online community. It was pointed out that users needs would be different based on access to and familiarity with technology. @fiona_bradley mentioned the need for strategic thinking and project planning for veteran change agents, because “tools change fast”.

Delivery: There was a desire expressed for blended learning models (face-to-face and online) and a sentiment that ICT4D face-to-face training was important. (list of existing ICT4D programs). There was also a feeling that experienced practitioners should be part of the course experience and that more needs to be done to engage them (@ICT_Works). Others stressed the fact that distance learning is the only option for those working in remote areas.

Credit vs. Certification: People generally preferred courses for credit, but some acknowledged that they had neither the time nor the funding for a full university degree course. Shorter-term certificate courses on specific topics appealed to many in the group.

The feedback we received throughout the tweet chat was quite useful, and as expected there was a wide variety of opinions expressed. As TechChange moves forward, we look forward to tailoring our courses to the needs of these and other users. We’re in the process of developing a 10-week online flagship course on Technology for Social Change. Everyone will be able access Unit 1 for free. From there we will develop more specialized courses and certification programs on subjects such as Technology for crisis response, Social media for social change, mHealth, and the Future of mobile devices for development. We are also working with individual organizations such as FrontlineSMS to create learning tools tailored specifically for their applications.

I’m really looking forward to taking some of the courses that TechChange comes up with and helping develop materials for some of them too.

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A little more than a month ago, I wrote a post asking ‘Where is the ICT4D distance learning.’ Ernst Suur and I had been trying to figure that out since last July.

A bunch of ideas and information came in via the comments section that helped us to figure out what is happening in the space, including info about ICT4D advanced degrees options, short courses, related courses, etc.

In addition to following up with a couple established universities to see if (and when) they might be offering Masters level ICT4D programs, Ernst and I had a skype meeting with Mark Weingarten and Nick Martin, the folks over at TechChange (the Institute for Technology and Social Change).

TechChange is a new organization dedicated to training practitioners and students to effectively leverage emerging technologies for social change. They are building tools and courses for ICT4D and have already partnered with a number of universities — eg., American University, George Washington University, the UN University for Peace — to deliver face-to-face courses in topics like ‘technology for crisis response’ and ‘social media for social change.’ They also have upcoming projects planned with U4UshahidiSouktel, and FrontlineSMS. In addition to in-person trainings, TechChange is designing learning tools for use in online courses and degree programs.

As Mark commented, ‘We are developing curricula for practitioners (including those working in the field), and recognizing that needs and schedules vary. Some people and organizations might want to quickly learn how to use specific ICT tools, but others may want a more in-depth understanding of the entire ICT4D ecosystem, its successes, its failures, and where things are headed in the future. We want to better understand this range of needs and tailor our courses. We’re also interested in knowing more about what else is being done in this space and what other examples we can learn from.’

In order to get some wider input, we invite you to join us for a twitter chat on ICT4D Distance Learning on Friday, January 14th at 11 am EST. The hashtag will be #ICT4DDL.

We will cover 5 questions:

  1. Topics: What sorts of courses would interest you most? What topics are most relevant?
  2. Timing: What timeframe for distance learning courses would best suit your schedule and needs? Short-term courses on specific topics (or tools) vs. more in-depth courses?  3 hr modules or ten week facilitated trainings?
  3. Credit: How important are things like credit or degree programs? Are certifications enough?
  4. Skills: What skills would you like to gain as a participant – considering 1) university students just entering the field and 2) practitioners taking professional development courses.
  5. Delivery: How does connectivity affect your ability to take courses? What about in the case of others who might be interested in this type of training but are not on Twitter/online as often? Is a mobile option a good idea?

Tips for a good Twitter Chat:

  • Login 5 mins ahead of time and be ready with a short introduction (eg, Cathy here, I manage maternal health pgms at XYZ in Malawi, we’re just getting started with ICT4D).
  • Tools like TweetChat which automatically add the hashtag and refresh often are helpful to keep up with the conversation.

We look forward to chatting on Friday, January 14th at 11 am EST and welcome any questions or comments before then!

Related posts on Wait… What?

Where is the ICT4D Distance Learning?

3 ways to incorporate ICTs into development work

Demystifying Internet

ICT4D in Uganda: ICT does not equal computers

It’s all part of the ICT4D jigsaw: Plan Mozambique ICT4D workshop

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Last summer I had the chance to meet with War Child in Holland to talk about our shared excitement and common challenges in using social media and ICTs in program work (eg., to further program goals and as enablers in community level work with children and youth). I met Ernst Suur there, and over the past several months we’ve been trying to find an on-line Masters Degree in ICT4D. There are a couple places that are considering this type of course in the future, but we were not able to lay our fingers on anything concrete at this point.  As Ernst says: Isn’t it funny that you can learn online how to knit, but ICT4D isn’t taught much online yet?

The constraints that both Ernst and I have are that we work full-time (and then some) at jobs that require a lot of travel so it’s impossible to attend a normal schedule of university classes. We also live on salaries that don’t leave extra for furthering our education and we don’t want to spend the rest of our lives in debt. We would like a program that is not completely focused on the technology, but that instead really goes into depth on how ICTs can enable better processes, results and outcomes in development work. We are both working on program initiatives that would benefit from focused ICT4D research and deeper thinking that a guided process of shared learning and discussion could provide. We work with colleagues across our organizations who, like us, are interested in and would benefit from more systematic learning and focused ICT4D capacity strengthening but who are also not in a position to attend traditional university courses (or these courses are simply not offered where we live).

We are assuming that there are others out there from other organizations in similar conditions with similar interests. For example, at the October 2010 International Conference on Crisis Mapping (ICCM) in Boston there was mention of the need for further education opportunities on ICTs in Crisis Situations.

After doing some on-line research to find options and contacting some individuals, Ernst and I thought a next step would be to do a bit of crowd sourcing to find out if there is something that already exists that we are missing. As Ernst said: Better well stolen than badly invented.

If anyone has any thoughts, please share them in the comments section or contact me at lindaraftree at gmail.

For example:

  • Are there existing on-line masters level courses that we have missed out on in our desktop research?
  • If you could design an on-line ICT4D masters program that would fit your needs, what would it look like – eg, would there be face-to-face meetings? How often and for how long? Where?
  • What are the key topics/areas/disciplines that would be covered in an on-line ICT4D course?
  • What would some of the required courses be and who could teach us?
  • What would a reasonable cost be?
  • Who might be willing to offer scholarships for this type of study course? Eg., in whose interest is it to strengthen these capacities?

Please share your thoughts and ideas so we can build a strong case, because we believe that ICT4D should walk the talk and talk the walk and make online higher education and distance learning available for everyone.

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