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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!

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