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Screen Shot 2015-09-02 at 7.38.45 PMBack in 2010, I wrote a post called “Where’s the ICT4D distance learning?” which lead to some interesting discussions, including with the folks over at TechChange, who were just getting started out. We ended up co-hosting a Twitter chat (summarized here) and having some great discussions on the lack of opportunities for humanitarian and development practitioners to professionalize their understanding of ICTs in their work.

It’s pretty cool today, then, to see that in addition to having run a bunch of on-line short courses focused on technology and various aspects of development and social change work, TechChange is kicking off their first Diploma program focusing on using ICT for monitoring and evaluation — an area that has become increasingly critical over the past few years.

I’ve participated in a couple of these short courses, and what I like about them is that they are not boring one-way lectures. Though you are studying at a distance, you don’t feel like you’re alone. There are variations on the type and length of the educational materials including short and long readings, videos, live chats and discussions with fellow students and experts, and smaller working groups. The team and platform do a good job of providing varied pedagogical approaches for different learning styles.

The new Diploma in ICT and M&E program has tracks for working professionals (launching in September of 2015) and prospective Graduate Students (launching in January 2016). Both offer a combination of in-person workshops, weekly office hours, a library of interactive on-demand courses, access to an annual conference, and more. (Disclaimer – you might see some of my blog posts and publications there).

The graduate student track will also have a capstone project, portfolio development support, one-on-one mentorship, live simulations, and a job placement component. Both courses take 16 weeks of study, but these can be spread out over a whole year to provide maximum flexibility.

For many of us working in the humanitarian and development sectors, work schedules and frequent travel make it difficult to access formal higher-level schooling. Not to mention, few universities offer courses related to ICTs and development. The idea of incurring a huge debt is also off-putting for a lot of folks (including me!). I’m really happy to see good quality, flexible options for on-line learning that can improve how we do our work and that also provides the additional motivation of a diploma certificate.

You can find out more about the Diploma program on the TechChange website  (note: registration for the fall course ends September 11th).

 

 

 

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Starting next week, I’ll be participating in TechChange‘s course on Global Innovations for Digital Organizing: Open Data, Good Governance and Online/Offline Advocacy. I’m excited about it because the topics are among the things I’m most interested in, and I think they deserve a closer and more focused look.

I wrote a post back in November 2010 asking “where’s the ICT4D distance learning.” This led me to discover TechChange, and in January 2011 we co-hosted an “ICT4D Distance Learning Tweet Chat.” Since then I’ve been collaborating with the team to input into course ideas. I also participated as a moderator in the Mobiles in International Development course last year.

So after a year of running courses, what has TechChange learned? Nick Martin, TechChange founder, says that online learning needs to be social in order for it to be effective. “Most organizations think of ‘online learning’ as uploading powerpoints or manuals onto their website or hosting monthly webinars for their employees, but it can and should be so much more than this. By emphasizing social elements such as video chats, collaborative simulations, small group discussions and through the use of video game mechanics (point systems, progress bars, and good graphics) we keep participants engaged and connected with one another, not just the content.”

Working across time zones can be a challenge, as I also discovered when moderating the Mobiles in Development course. Scheduling in side chats was difficult, but that’s not something that’s easy to fix. TechChange tries to address this by “combining synchronous and asynchronous learning in the same platform and keeping the balance between a persistent learning network where people can socialize (via video, audio, and text) with each other and experts, and allowing people to get caught up on weekends when they fall behind so that they don’t feel left out,” according to Nick.

One thing the group learned about running this kind of course is that when engaging external experts in webinars and chats, informal-yet-direct interaction is much better than more produced content.

“We tried doing formal studio-style interviews with our experts, but found that most students just tuned out like they were watching a TV show. When the experts were just talking directly to the camera from their laptops, we found students asked more questions and participated more. They really appreciated the access to experts and weren’t particular about the production value of the webcast. Sometimes less is more,” Nick says.

Personal attention can still be a challenge, however. So TechChange emphasizes the role and importance of moderators. Their last Mobiles for International Development course had 70 students from 30 countries (see map below), making moderators a key part of personalization.

TechChange recently ran an online course for Pakistani students in partnership with IREX, where Nick says the challenge was keeping up with the students. “They brought creative ideas from their cultural exchange program with Global UGRAD-Pakistan, so we were always trying to tailor lessons around ways to improve or discuss their experiences. IREX was very focused on using our platform to create a tailored four-week program for the students, so we were able to tweak it as we went along.” (Read more here: TechChange Lessons from Training Pakistani Students Online)

The class with the Pakistani group was based on the Global Innovations for Digital Organizing course. TechChange had information ahead of time on the participant profile (the students were from Pakistan, undergraduate education, good English, decent connectivity), so they were able to maximize the experience by bringing in local partners like Pakistan Youth Alliance and Khudi and targeting youth leaders that they thought would resonate (like Prashan De Visser of Sri Lanka Unites). However, doing a class in Pakistan presented some difficulties, such as rolling power outages and load shedding. “We had to really make sure everything was optimized for low bandwidth and archiving.”

What does the future hold for TechChange? According to Nick, the group is pushing ahead on two fronts:

  1. Working with technology firms to create courses that can help them better engage their user communities
  2. Helping international development organizations integrate online learning into their local capacity building projects.

The open enrollment courses will remain, but the team will be focusing more on partnering with tech/development firms to help them build out their engaged communities. “There’s already a ton of cool tools out there that we love to teach, like Ushahidi and OpenStreetMap, but the biggest challenge isn’t tech–it’s educating and engaging communities of practice. We’re really excited about our upcoming Ushahidi course, which we developed in partnership with Ushahidi (developer Rob Baker will be the lead facilitator), but we see it as the first of many. Developers have great manuals, products, and organizations, but we can often add value by helping them educate their existing audiences and reach out to new ones.”

TechChange plans to work in the area of technical capacity building by developing more custom courses for organizations. “We see our role as changing from being the central learning location for individual students to helping development/nonprofit organizations reach out to their key stakeholders. This fulfills a key part of our mandate. It lets us provide tailor-made courses for organizations in fragile states and countries in transition.” TechChange is also looking to integrate their platform into other online learning opportunities, such as accredited courses and online conference opportunities.

It’s inspiring for me to see how quickly TechChange has built their online learning platform and how adaptable they are to the topics and themes that different people and organizations need to get a handle on in the area of ICTs and development and related humanitarian fields. I’m looking forward to participating (and speaking as a guest) in the Digital Organizing course starting on Monday!

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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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Because I am a Girl 2010

The urban and digital environments are the 21st century’s fastest-growing spheres. Both offer enormous potential for girls around the world, but prejudice and poverty exclude millions of girls from taking advantages of the transformative possibilities that cities and information and communication technologies (ICTs) can offer.  Exploitation and the threat of violence exist in both urban spaces and in cyberspace, especially for the most marginalized and vulnerable girls.

Since 2007, Plan has published annual reports on the state of the world’s girls. The 2010 ‘Because I am a Girl report’ is called Digital and Urban Frontiers: Girls in a Changing Landscape. It focuses on girls in these two rapidly expanding spaces: the urban and the digital.

The piece that I’m most interested is the segment on Girls and ICTs, since that’s the main area I currently work on. (Disclosure: I contributed to the development of the chapter). To give you a taste of what’s in the report, here’s a summary of Chapter 4: Adolescent girls and communications technologies – opportunity or exploitation. You can download the full report here.

Chapter 4’s introduction explains that online behaviors mimic offline behaviors.  Empowerment and abuse of girls reveals itself through technology as it does in other areas of girls’ lives.  Through girls own voices, expert opinion and original research, the report highlights the positive and negative consequences of ICTs, in particular mobile phones and the Internet. The authors talk about the positive ideas and new ways of thinking that ICTs open up for girls in terms of learning, networking, campaigning and personal development. They then discuss the darker side of technology  — how cyberspace makes it easier for sexual predators to operate with impunity, where girls are prime targets for abuse, and where girls are sometimes perpetrators themselves.

Section Two offers girl-related statistics on the digital revolution and the digital divide and highlights the enormous variation between and within countries in terms of digital access, and the gaps between rich and poor, male and female, urban and rural.  The report cautions that excluding girls from the digital revolution will have consequences on their growth and development. For additional global ICT statistics (1998-2009) see this post at ICT4D blog. Another resource on mobiles and women is the Cherie Blair study.

Section Three describes and provides statistics around 7 important reasons that ICTs are important to adolescent girls:

  1. To keep in touch with others and reduce isolation in countries where this is an issue
  2. To further their education and acquire new skills
  3. To take an active part in their communities and countries
  4. In order to have the skills to find work
  5. To build specific skills and knowledge on subjects they might otherwise not know about, such as HIV and AIDS
  6. Because evidence has shown that learning to use these technologies can build self-esteem
  7. In order to keep safe

Section Four goes in depth around ways that adolescent girls compete with adolescent boys for the most use of communications technologies such as mobiles and the Internet, but that often they are using them for different reasons and different purposes. Most of the available research for this chapter is from the ‘North’, yet the studies indicate that girls tend to use ICTs for communication and boys tend toward a focus on the technology itself. Studies on this from the ‘South’ are unavailable to date.

When girls are treated as real partners....

Section Five discusses the barriers that keep adolescent girls from accessing ICTs. In other words, if the importance of ICTs has been established, girls are willing and able and keen to use ICTs, then what prevents them from having equal access to ICTs? Some of the issues that the chapter discusses are those of power and control.

‘I can immediately call the wholesale market to inquire about prices and place direct orders. I am now recognized as a businesswoman, growing and selling sesame seeds, not just as somebody’s wife or sister,’ said a woman in India.

‘You’re a girl – a mobile can cause many problems, and so you don’t need it,’ said the father of a Palestinian girl.

Girls’ access to technology is limited by their societies, communities and families. In patriarchal societies where men control technology, girls and women simply have less access, because ICT’s confer power on the user. Even in educational settings, a study found that boys tend to hog available ICTs. Teachers have distinct expectations from boys vs. girls. Girls also don’t tend to go into the field of ICTs or want to have ICT careers, since the field is typically a male field. ‘Technology appears to be marketed by men for men. It’s time we started switching bright and talented girls on to science and technology,’ comments a British government official.

Women and girls in developing countries however are not receiving the basic education and training that they need to be ready technology adopters. They are seen as users and receivers of technology, not as innovators involved in technology design and development. Once they are computer literate, however, many young women see the computer industry as a route to independence. The report offers statistics on the numbers of young women in countries like South Africa, India, Malaysia and Brazil who are working in the ICT related industries and professions.

What stops girls from using technology?

There are seven key factors that prevent girls from taking advantage of technology:

  1. Discrimination – girls are still viewed as second-class citizens in many societies.
  2. Numbers – boys both outnumber girls and tend to dominate access to computers.
  3. Confidence – because they don’t have equal access at school, girls may be less confident than boys when it comes to going into IT jobs because they don’t feel they have the same skills and knowledge as the young men competing for the jobs.
  4. Language – in order to use these technologies, English is usually a requirement, and for girls with only basic literacy in their own language, this is a major barrier.
  5. Time – girls’ domestic roles, even at a young age, mean they have less free time than boys to explore and experiment with new technologies.
  6. Money – girls are less likely than their brothers to have the financial resources to pay for, say, a mobile phone and its running costs, or access to the web in an internet café.
  7. Freedom – boys are also more likely to be allowed to use internet cafés because parents are concerned about their daughters going out on their own.

Section Six digs into the dark side of cyberspace and the risks that adolescent are exposed to at a time of their lives when they are beginning to develop sexually. One in 5 women report having been sexually abused before the age of 15, according to the authors. The Internet by and large is simply a new medium for old kinds of bad behavior, however; and new technologies simply extend the possibility of abuse to new arenas. Girls who are not even using the Internet are still vulnerable, given that a photo of them can be taken and posted by someone else even if they have no computer access. Cyberbullying and cyberharrassment are other risks that girls face.

Many young people and youth organizations are active in facing these risks and protecting themselves, and various campaigns exist to help adolescent girls be more aware of how to protect themselves while using ICTs. New technology can itself also be a tool to help with counter-trafficking efforts. The chapter outlines some of the different efforts being made to protect girls online, and emphasizes the role of parents and schools in discussing on-line use and being supportive as girls begin exploring cyberspace.

There is a quite broad set of recommendations for a wide array of actors at the end of Chapter 4 that could be taken up, contextualized and fleshed out by different parties or stakeholders into specific calls to action:

Brazilian girls in a digital world. As an annex to Chapter 4 on ICTs, new research with 49 boys and 44 girls, aged 10-14 examines adolescent girls’ rights and protection in Brazil within the context of ICTs. ICT use is growing exponentially in Brazil, particularly among 15-17 year olds, where between 2005 and 2008, ICT usage went from 33.7 to 62.9 percent. The study covers use pattern, links between on-line and off-line behavior, and on-line safety.

Conclusions. The report concludes by calling for greater knowledge about ICT-related sexual exploitation and violence against girls, more emphasis on prevention and stronger international standards. It also points out that girls need to be empowered to use new communications technologies safely, on their own terms, and in ways that promote their development and build their futures.

Call to action for September 22: As part of the launch of the Because I am a Girl Report, Plan is calling for International Day of the Girl to be established on September 22. You can sign the petition here.

Resources

Download the full report here: Digital and Urban Frontiers: Girls in a Changing Landscape

Download the Girl’s Cohort Study: Real Choices, Real Lives. Plan researchers follow 142 girls lives over a 9-year period.

Download past Because I am a Girl Reports (since 2007)

Related posts on Wait… What?

On girls and ICTs

Revisiting the topic of girls and ICTS: Tech Salon Discussions

Being a girl in Cumbana

MDGs through a child rights lens

3 ways to integrate ICTs into development work

5 ways ICTs can support the MDGs


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