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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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