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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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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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