Recap of TechChange Course at George Mason School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution

Over the weekend TechChange had the opportunity to teach a two-day course on Technology and Peacebuilding at the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR) at George Mason University. This was a first for S-CAR students and we were excited to see what the graduate students would bring to the discussions, case studies and group work. The TechChange team learned just as much from the students as they learned form us.

The course consisted of two full day sessions of hands on simulations, group discussions and a variety of presentations from the TechChange team. The goal of the course was to examine the growing power of technology for peacebuilding in the 21st Century and to provide hands on experience with these new tools.  During the weekend, the team was able to introduce the students to a variety of topics including the One Laptop Per Child Project, SMS & Radio Technology, Crowdsourcing, Ushahidi, FrontlineSMS and of course, Twitter.

The weekend kicked off on Saturday morning with a series of simple introductions and an exercise to measure the attitudes of students as they relate to technology and social change. From the beginning it was clear that we had a diverse group of students with a myriad of experiences and understanding – a combination that made for an engaging and great classroom experience.

The highlight of the Saturday session was a group simulation where students were tasked with using cell phone technology and the FrontlineSMS software to manage a malaria outbreak. While initially overwhelmed by the speed of information gathering and data management, the students quickly dove right into the activity and were soon taking hold of the simulation like it was second nature. During the simulation debrief, a number of students commented that the FrontlineSMS technology, and the skill of implementing it, would remain incredibly valuable long after the course completion.

On Sunday morning the students arrived excited to get to another day of technology and peacebuilding. The day started off with a recap of everything we threw at the students on Saturday and an introduction to crowdsourcing. Knowing that the topic of social media would be a lively one, we quickly got into the ins and outs of Twitter and Facebook.  While some of the students admitted to having some skepticism around the power of social media, by the end of the weekend they saw the potential ways that social media such as Twitter can be valuable in a peacekeeping or governance context.

Building off the momentum of Saturday’s simulation, we introduced the students to another tool that they could use in their academic and professional lives – Ushahidi. Combining FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi the students were quickly immersed into a simulation exercise based on election monitoring in Afghanistan. Similar to Saturday’s exercise, the class was initially slightly overwhelmed by the speed of information gathering and mapping.  They quickly adjusted and enthusiastically threw themselves into the simulation. During the simulation debrief students were incredibly positive about the tools and about the potential they bring to the conflict analysis and resolution field.  We will be writing posts about the simulations over the next few weeks.

To close out the weekend, students presented to their peers and the TechChange staff a series of technology programs that they designed based on a case study of Liberian elections. The students created these programs based on the tools that were showcased to them throughout the weekend sessions. Sunday’s session ended with a reflective conversation on everything that transpired that weekend.

In the end, the class was an overwhelming success, with an incredible amount of knowledge exchanged between the TechChange team and the graduate students at S-CAR.  Our team was incredibly impressed with the eagerness of the students. It didn’t matter if it was discussions, building their own tech programs or navigating through the immense amount of information, the students left a fantastic impression on our team.


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