Today as we approach 10K followers on Twitter and 5K Facebook likes, I am taking a step back to understand how we created a vibrant online community. More than 2 years and 13,000 tweets ago, I first took the reigns of the TechChange social media accounts. At that point we were still four months out from launching our very first course and we had only received about 30 applications, zero of whom had officially enrolled. I thought, “how can we establish trust that our courses will empower social change agents?”  Since then, we have worked tirelessly to build the best online learning experience possible with a robust social media community to promote it. We have now trained nearly two thousand professionals from over 100 countries and a large portion of them determined TechChange to be a credible organization thanks to our social media content. Now looking back, here are three principles we have followed to build our brand as a learning resource for social change.

1. Your Online Brand is a Community Before It’s a Product

Before launching our courses, the only accessible content we were producing was on our blog and our Twitter and Facebook accounts. We had to generate enough quality material for people to pay attention to us and apply to our courses, which were still being built. When I started at TechChange, we were tweeting on average 6 times a day and had almost 2,000 followers. We decided we had to engage a lot more with our community and so we bumped it up to 15-20 tweets/day, which increased our follower rate by 20% month over month throughout the next year. 12% of our course applications were from people who discovered us through Twitter and Facebook and out of all of our marketing methods, these applicants were the most likely to officially enroll. In other words, our highest conversion rates came from social media engagement. We listened to what our community had to say so we weren’t just building courses for them, we were building courses with them.

If your organization hasn’t made online community engagement a priority, then you are missing out on exposure and building credibility. It is never too early to start engaging with your online community, even if your products or services aren’t even publically launched. People interact on social media to share ideas and as long as yours are good, you will find your community will grow fast.

2. Define Your Community and Respond to Their Content

We work in tech for social change, which is actually quite a large idea that is difficult to define. To help figure out our target community, we generated a spreadsheet with our course subjects in each column, such as emergency management, mobile phones for international development and health, eGovernance, social entrepreneurship, etc. I have filled up each column with dozens of blogs and news outlets in these areas, which I read and scan through daily on my RSS reader. This list of 100+ thought leaders and organizations has become one of my most valuable documents I have created at TechChange.

Our community is vibrant and highly active on Twitter. 15% of our followers tweet hourly and another 15% tweet at least daily, so we know there is always an actual conversation happening. Not only do we respond to and discuss our followers’ content, but by promoting it we show that we are aware of every single new development in the field. This has been vital to our role as educators in a space that is rapidly changing to offer our participants the latest tools, theories, and case studies possible.

3. Use the Right Tools

There are a plethora of social media engagement tools fighting for you to do a 15-day free trial and give you all the analytics you need to be a “guru.” The truth is, you are being successful in social media when you act like a human that adds value to the community. However, there are a few tools that I use to make that process much more efficient. I mentioned above that I read through content from 100+ blogs and news sites everyday. This translates to about 500 new stories every 24 hours that I have to sift through and decide which are the most interesting and relevant.

Feedly allows me to do this extremely well, by organizing my content topically and integrating with other tools very easily. It is hands-down the best RSS reader (Google Reader included!) and you should switch to it today.

Buffer is my favorite tool to time tweets throughout the day and I can add tweets and Facebook posts to it directly from Feedly. I spend the first 30-60 minutes of my morning getting this app topped up for the rest of the day. User beware: people can easily tell when you’re not being genuine and are robotically churning out timed news stories. It is important to remain engaged and try to keep a discussion going around each story.

Tweetbot while costly, this app does give you all the functionality you need if you are managing multiple accounts. You can quickly search new trends, stay in tune with twitter chats, and have it all synced up between your computer and mobile. If you are particular about your column feeds, feel that customization is a necessity, and want to do all your social engagement in one place then I definitely recommend it.

For analytics there are plenty of subscription options, from Sprout Social and Social Bro to Topsy and Hootsuite. They will all tell you the best times to engage with your followers, who they are and what they are talking about. They will give you ranking and influence scores and all sorts of other data that is nice to know but probably won’t change your behavior too dramatically for how much they will charge you. However, there are a couple analytics tools that can give you important data for free. Hashtracking and TheArchivist are fantastic. They gather data on particular hashtags when you want to track a Twitter chats or event. Another solid tool is TweetReach, which tells you who interacts with you most and how influential they are.

The way people interact online seems to change every year and the top organizations will create strategies for every new social media channel. These three guidelines have helped us become a reputable online education provider thus far and as we continue to follow them, we hope to be able to navigate all the changes that await us.


Screenshots from Followerwonk


Our mHealth: Mobile Phones for Public Health Online Certificate course will run for its second time from June 3rd – 28th and we couldn’t be more excited about it. Along with The mHealth Alliance, we have had six months to reflect on course feedback and refine curriculum to make sure we are offering the most comprehensive and enjoyable online instruction possible.

mHealth101 Twitterchat (1)

Twitter Chat Contest:

Want to win a free seat? Then join us for a Twitter chat using #mHealth101 on Thursday, May 17th at 2 pm EDT to be entered in a random drawing! @Techchange and@mHealthAlliance will be co-hosting the event and will be discussing course curriculum, mHealth trends, and case studies. More details to come but tweet at @TechChange or @mHealthAlliance if you have questions and we look forward to having you join us!

What is the Course Structure?

Students will have the opportunity to engage directly with leading applications developers, and learn from practitioners who have had significant experience in implementing mobile phone based communication systems around the globe.

The entire course is delivered online. The total time commitment is a minimum of 2-5 hours a week. The course is designed to be highly interactive and social, but we also work hard to ensure that the majority of the content can be experienced in a self-paced manner. It will feature one or two real-time interactions each week, such as live discussions, live expert interviews, and live simulations. In order to accommodate busy schedules of mission staff from around the world, we’ve set up a learning environment where participants have plenty of options to explore content that is most relevant to them through live content and interactions, readings, and videos.

Facilitators will produce weekly audio podcast recaps for participants to catch up on key conversations and topics. Participants can also access all course content six months after course completion so the material can be revisited later.


●   Week 1: Introduction to Mobile Health

●   Week 2: Strengthening Health Systems

●   Week 3: Moving Towards Citizen-Centered Health

●   Week 4: Large Scale Demonstration Projects


For even more information about the course, visit the course page or take a look at the syllabus. To make sure you get a seat, fill out an application here and get enrolled.


Are you already enrolled in our Technology, Innovation, and Social Entrepreneurship course and interested in mobile phone applications for the developing world? Do you want to deeply examine organizations and social entrepreneurs that have disrupted the mobile phones for good sector?

We are offering our TC105: Mobiles for International Development course that starts Monday for $195.00 (more than 60% off) to all our enrolled participants and their colleagues in TC108: Technology, Innovation, and Social Entrepreneurship. We believe having social entrepreneurial-minded participants can make TC105 even better and add a new perspective to class discussions. We have an incredible group of guest experts lined up that have had a renowned social impact in the tech space like Joel Selanikio of Datadyne, Jacob Korenblum of Souktel, and Lynn Eisenhart of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

If you are interested in this offer then email us at info[at]techchange[dot]org and we will add you to the course. If you aren’t enrolled in TC108 yet and would like to take advantage then send in an application here and we’ll get you set up. This is the biggest course discount we have had yet, so this is a great opportunity to take two courses with a large deduction. Act quick because there’s just a few days left until course start!

As K-12 teachers experiment with iPads in the classroom, Twitter streams in the backchannel, and TEDtalks as the new textbook, university professors are figuring out what to make of massively open online courses and how it will affect their classroom. After reading the barrage of stories this past year on new innovations in education technology, from the flipped classroom to edX, I began to wonder why K-12 teachers reported feeling empowered by the new technologies while massive open online courses (MOOCs) seemed to pose a threat to all private higher education institutions that’s so indecipherable most are unsure how to react. Why were stories on the flipped university classroom so rare this past year? With our upcoming course on Social Media and Technology Tools for Research in mind, we wanted to find a model that was actually leveraging tech tools in a way that was improving higher education learning on a broad scale.

We found Dr. John Boyer of Virginia Tech, who has been innovating and enlarging his World Regions classroom for the past decade. When he started he was in a classroom of 50 students using an inherited world regions textbook that leaned heavily on Western history. Now he is in a 3,000 seat auditorium, using the 6th edition of his own textbook and a companion website for digital and social media content that more than twenty other universities have adopted. We came across him in the same way that many have–through his plea to Aung San Suu Kyi for a Skype interview (which she agreed to) and the ensuing visits from Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez, and Invisible Children’s Jason Russell. “We hope to have President Obama visit, which would make a lot of sense for him. Why wouldn’t he want to have 3,000 screaming university students tweeting and facebooking his interview?” He told me that those celebrity visits are not planned in the syllabus but come about organically, which also reflects the nature in which he adopts technology into the classroom.  From my chat with him I gleaned three questions for university educators to ask themselves as they adapt hybrid classroom methodologies.

1. Will it improve communication between the professor and students?

Effective teaching depends on the way that information is communicated to the learner. Professor Boyer literally brings his curriculum to the fingertips of his 3,000 students on his website, While his textbook may cover very recent issues in its sixth edition, the website covers global news and issues of the week. Students can easily scan video interviews, articles, and twitter streams and they can earn credit by participating in class dialogue over social media networks.

In a class of 3,000, students can easily feel distanced from their professor, but his online office hours and regular availability on Twitter and Facebook provides a safety net of communication. In my worry that he was online all day and night communicating with students he reassured me, “just a very small percentage actually use it and having the safety net of knowing it’s there satisfies the rest.”

2. Is tech interaction built into the syllabus?

As opposed to traditional pedagogies where students start out with an A and then lose points as they respond incorrectly, his students start with nothing and are rewarded for each activity they complete. Grades are determined by gross point accumulation and students can choose the way they want to earn those points. They can go the traditional route and take standard tests, fill out atlas quizzes, and write papers, or they can earn it through interacting with world leaders on Twitter, commenting in global news reports, or listening to podcasts.

According to an article in The Atlantic, flipping the learning model in the university setting in this manner leads to more personalization of the learning process. Professor Boyer’s exemplifies this by allowing the student to choose the assignments (not a single one is required, not even tests) that fit their learning method best. From the start of the semester, students have the flexibility and the accountability to complete the class how they want to.

3. Am I offering technology that students already use or can easily start using?

Virginia Tech is not only at the fringe of the flipping the university classroom, but physically it’s at the fringe of an urban-rural divide. Located in Blacksburg, Virginia, 60% of the town’s 42,000 are students and many come from rural communities. Students may not be used to many of the newest apps or devices. “I would love to start using foursquare to have students check in for attendance but I’m pretty sure only 1% of my students even know what it is,” Dr. Boyer told me. Despite some limitations, he is able to use quite a diverse tech toolset in his class. He uses (most links go to the unique class page) Delicious for bookmarking articles, online discussion forums on the class page, international movies, iTunes U, Skype, UStream for online office hours, for their class international playlist, and one of my favorites, PollEverywhere, is used to instantly poll to students on what they want to learn that day. These tools offer a plethora of options rather than required tools to use so that the students can involve themselves in the way they like.

Each of these questions asks what kind of options do the students have to learn the material and how they will be awarded for it. The hybrid classroom puts more accountability on the student to take the time to learn the subject matter, but also allows them the freedom to choose how they want to learn it. Dr. Boyer is evolving his classroom depending on the way that his students use technology and not the other way around. It won’t be long until university students are expecting the hybrid “flipped classroom” experience, especially when they have come from high schools that have already been implementing it.


If you are interested in international peacekeeping, consider taking our next course, Social Media and Technology Tools for Research, starting Monday, August 20th.

The TechChange course on Mobiles for International Development starts on June 18. Sign up now!

Have you ever been stuck on the mobile version of a website and were unable to go where you wanted just because you were surfing on your smartphone? One solution gaining prominence is called responsive design, which uses proportional measurements and other techniques to display appropriately-sized content on any device from large displays to smartphones. We are pleased to announce that we have launched our new fully-responsive website with the mobile device in mind. Not sure what responsive design is? Try resizing this window wider and narrower and watch what happens, or if you have a smartphone, try loading our site on it.

1. Mobiles matter and your audience uses them

It’s no secret that we’re big fans of mobile tech (re: Blog Posts of ours: Thoughts on Mobile Money for Development, FrontlineSMS and Technological Responsibility, Risk and Rewards of Mobile Technology in Governance Deployment), and mobile internet users are projected to surpass desktop users by 2015. Furthermore, Jon Evans of TechCrunch predicted that in five years most Sub-Saharan Africans will have smartphones and Vodafone recently announced that they will make a high-end low cost smartphone specifically designed for consumers in developing economies. We tweet more than a dozen articles every day on new innovations in mobile tech, from the developing world to higher education. That’s why when we redesigned our website to represent our online identity, we designed it with mobile in mind. This isn’t just on principle; we’ve seen our mobile traffic increase 175% from the same period last year.

2. Because it can save your organization time and money over the long run

There are many ways to approach mobile, and in the end we decided that a responsive design approach made the most sense for our needs. Building a responsive site based off a common codebase limits the hours needed to update code for each mobile platform out there (iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone 7, and more). While tools exist to streamline these processes and create cross-platform mobile apps, like PhoneGap and Appcelerator, this approach seemed overkill for our site. Furthermore, even if you do develop a native app, with the increase of mobile web use,  your site will be much easier to find, navigate, and utilized by web searchers.

We’re obviously not the first organization to do this (and we’re a little embarrassed it took us this long to catch up), but we are huge believers in the potential for responsive design to broaden reach and shorten development times (over the long run) and we are happy to be a resource for others considering a move in this direction.

3. Because it forces you to re-evaluate your priorities

We decided to take a “mobile first” approach to responsive design, which emphasizes designing for the smallest and most constrained canvas and then building upwards. We felt that this would be a good way to sift through the many pages and multitudes of text on our former site and pull out what was absolutely necessary and most relevant to our users. There are many many reasons to go mobile first, but we found that this process helped clarify our mission and focus.

The last point is that we didn’t do it alone. We read forums, checked ideas, circulated betas, and then asked for feedback from tech communities to help us keep building our model. That’s why we’d like to close with asking you, the reader, for your feedback if/when you get a chance to check out our site — either on a mobile device or otherwise. Also feel free to ask us any questions by emailing!

After all, any technology is only as powerful as the community that uses it.

by Chrissy Martin, cross-posted from her blog, innovate.inclusively. She was a moderator for our Mobiles for International Development course that ran last month. A new session will be starting June 18th and you can apply here to join us. 


A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of supporting the TechChange Mobiles for Development (TC105) course as a moderator. I was interviewed for the course by co-founder Nick Martin, which stimulated a interesting conversation with many of the highly experienced and knowledgeable course participants. Excerpts from that interviews are below.

The course itself was an amazing opporunity to interact with experts across the ICT for development field, and to dive into specific areas of interest including mobile financial services, mobile health, and mobile education. I highly recommend checking out their upcoming course on the same topics – early registration is now open on their website. (more…)

This article was first published on the The Asia Foundation’s blog, In Asia.


 “Just because they are poor and isolated doesn’t mean they don’t have the potential to be the next Bill Gates,” said Shahed Kayes, the founder of Subornogram Foundation in Bangladesh, while introducing me to lively students at a school he started on the remote island of Mayadip. Located in the Meghna River, the island’s 1,100 residents don’t have access to public services such as safe drinking water, public schools, or health care. The residents rely on the river’s catch of fish for their livelihood, and 97 percent live below the poverty line. Although the school doesn’t own a single computer and the island has no electricity, Shahed couldn’t resist taking out his personal laptop and showing the children how to use it, giving them at least a small glimpse of the world beyond their shores.


This is a guest post from Laura Ogden, an alumna of our course, TC104: Global Innovations for Digital Organizing. If you’re interested in learning more about using technology for democratic change we’re running the course again in May


Image Source: Stars Foundation

‘I don’t have an email address at the moment. Can you send me the new finance policy on Facebook and I’ll drop in my signed copy to the office next week?’  This modern-day utterance came not from the secretary of a high-school prom organizing committee, but rather from the youngest Board Member of Ba Futuru, Timor Leste’s preeminent peace building and human rights organisation*.

Whilst this seemingly bizarre request might be interpreted as an encouraging – or amusing – sign of the times, where Internet and social media are penetrating business in all its forms across the globe, our Facebook-friendly Board Member is in fact an anomaly in Timor Leste, which continues to be Asia’s poorest country, after more than a decade of independence, billions of dollars in foreign aid, and years of UN administration.

In a country where (relatively) reliable Internet costs $1-2 an hour (on top of an initial $90 layout for the USB modem) and yet where national GDP was just $594 last year, it’s little wonder that the internet penetration rate in Timor Leste hovers around 2%, eleven years after the first internet connection was established in 2000 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). (more…)

This blog post was updated as of November 2014 to reflect the advances of each web conferencing platform since the original blog post was published by TJ Thomander.

Screenshot of me using Adobe Connect


Have you ever been in a classroom and had the teacher ask, “If you can hear me please click on the smiley face?” If so, you have experienced education 2.0—impersonal yet far-reaching and convenient. There are several web conferencing platforms that allow organizations flexibility in the way they learn and collaborate, and there are many options available. We want to break down the top nine that we feel are the most competitive in the space right now. We’ve updated this post to describe how these web conferencing platforms have evolved over the last few years since we first published this post in 2011, both in terms of functionality and pricing.

Web conferencing has a plethora of uses, whether for teaching or tutoring, collaborating on projects in real time, or holding a webinar that allows participants to interact with each other. The basic features that you can expect from a web conferencing platform are the ability to upload and display a presentations, documents, or other media; a chat function; and a white board.

At the time of the original blog post, Google+ Hangouts didn’t quite offer these features, but through apps like “Screen Share” and “Scoot and Doodle”, it has become a flexible option for creating and broadcasting online lessons, webinars, and events, or for collaborating with co-workers and classmates. Although a Google+ Hangout is limited to 10 users at a time, anyone can broadcast and record a Hangout using Hangouts on Air. Hangouts on Air enables users to share broadcasts with a wider audience, and allows the audience to watch live and participate by commenting, or to view a recording of the broadcast at any time. With these advantages, we decided to go with embedding Google Hangouts on Air for our own live events on our course platform.

Beyond the features offered by Google+ Hangouts, other additions such as mobile compatibility, real-time polling, and breakout rooms are platform-specific. Here’s an updated look at who offers what:

Professional Suites

Premium web conferencing platforms are delivered by Adobe Connect, Saba, and Cisco WebEx. These platforms are browser-based, and participants are able to connect through VoIP on all three. Additionally, these platforms are generally able to host greater amounts of attendees, and their features are highly customizable, whether an organization seeks to focus on collaboration or learning. This customized functionality comes at a premium, and most often the agreement is negotiated based on the needs of the client. If you work in the ICT4D field, the most important factor to consider among web conferencing platforms is the level of bandwidth necessary to run- and these top-level options won’t be ideal.

The ideal option for an organization among the three premium platforms depends on an organization’s priorities. Saba is built to create a rich online learning experience geared toward professional training and development. Since 2011, Saba has adapted its model by creating apps that are specialized for certain HR functions in the workplace. In the realm of online learning, Saba offers “Learning@Work” for organizations to build capacity among employees through online learning options that integrate virtual classrooms, collaborative goal-setting and tracking, and course selections tailored to the interests and goals of employees. Adobe Connect and Cisco WebEx can serve an organization’s web meeting needs, but also offer the option to extend their services to include webinar and event management, as well as features that encourage social learning.

For these 3 platforms, an organization is able to purchase various levels of participant limits and customize platform features based on its needs.

  • Cisco WebEx Meetings– $69/mo for 100 participants with annual commitment

  • Adobe Connect – Price Negotiated

  • Saba Learning@Work – Price Negotiated 

Mid-Level Suites

These web conferencing clients are in a battle royale for low prices, simple aesthetic, and competitive functionality. We’ll be focusing on Fuze Meeting, Vyew, Yugma, GoToWebinar, and Blackboard Collaborate. I want to first discuss my favorite of the bunch—Fuze Meeting, as it offers just about everything that the premium platforms offer. It allows multiple call–in options, video conferencing, the ability to record and download webinars, mobile device integration, and breakout rooms. GoToWebinar and Yugma both offer similar features at a higher price point, but do not include breakout rooms. Vyew is ideal for web conferencing among a smaller number of participants, and is available at varying price points for a maximum of 15 simultaneous participants. For 5 participants, it offers video conferencing (but not much else) for a mere $9.95/month.

  • Fuze Premium– $40/mo for 250 participants with annual commitment

  • Yugma – $79.95/mo for 100 participants

  • Vyew – $9.95/mo for 5 participants

  • GoToWebinar – $79/mo for 100 participants

  • Blackboard Collaborate – Price Negotiated

Open-Source Suite

Big Blue Button is an open-source platform geared towards educational institutions. It can be modified to fit the needs of the client, but would require a knowledgeable IT team to do it. It offers the ability to present via video and conference with students, annotate presentations, and has been updated to include the ability to record sessions and view them at any time. It still lacks mobile integration, but continues to be updated, and is highly recommended for organizations that have a good handle on tech and want a cost-effective and easy-to-use option.

  • Big Blue Button – $0 for Unlimited Participants

Final Thoughts

We have heard nothing but good things about Fuze Meeting, and even recommended that one of our clients make a switch from Elluminate. Fuze Meeting better suited their needs for organizational conferencing. Their international staff members are now able to call in via Skype, a separate VoIP number, or via telephone, and this flexibility is important if firewalls block certain types of online communication. Additionally, Fuze’s mobile device add-ons have helped their employees communicate on-the-go.

We are excited to see how further innovations in online learning can continue to improve student learning outcomes and give people everywhere the ability to collaborate on solutions to complex challenges across the globe. Have you used any of these web conferencing platforms? If so, what you what did you think about the experience? Are there any new and exciting platforms that we missed?

Interested in how TechChange integrates web conferencing in our online trainings? Join our online courses on technology for social change here.

Last Friday, 81 Tweeters joined for one hour to discuss the current landscape and future of technology and social entrepreneurship in higher education. In the Twitter Chat, hosted by TechChange and AshokaU, 410 tweets were sent and 50 URLs were shared that informed of some of the most innovative and relevant advances in the space. You can view all the statistics here at summarizr.

First we asked for specific examples of social entrepreneurial tech ventures. We got some interesting replies and learned about a lot of great work that people are doing. Here’s the list of people, organizations, and businesses that were mentioned. (more…)