Fifteen months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom fatigue had many of us practically catatonic in front of our screens. So how was the Society for International Development – Washington Chapter (SID-W) able to reverse this trend and put on a virtual conference that actually proved to be more engaging, more interactive, and more inclusive than any prior SID-W event?

SID-W joined forces with our team at TechChange to co-design their annual event on the TechChange platform. We leveraged a new community-led model that transformed the conference experience into one that no longer relies exclusively on organizer-led sessions or speakers.

Conference Platform
Join Conference Platform here

Compared to a traditional DC-based event, the online nature of the SID-W Virtual Annual Conference resulted in 1300+ participants from over 60 countries drawing from development practitioners, implementing partners, local staff, NGO partners, and more, with over 50% being first-time attendees. 

Leveraging over a decade of experience facilitating courses, workshops, and events, the TechChange team utilized strategies from our educator toolkit to deliver a memorable virtual experience for – and with – the participants. 

Here are a few highlights:

Innovation Showcase 3D World 

Showcasing innovation was critical to the SID-W team – both in terms of the way the conference took place but also in the content to be shared. So to display the Innovation Award finalists’ pitches in a way that was true to form, SID-W asked TechChange’s 3D artist and developer team to build an Innovation Showcase 3D World using Mozilla Hubs. The virtual space hosted pitches from the four finalists on large virtual television screens inside a 3D recreation of the magnificent National Portrait Gallery Atrium. In addition, using 3D avatars, innovation finalists conversed with conference attendees and potential investors inside the unique space. Participants then voted for the “Best of Show,” which was announced at the closing ceremony.

Click to Join the Innovation Showcase 3D World
Click to join the Innovation Showcase 3D World

Not your average exhibition hall

The Exhibition Hall interface was significantly enhanced compared to last October’s debut SID-W virtual conference, generating leads for both sponsors in business development and recruitment and job-seeking participants. In addition to the platform-embedded Exhibition Hall resource library, SID-W wanted to liven things up by enabling real-time video networking between sponsors and participants. 

Sponsors each had a table within the Social hour Exhibit Hall

Through an integration with Social hour, TechChange created over 40 virtual tables across four virtual rooms. Instead of leaving the rooms indefinitely open and hoping participants would find their way there, SID-W intentionally designed the agenda such that it would funnel participants into the interactive space for one hour each day. This dedicated space, designed to spark lively conversations and targeted outreach, attracted over 200 participants online simultaneously. Sponsor Tetra Tech commented that “[i]t was the closest ‘in-person’ experience we’ve had at an event yet!”

Crowd-sourced roundtable discussions

A few months before the conference, SID-W sent out a call for community members to submit topics for the Roundtable Discussions. After receiving over 70 topics, SID-W members, staff, and the Annual Conference Committee selected the top 20, including: “Decolonizing Aid: Gender Equality & Social Inclusion,” “Dignity in Development,” and “Using Blended Finance at Scale to Achieve the SDGs.” During Day 2 of the conference, over 260 participants joined their peers at virtual tables on Social hour for intimate, facilitated discussions. Multiple participants noted the Roundtable Discussions session as the highlight of their SID-W virtual conference experience.

“I got the most out of the roundtable I attended.”

SID-W Conference Attendee

Organic networking sessions

The Open Networking sessions, also leveraging TechChange’s Social hour integration, provided a medium for lively conversations that were less structured than the scheduled events. This free-form format led to the organic formation of the “Amis Francophones” Table, sparked by one of the attendees who hoped to connect with other Francophiles. French speaking SID-W members from around the globe were able to meet and exchange – a feat that could not have been accomplished had the conference been held in person.

“The best online networking platform I’ve seen to date – really felt like wandering around a room and chatting with people.”

SID-W Conference Attendee

Ideas Library & Open Discussion Forums

The Ideas Library provided an opportunity for conference participants to interact with the hosts of Lightning Talks. Open Discussion & Networking forums allowed speakers and participants alike to spark new conversations on timely topics. For example, conference speaker Wayan Vota started a thread asking “[w]hat is the largest COVID-19 change in your work?” which garnered over 30 responses. Others exchanged knowledge on topics like data management and DEI. SID-W Program Associates also utilized the Ideas Library to share summaries of plenaries, panels, and Learning Labs in real time, creating a forum for attendees to continue the critical conversations.

Gamification: SID-W Points 

Knowing attendees would likely be motivated to engage more by gamifying the conference experience, SID-W opted to turn on the points feature on the TechChange platform. To receive “SID-W Points,” attendees used different features throughout the platform, such as creating a profile for networking purposes, attending sessions, engaging in session chats to introduce themselves to fellow participants, and commenting on each other’s work. The winner earned an impressive 475 points!

The SID-W annual conference was second to none in engaging its membership to create a two-day community-led conference experience – one that enlivened even its most embattled Zoom-fatigued members.

Watch SID-W’s Annual Conference Opening Plenary

This blog is written by Thomas Liu

TechChange has come a long way since we built our first site in 2010. Five years and 400,000 lines of code later, we have an amazing site built by some of the most talented developers and designers out there. We were so excited about it that we just had to throw a party.

It was great to celebrate in person with many of you, but since so many of our alumni are from around the world we wanted to make sure you didn’t miss out on the best highlights from the party:

1. #NameTechBot Contest — Help Us Name Our Mascot!

Say hello to TechChange’s new mascot: TechBot! At the party, we kicked off a twitter campaign to help us name the newest member of our team. Help us name our TechBot by tweeting @TechChange using the hashtag #NameTechBot. Keep your suggestions coming!
Techbot

2. Photo Booth Shenanigans

Website Launch Party photobooth collage
Browse through the entire gallery of photos from the event on Facebook.

3. Lots of exciting announcements

Our website launch is the first of many announcements from TechChange this
year. In the next few months be on the look out for:

  • Launch of a diploma track in monitoring and evaluation
  • Our move to a larger office space with classrooms for workshops
  • Big partnerships with UNICEF, Oxfam, University of North Carolina, and the International Youth Foundation
  • And more…

Thanks again to everyone who joined us in this celebration, and for those who weren’t able to, maybe we will see you at our events in the future. For our international alumni, we will make sure to update you on what goes on in our DC events so you can still be part of the action here!

As 2014 has been a big year for us at TechChange, we celebrate more failures and lessons learned at Fail Fest 2014 with the TechChange band. This year, we had members across our team on perform with vocals, guitar, drums, oboe, and – of course- PowerPoint. From connectivity issues when doing online training sessions on Ebola to unanticipated challenges of moving into a new office, we loved participating in Fail Fest again to share our experiences in providing interactive training for social change.

Stay tuned for a recording of our performance that we’ll post here soon.

Missed our performance at Fail Fest 2013? See how we celebrated lessons learned in launching eLearning courses in Sudan and Pakistan in TechChange’s first Fail Song.

It’s the event that all DC edtech enthusiasts have been waiting for: TechChange is teaming up with General Assembly DC to host this month’s ICT4Drinks happy hour event!

All are welcome to attend. Free drinks will be provided for those that register and come early. We’ll also be giving away some TechChange cubebots and GA stickers!

TECHCHANGE + GENERAL ASSEMBLY D.C. HAPPY HOUR
Friday, October 17, 20145:30 PM – 7:00 PM
General Assembly Washington D.C. (1776 8th Floor)
1133 15th Street NW, 8th Floor
Washington, DC 20005

Register now for the chance to celebrate the end of the work week with your pals at GA. Drinks are on us, so stop by for mingling, beverages, & great conversation with the movers & shakers of DC.

Join us tomorrow, July 29th in Washington, DC for the ICT4Drinks International EdTech Happy Hour!

TechChange, Creative Associates, and Kurante are thrilled that Meg Adams, International Ambassador at Udemy, is headed to DC so we’ve decided to convene the educational technology community (especially those focused on international education) for a happy hour while she’s in town.

All are welcome to attend. Free drinks and appetizers will be provided for those that come early. We’ll also be giving away some TechChange cubebots. TechChange will also host the after party across the street at our office at 13th and U.

International EdTech Happy Hour
Let’s talk edtech in Washington, DC!

5:30 PM – 8:30 PM ET
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Alero Restaurant
1301 U St NW, Washington, DC 20009

RSVP here. Hope to see you there!

In a timely visit to Washington, DC that aligned with the 25th Anniversary of the World Wide Web, one of the handful of inductees in the Internet Hall of Fame, Marc Andreessen, dropped by 1776 for a fireside chat earlier this week. The co-founder of VC firm, Andreessen Horowitz, who has made early investments in high-profile tech companies including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Airbnb, chatted with The Atlantic’s Editor-in-Chief, James Bennet, and members of the DC tech community on a wide range of technology topics including the future of “Silicon Valley(s)”, bitcoin, drones, MOOCs and online education, and how technology will impact the developing world.

Here are five highlights of his views on the future of online education:

1. The world will be a better place when everyone is educated and online using cheap smartphones. According to Marc Andreessen, what will most profoundly change the world is for every kid on the planet to have a world class education. The developing world will benefit most from high quality education as this content becomes accessible via cheap smartphones, which we’ve already begun seeing earlier this year. The global economy could be growing faster if more people were educated.

2. In 20 years, online learning will completely dominate education of all levels.
With the exception of elite academic institutions such as the Ivy League (which would only continue to exist as a luxury good), online learning will take over many traditional schools. New software and educational content will be delivered online with the help of new devices. Also, for-profit businesses will play a big role in driving innovation in this space.

3. Great teachers and professors will continue to be central to online learning.
Despite all current and future technological developments in education, quality education will always depend on great teachers. With online education and edtech, the best teachers in the world will become available to more students. Marc Andreessen sees online education scaling like Hollywood, in that the best professors (as content producers) will be like the “Steven Spielbergs” of specialized topics that can reach huge audiences, or student populations.

 Marc Andreessen Twitter 2

4. Hybrid learning models have tremendous potential to make e-learning more social & engaging.
Marc Andreessen also spoke of the potential of hybrid learning models that could make the educational experience engaging. One of the best benefits of bringing education online is the ability to connect students via an online platform, regardless of where they are in the world. Experienced students of courses could tutor new students, which we have seen time and time again with the TechChange learning model when course participants become guest experts, and even course facilitators like Timo Luege. Other examples of engagement that can happen online with platforms like TechChange include crowdsourcing past study resources, video conferencing (which we do with our “Live Events”), and online social networking.

5. Successful online learning will require long-term investments
The opportunity for MOOCs and online learning is gigantic, but it won’t happen overnight. Andreessen Horowitz has been some in investment in Sebastian Thrun’s
Udacity. Marc Andreessen sees online education as a long-term investment.

 

What do you think? Can online learning really be scaled comparably to Hollywood? What are some examples of how online education in the developing world has already made an impact? What are the best hybrid learning models? Let us know in the comments, or tweet us @TechChange.

To check out the entire one-hour recording of the Marc Andreessen interview, please see the recorded session, courtesy of The Atlantic LIVE and The Atlantic Exchange here.

In Online Learning, There Are No Shortcut Keys

TechChange at Fail Fest 2013, Erik and Nick

Tonight, we’re having a blast celebrating lessons learned in ICT4D and international development at the 2013 Fail Festival in Washington, DC. Hosted by FHI360, and co-sponsored by Kurante, Plan International, and TechChange, we’re gathering over ignite talks, spoken word poetry, and song in the spirit of taking failure not so seriously.

Since TechChange was established in 2010, we’ve experimented with many different tech tools, platforms, products, and content; some of which that worked and others that didn’t. From continuing to recognize the importance of cultural and national contexts when applying technology worldwide, to testing hybrid learning models, we’ve strived to make online learning for social change better and better, and even wrote a song about it.

Check out a recording of the song:

And for the musicians out there, here are the lyrics with the guitar chords!

Curious about the other acts? Check out the photos we took at the event!