Last Thursday, TechChange was proud to participate in the TechGirls program by inviting two young women from the Middle East to shadow our team during a work day. While we’ve always been committed to tech capacity building in the Middle East, it had been almost two years since we conducted a series of trainings in the West Bank, and we couldn’t pass up a chance to invite future colleagues into our home and share our enthusiasm. According to the State Department, the TechGirls program:

“[P]rovides girls from the Middle East and North Africa with the knowledge and resources to pursue higher education and careers in technology. This program builds on the U.S. global commitment to advance the rights of women and girls around the world.”

Nagham joined us from Nablus, Palestine. She is 16 and started using the computer at the age of 5; and she would like to study IT or Science. Nagham expects to improve her programming and game design skills. Sondos is from Zarqa, Jordan. She is 16 years old and has taken classes in robotics, Visual Basic, Oracle, Invention, Photoshop and HTML and SQL programming. Sondos is especially interested in pursuing technological interests that will aid the field of medicine.

With that in mind, we set up a variety of hands-on workstations that included:

Hands-On Coding and Electronics: Combining Art, Problem-solving, and Circuitry

Screenshot of our office temperature as measured by Arduino sensor.

Python-powered office temperature website

Since both TechGirls were interested in both programming and hardware, we started off with our in-house code ninja, Michael Holachek. Michael is 18, an avid robotics enthusiast, and will be attending MIT in the Fall to study Electrical Engineering. Michael started off with a short discussion about the connection between art and electronics (including a TED talk on painting circuits), introduced some basic programming in C and Python, and then demoed a few cool circuits on the Arduino and Raspberry Pi. They then worked together to make a TechChange mood lamp that played the TechChange theme song and display the office temperature on a website. At the end of the session, Sondos and Nagham came up with several ideas for applying these new skills to new problems, including attaching a room thermometer to an Arduino board to trigger an alert if the room became too hot for a baby.

Making Graphic Elements: Generating and Animating TechGirls Avatars

With their new Arduino boards built, both Nagham and Sondos sat down with Pablo Leon and Rachel Roth to try illustrating themselves and then animating their avatars in After Effects. Rachel provided a sketch of our guests and then we loaded them on our custom tablets for illustration. Trying their hands with our stylus, they learned about creating layers, sorting into folders, using filters, etc.

Illustrated avatars of TechGirls

New avatars illustrated by TechGirls!

After they finished creating avatars, Alon Askarov demonstrated how to use the Puppet tool to teach them how create short animations. Given that we were limited by time and that TechChange animations take time (see our blog post on this), these were kept to minimal facial expressions, but we still had fun doing it!

A brief animated loop of Sondos

Animated Sondos

Designing a Four-Week Course: A Tour of mHealth

Since Sondos was interested in public health projects, we tried to show off what we’d been working on for our mHealth and maternal health initiatives. We opened up the most recent course that we had built with the UN Foundation on Mobile Phones for Public Health,but rather than the speakers or content, what seemed to be the most interesting was the 161 participants in the course from all around the world. We agree: It is pretty cool.

Student map from our mHealth class

Student map from our mHealth class

But on top of the novelty, we also chatted about how we believed connecting these students was a core part of online learning — not just transferring knowledge on technology, but building a community of practice. After all, technology is the easy part when it comes to mHealth.

Building Interactive Learning Experiences in Articulate

TechGirls Articulate screenshot

But a platform isn’t enough for online learning. Catherine Shen discussed how to structure content for educational purposes. This meant walking through the current courses being designed for State Department, USAID, and the World Bank. Catherine used a current course from OTI Lebanon on advocacy for the TechGirls to see the mechanics of course design at work.

The TechGirls then created a short interactive presentation on their TechChange day, integrating their animated avatar with a survey that the girls used to tell us about their experience. Using a Likert scale, the girls gave their impressions of their shadow day.

The results were clear: Both of our participants strongly agreed that the job shadow day was fun and inspiring, in addition to being informative and interactive.

It was for us as well. Thanks to the TechGirls team for joining us!

Funny group picture of TechChange and TechGirls

Thanks TechGirls!

This post was written with contributions from the entire TechChange team. Thanks specifically to Catherine Shen and Michael Holachek for contributions in the sections above.

The first step to closing the ever-widening technology gender gap is getting more young girls excited about technology. This is the goal of the State Department-led TechGirls international exchange program, which connects young girls from the Middle East and North Africa with tech mentors in the US. The three-week program aims to connect and support the next generation of women in tech by providing them with a foundation of skills, experience, and networks that can lead to future career opportunities in technology back in their home communities.

It is no secret that our team is passionate about ensuring global inclusion & understanding of tech applications, so you can imagine that we are incredibly excited to be a part of this years’ TechGirls program. On July 11, we will be hosting two budding female technologists, one from Jordan and the other from Palestine. These young women will get a behind-the-scenes look at our DC nerd attic, shadowing different members of the TechChange team.

This will include spending time with our in-house coding ninja Michael, learning the basics of Raspberry Pi and the “Internet of Things.” At another station, they will meet with our learning experience designer Catherine to get an inside perspective on the life cycle of a TechChange course, from design to reality. Our animation team will lead them through the basics of creating compelling and educational graphics – perhaps even letting them design their own.

Announced in 2011, the TechGirls programs was built on the heels of the first-ever TechWomen mentoring program, which pairs emerging female leaders with top American women in the technology sector. This year’s TechGirls cohort is comprised of 27 girls from eight Middle Eastern countries and the Palestinian Territories, who will gain hands-on skills development in fields such as programming, robotics, mobile app building, web design and video graphics.

 

In a country where the Queen has her own YouTube Channel, you would think Internet is a free and open space for all, but not exactly.​

Because Jordanian authorities believe that “browsing the Internet is a waste of work time and a huge drain on public money,” 48 local news websites were recently blocked in all workplaces. Of the news websites blocked, both government endorsed Petra News Agency and Al Rai newspaper were on the list. The blogger behind The Black Iris of Jordan notes that of the 70 million websites explored during working hours, only 13,000 of those are relevant to the employees jobs. In light of these new online restrictions, the government even ordered “Internet café owners to install surveillance cameras.”

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