By: Jessica Swann, Director of Partnerships for Education

As TechChange’s new Director of Partnerships for Education, I have been in learning mode this week at the Global Digital Health Forum, catching up on what my peers and new coworkers have been working on in this vital and fast-moving space. 

In preparing for the conference, I dove into TechChange’s wealth of materials within the Digital Health space, and I want to share an animated video that caught my eye as a high-quality, easy to understand instructional aide: “Standards and Interoperability in Digital Health: Explained.” It really helped me to understand these complicated concepts.

I’m an education generalist, with a rather eclectic range of experiences. Yet across all my previous roles, whether I’ve been writing about in-depth topics on database administration, or leading a program to strengthen capacity for virtual teaching amongst university lecturers from the Peruvian Public Sector, I’ve seen the importance time and time again of distilling complex concepts into digestible, engaging educational assets. This video is a great example of that – the clear narration, illustrative graphics, and storytelling bring these digital health concepts to life. 

Storytelling to illustrate real-life problems

The video takes us to the fictional country of Onesa, where the government is implementing a national vaccination campaign. We meet Lucy, the National Immunization Officer, and Isaac, a health officer from one of the more rural districts. They share a goal of vaccinating children against disease, but are quickly faced with challenges that arise from multiple systems tracking key pieces of information such as the number of children who need to be vaccinated and the number of vaccines that are available. 

This is exactly the kind of dilemma faced by healthcare leaders in countries around the world as they struggle to manage resources effectively.

Lucy and Isaac consider integrating the systems manually, but this quickly becomes too complex and costly to manage. Lucy has a whole country to manage for the immunization campaign, and Isaac has the other health issues in his district to consider. They can’t afford to spend all their time doing manual, error-prone integration. The systems need to talk to each other in a way that’s efficient and cost-effective. 

Enter the concept of interoperability. 

What is ‘interoperability’ anyway?

Interoperability is the ability for multiple applications to communicate with one another by accessing, exchanging, and making use of data in a coordinated manner.

In the context of digital health, this means that health information systems like OpenIMS and DHIS2 can communicate directly and exchange data. As the video does a great job of explaining, standards help to achieve this. 

What are the different kinds of standards?

The video shows us that there are two different sets of standards to consider for interoperability:

Semantic standards – that help applications establish a common vocabulary; and 

Syntactic standards – that allow applications to share a common grammar to communicate meaning. 

It’s amazing how much this sounds like language acquisition! In order to communicate and share information, systems have to have to understand the words and ways of putting them together…just like people. 

We tackle interoperability in our Architects of Digital Health board game

Countries can invest in a health information exchange, which is enterprise architecture that bundles all digital health applications together to provide guidance to software developers on how to manage interoperability between them. It stores lists of terms and concepts, and maps how they relate to each other. Kind of like the Rosetta Stone of digital health tools. 

These terms can sound abstract, but in practice, standards and interoperability of digital health systems help save lives. Careful, systematic implementation of these concepts allows policymakers and decision makers to see population-level trends and make time-sensitive decisions that impact the lives in every locality, in every age group, and at each point in the health journey. 

Accessible knowledge for all

So there you have it, interoperability in a nutshell. And you don’t need to be a software developer or digital health expert to understand the importance of this concept. 

I love that the video makes it easy to understand the stakes and goals of digital health applications and makes simple the complex concept of interoperability. 

In my role, I get to work with our partners to develop assets just like this, which can help explain complicated concepts and share knowledge across diverse learner communities. Indeed, at this very moment, we’re working with IFAD on creating a digital agriculture course, to help policy makers and extension workers understand how concepts like interoperability have a role to play in the design and application of agriculture and environmental policy. 

You see, standards and interoperability are just as important within digital agriculture as they are within digital health. Systems need to communicate with each other in order to help stakeholders manage information and make timely, evidence-based decisions to maximize yields and get food products to market. 

I’m looking forward to flexing TechChange’s amazing creative skills and instructional design muscles now and into the future, creating new videos and other web-based educational tools to help our partners to communicate all manner of complex ideas in ingeniously simple ways, and seeing the impact of this work in their programs.  

This video was created by TechChange as a part of the Digital Health: Planning National Systems Course to support the training on standards and interoperability, funded by Digital Square, a PATH-led initiative funded and designed by the United States Agency for International Development, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and a consortium of other investors. 

For many people in the world, it is difficult to imagine what life was like without the World Wide Web. In the last quarter century, the Internet has fundamentally changed the way people across the world access, share, and use information. The Web is increasingly integrating into more and more aspects of our daily lives and work. For example, it has played an important role in empowering citizens with a digital platform for civic engagement, and spreading knowledge on disease prevention to boost global health.

Join us and USAID’s Global Development Lab in celebrating the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web, and the extraordinary opportunities it presents to helping people in the most remote places in the world. Check out this animation video the TechChange creative team produced in partnership with USAID featuring Rajiv Shah, Andy Sisson, Priya Jaisinghani, Sascha Meinrath, Dr. Ndemo, Judy Payne, Ann Mei Chang,and Adam Slote.

In the next several decades where we can expect the expansion of broadband connectivity, cheaper smartphones, the increase in data, and business models that serve more underserved populations, we are hopeful for a future where extreme poverty no longer exists.

If you’d like more information on TechChange’s animations and our creative team’s work, please email us at

In preparation for our new Office Warming Party today, our creative team decorated our office with a special chalkboard mural. Check out our new time-lapse video documenting the creation of our chalk mural here:

Have you ever wanted to learn how to create your own time-lapse video? To learn more about how we created ours, read on to follow the five steps the TechChange creative team took to produce this video:

Step 1: Establish how long you want your final video to be.

We wanted to keep the video short and sweet at 1 minute.

Step 2:  Figure out  how long your time-lapse will last

Most videos run at between 24-30 frames per second. This means that for 60 seconds of final video, we would need a minimum of 1,440 still shots from the camera in order to fill each frame with a photo (24 frames/second x 60 seconds = 1,440 frames).

Step 3: Estimate how long it will take to film all the action you’re trying to capture.

We needed to make sure that Rachel, Pablo, and Alon would be able to finish in the amount of time that it would take our camera to shoot those 1,440 exposures. If we were to shoot at one-second intervals, our camera would only be running for 24 minutes. Now, our creative team is fast, but not that fast.

By estimating that it would take the team two hours (120 minutes) to complete the chalk mural, we can solve for 1,440* interval = 120 minutes to get that interval = 0.083 minutes, or about 5 seconds between shots.

Step 4: Set up your camera and film

To create the time lapse, we mounted our Panasonic GH3 onto a tripod and set it to take one photo every five seconds for 1,440 shots.

Step 5: Import your still image series into video and edit

After setting the camera to take these exposures, we imported the 1,440 stills into PremierePro by using the option to import an image sequence, rather than as individual stills. This import method is quick and matches one photo to each frame of the video sequence. Lastly, we cropped the video so that it would fill a 16:9 aspect ratio, added music, and edited in the TechChange logo animation.

Come check out the chalk mural in person tonight, May 7, 2014, at the TechChange Office Warming Party! RSVP here. We can’t wait to see you!

We’re excited to have one of our top viewed TechChange animated videos featured in The Guardian! Check out our “Why Is It So Hard to Try Something New in ICT4D?” video created by TechChange animator, Pablo Leon, and narrated by Laura Walker Hudson of FrontlineSMS.

TechChange animation video in The Guardian

To view the video in The Guardian’s Impact and Effectiveness Hub, click here.


Google’s relatively new service, Hangouts On Air, provides a powerful tool for live streaming videos to a mass audience. In an effort to streamline how we run live events, we have experimented with Hangouts On Air for our last few efforts with promising results.

In the past, we have relied on a service provided by OpenTok with success. We were able to stream events live over the internet with low bandwidth usage and a powerful API that allowed for simple embedding and integration into our online learning platform. We remain advocates of OpenTok and will continue to use their services for certain events. However, we have found Google Hangout offers many of the same services while simultaneously making the process a little more straightforward and instantly archived. The potential for Google Hangout On Air to further synchronous, online education via live events is tremendous. Here’s the breakdown:

So, what does Google Hangout On Air let us do that’s so great?

  1. We can embed it like a YouTube video into our site. In the Hangout On Air interface, once you have initiated the Hangout On Air, we can click a button and pull up an embed code. We can throw it onto any page we want and it will automatically start playing for anybody on the page.
  2. Google archives for us. You could say we are hoarders here at TechChange. For every course, we like to keep track of every resource we offer, what works and what doesn’t, and how people engage with us. Not only that, but we want to make sure we can provide resources equally to all students. Our greatest fear is losing a recording of a live event. Any Hangout On Air we host is instantly converted to a YouTube video that we can add to the course as an archive. Our current system requires us to screen capture part of the webpage, which we then have to process and upload to YouTube. Needless to say, Hangouts On Air saves us a substantial amount of manpower.
  3. Screen share is integrated. Though we love working with the Screenleap API, we’ve been hard pressed to find a reliable solution for capturing both our screen shares and our live video streams at the same time. With Google Hangouts on Air, archiving is automatic and includes video, audio, and screen share in the same archive. We still plan on using Screenleap extensively for tool demos, support, and others (see Hangouts on Air drawbacks 1 and 2 below), but being able to easily capture these presentations is a huge benefit.

Then why not use it for everything?

  1. The Hangout On Air API does not allow for deep integration. Although Hangout On Air is pretty powerful out of the box, we have minimal flexibility in modifying how it works and are always at the mercy of Google. There is nowhere to request direct support and asking for a new feature is about as useful as asking Fox to renew Firefly. Using Screenleap and OpenTok, we are able to allow participants and experts to publish to a live session with one click of a button. This type of deep integration is incredibly powerful, which is why we will still use both of these services extensively, especially in cases when recording an archive is less important (such as office hours, live simulations, etc).
  2. Hangouts require a Google+ account and plugin installation. Not all of our presenters have Google+ accounts. Some people want to stay off the social media grid, others come from countries where Google is inaccessible. For those who simply want to avoid Google+ we provide them access to extra accounts. Additionally, an extra plugin is required to run Hangouts. Our presenters hail from all over the globe, so when working with presenters who may have minimal internet connection or have to work from an internet café where installation of software isn’t allowed, this can be a deal breaker.
  3. Google Hangouts have a delay. Though we think we are safe from any possible wardrobe malfunctions, we cannot prevent an approximately 30 second to one minute delay when live streaming with Google Hangouts On Air. This means that our synchronous event is a little asynchronous. When our students ask questions, they are usually asking them a minute after we have already moved to a new topic. The facilitator must deftly (or not so deftly) return the conversation to the previous topic. In general this works fine, but there are times when it can be jarring.

Through experimenting, testing, and iterating, we have become pretty comfortable running Hangouts On Air as our main live streaming service when capturing an archive is vital. We hope that, as we keep using it, we will find even better ways of integrating and using it to further our online education model. Beyond that, though, we’re hoping to get a clearer answer to the question, How well does this work with mobile?

We have been able, with shaky results, to both watch the Hangouts On Air from a smartphone and broadcast a presenter too. It’s not quite stable enough for us to use, but if Google can make the process smoother, this would substantially improve our live events offering on mobile phones.

When something breaks mid-class it can be awfully hard not to blame your students. But the truth is that nobody cares about the tech you’re used to using or how it works optimally. They care about what works right now.



I recently had the pleasure of facilitating a small, intensive course that revolved around back-and-forth between a handful of students in remote locations and a subject-matter expert. In the second day of the class, our video platform (that had only days earlier managed dozens of participants without difficulty) was already cracking at the seams while students conversed over low bandwidth from locations in Africa and E. Europe. One student suggested switching to Skype, which ended up working significantly better for the remainder of that session.

The reason was fairly simple: Instead of having to use the centralized OpenTok servers in remote locations, the Skype users could connect through nodes everywhere because they themselves were acting as nodes. Skype is essentially a modified peer-to-peer (P2P) network application, which is why Skype works as well as it does in remote areas — you are both the user and the provider for other users of video conferencing.

So, problem solved. Now we just move back to Skype and get rid of our existing OpenTok video platform. Right?

Not exactly.

Online education requires tradeoffs. The more interactive your class, the more strain you will place on your system at scale, which is exactly what Coursera stumbled upon recently during their “MOOC Mess“ as they tried to provide a facilitated format to 41,000 students. Online education gets lumped into one category, but ultimately 1-on-1 or small discussion sessions are entirely different experiences than facilitated workshops or massively open online courses (MOOCs). Since we try our hardest to be platform agnostic, we’re always looking for new ways to engage students via video while always looking for a better web-conferencing platform as needed. Generally, this is has created our current rule-of-thumb for class size and video conferencing:

  • Under 10 students: Skype Premium (especially in low-bandwidth)

  • 10-150 students: OpenTok (but works fine for low-bandwidth with video toggling)

  • Massive: YouTube or Vimeo (use forums or such instead for asynchronous engagement)

If you’re looking for an off-the-shelf solution for holding a small webinar or sharing your taped lecture, you’d be hard pressed to do better than Skype or Vimeo/YouTube. We hold occasional webinars on Skype and host our educational video content (and animated videos) on existing video platforms, which we then share in our media library. But our problem has consistently been that we believe good educational learning and a “flipped classroom” model to exist somewhere between the two models — more than a webinar, but not quite a MOOC. And that scale is achieved not by speaking at an audience of 50,000, but by engaging an interested 50 online in as close to a classroom-like format as possible. That’s why we’ve gone to such lengths to build a customized video streaming solution in OpenTok for our students. Still, it’s good practice to constantly evaluate and re-evaluate the options, so we wanted to share some of our thoughts below on the relative advantages of each platform:




Requires download

No download required

Clearer and more responsive real-time audio chats of 4-10

Flexible real-time chat of 1-50 (simultaneously publishing, up to thousands viewing only)

Login required (SkypeID)

No login required

No administrative controls

Enable / block speakers as needed

No optimizing for high / low bandwidth

Client-side toggling of video

Proprietary format

Open API for custom integration


That said, we’d love to hear from you. What has worked well for your organization? Please let us know in the comments below if you have suggestions.


THE FUTURE IS HERE! But why is it so hard to apply technology to development challenges in the field? This video with Laura Walker Hudson of Social Impact Lab explores this question in more depth, with topics including:

  • Getting harried aid workers thinking about new ways of doing things.
  • Making technology work in broader contexts, more sustainably, and aiming for quality outcomes.
  • Managing the transition from “pilotisis” to “scale-up fever.”
  • Understanding barriers to progress at an organizational level.

But don’t take our word for it. Check out the video below:

Developed in partnership with the Social Impact Lab Foundation, AES, and PROFOR, this is the second animated video that we’ve done with Laura Walker Hudson (The first was The Power of SMS and Social Change).

If you’re interested in learning more about how we approach animating, check out our blog post: TechChange Animates! How We Turn Your Ideas into Videos. We’re also adding this video to our TechChange Media Library, where you can find our other instructional videos and content.

As always, we’d love your thoughts, so please feel free to leave a comment below or tweet @TechChange. Thanks!

Thanks to our new partnership with iHeed and Mobento, you can now search for content inside our educational videos, as well as store them on your Android phone for offline use.

Earlier this month, we were excited to announce that our content would be included in the Mobento Global Health Channel as part of a mobile partnership aiming to tackle health in developing countries. While we have made our animated videos and course content available in our own Media Library, we’re grateful for this opportunity to contribute to this new and powerful online video learning platform.

While we’re passionate about creating original video content in our courses, this information-rich format is not easily searchable, meaning that content locked inside has to be manually extracted for use. We’ve tried to get around this by limiting animations to 5-7 minute single-subject clips and then permitting event archives to go considerably longer (and when possible, accompanied by an agenda), but ultimately, video is video.

Well, until now. Thanks to Mobento search, our videos will have search terms identified in spoken words and metadata, and then will show visitors where the search words were spoken in a given video. This will help visitors jump right to the parts that are relevant to their needs, instead of having (for example) to watch an entire two-hour video for the relevant five-minute segment.

Image: Mobento search

But perhaps one of the most exciting things for us here is that Mobento is moving beyond YouTube and other platforms in enabling downloading of the videos through their Android app. So the next time we run our mHealth class and a student asks us how they’re supposed to use the relevant point-of-care video content while out in the field without an internet connection, we’ll have an answer ready.

If you’re interested in searching inside our content, head on over to Mobento and check out TechChange on the Global Health Channel.

Are you interested in learning with TechChange? Check out our next class on Mobile Phones for Public Health. Class starts June 3. Apply now!

The end of the year is now upon us. We just wanted to thank you from the bottom of our hearts and the top of our DC nerd attic for making 2012 our best one yet. Specifically, thanks to your course feedback, content contributions, happy hour attendance, and tuition dollars, we’ve trained over 1,400 participants in 70 countries in how to better use technology for social change.

New Online Courses:
We have expanded on our original set of courses (Emergency Management, Digital Organizing, and Mobiles for International Development) into exciting new spaces. A few courses we’d like to highlight:

  • (TC309) Mobile Phones and Public Health: Our largest open enrollment course so far, we were joined by over 100 students in 25 countries. Developed in partnership with the UN Foundation’s mHealth Alliance, we also piloted our new in-course tool simulator for D-Tree!
  • USAID Courses on Mobile Money: Through a custom course for 80 USAID mission staff in 7 countries, we’re helping build development capacity in mobile phones. Next up? Turning this course into a self-paced interactive module to scale the program.
  • TOL Journalist Training for “Reporting on Education” in E. Europe: Developed in partnership with Transitions Online (TOL), BBC, and The Guardian, we shared our platform with TOL to train 20 journalists over a 2-week period. This was our first course ever with non-TechChange content and external facilitators!
  • (TC201) Ushahidi: Frameworks for Effective Platform Management: Expanding on our “Emergency Management” course, we developed this course in partnership with Ushahidi to be a scalable complement to the Universities 4 Ushahidi program (U4U).
  • (TC108) Technology, Innovation, and Social Entrepreneurship: Developed in partnership with the Amani Institute, we wanted to not just teach content, but develop more social entrepreneurs to keep pushing the field forward.

Online-Enabled Public Events:
One of our initiatives this year has been to assist our partners in reaching a larger online audience and to start thinking of all public events as online-first. Events include:

  • International Conference of Crisis Mappers at the World Bank: We worked together with Crisis Mappers to produce the first livestreaming of ICCM, which led to an additional 950 unique viewers from all over the world!
  • Connecting Grassroots to Government at the Wilson Center: Building on our work for empowering Volunteer Technical Communities (VTCs), we took live questions from the online audience during this event. This was one of multiple events at the Wilson Center, which is leading the way in online-enabled events.
  • Expert Interviews at the mHealth Summit: Since the webcast was already provided, we focused on capturing expert knowledge from the attendees and partners for the mHealth Alliance. Most fun part? Getting pictures of attendees holding their cell phones to show their personal connection with the device.

Site Upgrades and Added Features:
In addition to a few other handy features, we’ve made a few big technical upgrades to our site in the hopes of improving user experience.

  • Launched a new, responsive! We much of 2011 promoting mobile-first design, so it was a relief to build a fully responsive site in 2012. Try re-sizing it in your browser!
  • Animating our content voiceovers. We’ve always been big fans of RSA Animate and iheed who produce educational video content, so we tried giving it a go ourselves. What do you think? We’re hoping to do plenty more in 2013.
  • Video-for-everyone course design. We switched from Ustream to OpenTok in 2012 to try to not just talk at our classes, but have discussions with you. It’s been a bumpy ride, but we’re working at optimizing for every browser and bandwidth.

Field Training and Workshops:
Tech training cannot be done by Internet alone. Here’s a few cases where we rolled up our sleeves and got to teaching the old fashioned way.

Finally, a particular highlight of the past year was the nice story run about us in The Economist. Read the article: Geeks for Good.

We hope to see you online, in person, or in class next year!

Warm regards,

The TechChange Team

Curious about learning with TechChange? Check out our upcoming class: Digital Organizing and Open Government. Class starts Jan 7! Apply Now.

Have you seen our latest video about TC104: Digital Organizing and Open Government?

This may just be a simple ad for our course, but it also showcases a lot of what we can do to create a learning experience through video. We thought we could use this video as a chance to show the process we go through any time we make a video.

Step 1: Conceptualize

The first step to producing any video is developing the content for it. Whether you’re dealing with a fictional narrative or factual documentation, whether your movie is thirty seconds or ninety minutes, the first and most important step will always be figuring out the story that you are telling.  We meet as a team – and with clients – to go over in detail exactly what information needs to be conveyed, and we develop a visual narrative around those ideas, drawing on the shared talents of our educators, tech experts, graphic designers, and video producer/editor (me!). From this collaborative process, we develop a script and produce a storyboard of what the final video will roughly look and flow like.

Step 2: Drawing/Filming

Once we have the concept fully fleshed out, we get to work on building the pieces we use for the final video. Our incredibly talented graphic designers draw the different pieces and make adjustments based on feedback; some of these pieces are fairly simple drawings, others are highly detailed and contain multiple frames of action that will ultimately get animated. Additionally, at this stage we produce a high quality audio track of the script, as well as potentially doing any live-action filming that is required (most commonly in front of a green-screen).

Step 3: Animating/Editing

Once we have the pieces made, we begin to assemble them together. Drawings are animated primarily using Adobe After Effects. First basic motions are mapped in time with the audio, and then more complex effects are added, such as sub-compositions/animations, lighting effects, motion effects, or anything else that’s needed. Generally, the animating phase begins while the drawing phase is still underway, so that if any problems arise with our original ideas for the video, we can easily and efficiently make adjustments. For example, in our TC104 video, we decided to flesh out the bike metaphor used near the beginning when the visual narrative around that section seemed weak, and it was a simple matter of drawing a few additional pieces and animating them into place.

Step 4: Revisions

The animation culminates in the production of a rough draft of the final video that is then reviewed first by the entire TechChange team. Here’s the rough draft we produced for TC104:

After any changes, we then go over a revised draft with the client. We carefully weigh their feedback to make a final round of adjustments to the video, and then we are done!

Key Takeaways

There are a few key lessons about this process that are worth highlighting and remembering:

  • The strength of the concept/story will carry over to the strength of the video. Having a strong script and audio track early in the process makes the whole process smoother.
  • Producing animations is a collaborative process. The input of experts and clients is extremely valuable, and our creative team is very talented and flexible in working to achieve the strongest possible video. Having multiple perspectives throughout the process is incredibly valuable, because viewers of the final product will have a wide range of perspective, too.
  • Producing animations is fun! It is an effective and easy way to uniquely convey any information to the entire world!

Hopefully this post has been an insightful look into our process. Please contact us with any questions about our process, or if you’d like us to help you produce videos!