[UPDATE: Thank you so much to all the wonderful speakers who stopped by! We’ve posted many of the interviews in our media library!]

TechChange and mHealth Alliance are camped out at the mHealth Alliance booth in the Pavilion interviewing mHealth enthusiasts, professionals, and first-time conference goers about mobile phones for public health.

Come join – we want to hear your voice! If you’d like to set up a specific time, tweet @techchange and we’ll save you a slot. We will be closing shop at 4:00pm today, but we still want to hear from you!

We will also select key interviews for inclusion in our course: TC309 – Mobile Phones for Public Health.

OpenTok helps us bridge self-paced content and real-time video engagement. If you’re interested in exploring our platform, check out our upcoming course on mHealth: Mobile Phones for Public Health, organized in partnership with the mHealth Alliance. Class starts on Nov. 12!

 

Generally speaking, most online learning is divided into two camps: Self-paced content (Coursera, Moodle, etc.) or real-time video webinars (Adobe Connect, etc.). The problem is that our experience indicated that we needed both self-paced content to accommodate the mid-career professionals that comprise most of our students interested in technology, as well as real-time engagement to provide direct interaction with technologists and practitioners. Rather than compromise, we set out to build our own online learning platform.

When we set out to re-imagine online learning for our needs at TechChange, we realized that in order for our learning approach to work, we needed to create an environment conducive to collaboration and co-creation of learning. Our ability to beam in experts from all over the world for remote interviews is crucial to to making this type of learning possible. We use a video chat service called OpenTok to power these engagements.

OpenTok is a flexible video streaming service that allows us to integrate live video chat into our learning platform without having to worry about the actual video streaming itself. OpenTok provides a robust application programming interface (API) that allows a developer to integrate OpenTok services directly into your website or mobile application. They also offer pre-built solutions that you can simply embed into a website, but the brilliance of the OpenTok model is in their fully-featured API.

We tried other video platforms before finding OpenTok, but none of them offered the flexibility and feature richness that OpenTok offers. Using OpenTok we are able to allow remote presenters to simply log into our website and start publishing their audio-video feeds to our courses in only two clicks. This has greatly increased the ease of use of the platform and made it possible to convene important conversations between experts and course participants from countries around the world, including: Libya, Pakistan, Kazakstan, Kenya, Thailand, Egypt, and many others

Due to the bandwidth and other constraints we face bringing together this global audience (our courses generally include participants from 20+ countries), OpenTok’s robust API has been key to our success. With OpenTok speakers and participants can easily toggle video and audio streams to conserve bandwidth. We also convene participant panels where small groups of course participants can discuss pressing issues and share their personal experiences. We believe this video interaction goes a long way to creating virtual learning communities and adds greatly to course outcomes.

More recently, we used OpenTok to power our live stream of the International Conference of Crisis Mappers 2012. We received an excellent response to this offering and are looking forward to using OpenTok to allow other conferences and events to further engage with the global audiences that hunger for access to these important discussions. We believe it is especially important to provide access and inclusion to these communities that for any number of reasons are unable to be physically present for the increasing number of important discussions happening at ICT4D events and conferences in D.C. and around the world.

Finally, none of this would have been possible without OpenTok’s incredible customer support and technical assistance. I’ve spent countless hours on their IRC channel getting advice and support from members of their tech team. A special thanks goes out to @digitalsai, @meliho, and @jonmumm and others at OpenTok for all of their technical assistance and invaluable support as we’ve developed our OpenTok integration.

This has been reposted from the DataDyne blog. If you’re interested in learning more about this topic and Magpi, check out our upcoming course with the mHealth Alliance on Mobile Phones for Public Health. Class starts on June 3!

More features, more speed, more ease of use, same prices!

In January 2013, DataDyne will unveil a completely new version of EpiSurveyor — including a new name! Yes, we’re retiring the venerable “EpiSurveyor” — with 10,000 users in 170 countries easily the most widely used mobile data collection system in the development sector, and the most successful ICT4D (ICT for development) project ever — and replacing it with “Magpi”.

We chose Magpi (rhymes with “sky”) because we realized that a lot of people thought a product named “EpiSurveyor” could only be used for epidemiological surveys.

That’s understandable, but we want to make sure people know that EpiSurveyor is being used to collect all kinds of data: in health, agriculture, supply chain, consumer surveys, and more. So we’re losing the name.

More Than 40 New Features!

Our Nairobi development team has added more than forty new features, more speed, more ease of use — and all the same pricing, including the free version. Magpi is a completely new application, written from scratch, that works like EpiSurveyor (so you’ll have no trouble using it if you’re used to EpiSurveyor).

Mapgi’s beta testing is ongoing, and the 1.0 release will be in January 2013. Note: there will be NO interruption in service when we make the switch. Sign up for our mailing list to make sure you are notified when Magpi goes live! (if you’re an EpiSurveyor user, you’re already on the list).

Watch Magpi in Action!

And in the meantime, you can watch this video (made with the help of our friends at TechChange) of DataDyne CEO and co-founder Joel Selanikio demoing both EpiSurveyor and some of the big improvements in Magpi. The Magpi section starts at about the 3:25 minutes mark:

As we prepare to launch the next iteration of online course Mobile Phones for International Development on September 24, we wanted to talk about what some speakers have done in the past to make the class a success. If you haven’t taken a TechChange course before, guest expert speakers play an important role in bringing the content in our four-week online courses to life as well as engaging the students in direct conversation during a one-hour speaking slot. While it seems like these would be pretty standardized (webcast or screen share plus Q&A), we’re frequently impressed by how our speakers have found innovative ways to engage, so we wanted to share some of our favorites.

Props are key: Isaac Holeman of Medic Mobile

One of our best received presentation was about as analog as they get: Isaac Holeman of Medic Mobile holding a flip phone up to a webcam to demonstrate SIM Apps. It was also perfectly appropriate for the message that Isaac was trying to get across about using SIM Apps instead of focusing on smart phones or other newer technology: don’t worry about doing something fancy and new, but try to leverage what you have as best as you can to affect real-world change. According to their website, SIM card apps allow Medic Mobile to run on any carrier’s SIM card on virtually any standard GSM phone to run programs relating to mHealth.

Isaac took the class on a guided tour of their latest tool and then turned it over virtually to the students who made requests (“Can I see the menu again?”) that Isaac executed remotely. Very simple, very cool.

Launch a new product: Amy Demos FSMS 2.0

Amy O’Donnell of FrontlineSMS didn’t just demo an existing project, but rather used the class as an opportunity to walk the students through the brand new Frontline SMS Version 2. While we already love this product, it gave us a chance to do something new for our students, many of whom were already using FSMS is come capacity for their work: We put them online with a member of the FSMS team to not only learn about how the changes could affect their work, but also so they could chat directly with Amy about their questions and needs. This type of two-way conversation fit perfectly, and we’re hoping to see some of the ideas from our students in the next version!

 

Have a conversation: Joel Selanikio of DataDyne

Sometimes your best moments aren’t scripted and sometimes polished is worse than rough. When we first started our online videos, we did most of our live interviews using webcams with remote speakers. Once we had proven the model, we used some of our extra budget to invest in a production studio, green screen, and a more studio-style interview format. Guess what? Engagement went down, not up, as students started treating our presentations as scripted TV shows, not spontaneous opportunities for engaging with experts.

Some of our best expert moments have come not by carefully calibrated moments, but rather surprise interactions. One of my personal favorite interviews was by Joel Selanikio of DataDyne. After realizing that he wasn’t going to get home in time for a scheduled speaking slot, Joel hopped off his train and went to a nearby cafe with wifi and did his presentation from there. Once the students (and we, the facilitators) got over the sounds of breakfast being consumed in the background, we had one of the most genuine and riveting interactions of our Mobiles class.

It doesn’t hurt that Joel is an incredible speaker, but an event that could have or should have been a technical disaster ended up being one of our more powerful learning experiences.

Beyond Powerpoint: Bill Siemering

Even when you get everything right, be ready to be frustrated. Not because your speakers aren’t delivering, but because inevitably you’ll have students without sufficient bandwidth to participate in the event. That’s why you need to think of your content not just in terms of putting on a good TV show, but rather how it will sound over the audio podcast as well. A 1-hour session based entirely on visual cues is going to flop if half your students don’t have a visual to go with it. Fortunately, this is becoming less of an issue for our students, but it’s alway something we need to account for.

Have real-world connection: James Eberhard of GeoPoll

Although each of these was fun, in my mind the best speakers are those who tie their presentation to a real-world event. And GeoPoll did just that by asking hundreds of real survey responders in DRC and Tunisia questions generated in our courses by students in our Digital Organizing and Mobiles for International Development courses. Once students realized that they weren’t passive watchers of a presentation, but an integral part of a group project that would design questions asked to hundreds of people, they couldn’t help but be engaged.

So there you have it! If you’re interested in joining our next Mobiles class, we’d love to have you. We’re holding the early-bird price until the course starts and you can apply here to join.