I just finished a four-week online course called “Tech Tools for Emergency Management“. The course is run by TechChange and covers some of the new digital tools that have been much talked about in the context of emergency response, such as Ushahidi, Open Street Map, Frontline SMS and social media in general.
- Week 1 involved mainly reading and discussing some basic materials about the topics
- Week 2 was an opportunity to play around with the different tools
- Week 3 was mainly about gamification
- Week 4 looked at tools that are not quite ready for market yet and included an Ushahidi simulation of an earthquake in Los Angeles.
All in all, I was quite happy with the course and the contents. The technical platform that TechChange is using is sound and I really enjoyed a lot of the discussions we had about the different topics. However, I did feel that it would have been better to spend more time on the tools covered in week 2 and that this part could have included more practical exercises.
More hands-on exercises, please
For some tools like Frontline SMS the practical course content was basically a recommendation to install the software on your computer and play with it, which is very difficult to do if you don’t have access to an SMS gateway. I felt that for the 500 USD that the course costs, TechChange could have bought a contingent of SMS on an existing gateway and have given us access so that we could have sent and received messages.
I also thought that it would have been good to already have a simulation in week 3 (which in my opinion was the weakest week) already so that we could have learned from that experience and applied the lessons learned in a second simulation in week 4. The simulation itself was very interesting and fun but I felt that it would have been good to include more tools into the exercise and generally be a bit more organized during the simulation. This is something where the expertise of the moderators and experts could have come in. As it was, it was pretty much a bunch of uncoordinated people trying to process incoming reports.
Despite these shortcomings, I genuinely enjoyed the course and think it was money well invested. I also have the feeling that the team is very eager to improve the courses, so some of these issues might already be fixed by the time the next course is started.
As many of you know, I am quite critical of many innovations in emergency response, since I feel they are frequently more about showcasing tools then about helping people. The course helped me to understand some of these tools better and discuss the different issues with people who had been using them for a long time.
I also really enjoyed networking and hope that I will be able to stay in touch with some of the more interesting people on the course.
To summarize, I would recommend the course if you are interested in learning a little bit more about crisis mapping and the related areas, like Open Street Map or SMS. It is a very basic introduction, but the course literature points you into the right direction if you want to pursue any topic by yourself.
If these skills are relevant for your work I’d say you should be in a strong position to convince your employer to pay the course fee for you. If you have to pay it out of your own pocket, I still think it’s worth it, unless the 500 USD really hurt you (TechChange also offers scholarships for people who can’t afford the course and can show how they would use the material professionally).