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Posted by on Apr 7, 2011

Ushahidi and Crowdmapping: A project from #mobimooc

This is a follow up to the previous post about potentially using Ushahidi and Frontline SMS (and maybe some open source CMS, Drupal, WordPress, etc.) for bridging communities of interest in higher education in Africa. I was specifically referring to Plant Science, allowing higher education plant/natural science departments with meager resources (ie, all of them) to potentially network the academic community with the practitioners (farmers, horticulturalists) in developing nations. All of this could be done cheaply, quickly, and efficiently with respect to the limitations (and opportunities) presented by SMS mobile phones in Africa. This is all part of activities we are doing for the #MobiMOOC open course for mobile learning.

A fellow learner in the course, Sean Abajian (and Sean, this post is just a poor attempt to start a dialogue with you on this) quickly put together at the beginning of the course a crowdmap of activity on #MobiMOOC using Ushahidi to demonstrate how fast and effective this tool is. In fact, I fully suspect this was the inspiration for my previous post.  So, basically what Sean did was create a crowdmap, as seen in the screenshot below. Learners/classmates submit a SMS message, or email, or tweet with the #mobimooc hashtag and it is represented on the map along with the contents of the tweet.


Sean's #mobimooc Crowdmap

What Sean’s map does most of all (at least in my estimation) is prove that these networks can be put together fast and (cost and time) efficiently. It also heartens me to believe that my meager tech abilities might be sufficient to get something of my own together as well. A great proof of concept for the hundreds of participants on the #mobimooc course.

So, my impressions on where to from here in regards to the crowdmap.

  • Manual vs. automated-if participants opt in (see next thought), is it possible to make this an automated mapping task? For example, networks are established linking Ghanaian historians at universities with high school history teachers (in both remote and urban regions of Ghana). Frontline SMS and Ushahidi are all set up and activity begins. Is it possible (I presume it is) to automatically map interactions without the additional step of texting a centralized SMS? If so, a real boon to tracking impact, effort, and interaction.
  • Privacy is a concern. There must be mechanisms in place, even cursory ones, to ensure that identities remain private unless otherwise noted. Participants would have to manually opt in to allow their interactions to be tracked in such a way (visibly mapped).
  • Instant demonstration of utility-and apologies for being concerned about the publicity aspects of these efforts, but I see quite a few well-meaning projects that stagger or fail strictly due to a lack of visibility and obvious impact. Maps help and maps like this in particular, ones that demonstrate interactivity rather than static entities, are particularly dynamic in demonstrating impact and utility. I hesitate to say instant advertising but that is essentially what it is.
  • Good link to national efforts. Maps like this, I believe at least, are most useful at the national/regional levels (something a bit macro as opposed to specific towns/villages (although that could work as well). Taking the mapped efforts of a small pilot project working with a few schools and paired universities would go a long way towards securing government interest and focus. A strong national commitment towards efforts like this goes a long way.

Other applications (Sean has me thinking here):

  • Teacher open sprints- teachers exchange ideas on a particular topic (best strategies for teaching w/tech in History) for a particular time  period (2 hours). Ideas are mapped, circulated, connections are encourage, networks are formed.
  • Funding sprints (sorry for all the sprints here): thinking like Kiva or something like this, sprints (along with a payment mechanism a la PayPal), but mapping need and matching funding. Specifically focused on education (this school needs a computer, this student needs funding for university, etc.)
  • Mapping neighborhood diversity (bio/cultural/etc.)- completely stealing this idea from Dennis Dollens, a fellow student at the University of Edinburgh and noted architect. See the comments here for his ideas. Great stuff.

All just some rudimentary ideas, but great ideas, Sean!


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