You have no doubt heard about the Red Cross or Red Crescent. Some of you may be first aiders or otherwise already involved as volunteers in your community. My organization, the IFRC, federates the American Red Cross and the 186 other National Societies worldwide. These Societies share the same fundamental principles and work together to build resilient communities by reducing risks associated with disasters and, most important, by leveraging a community’s strengths into a long-term, sustainable future. The only distinguishing feature from one country to the next is the emblem in an otherwise secular movement: Muslim countries use a red crescent and Israel’s Magen David Adom uses the red “crystal” (offically recognized as an emblem) inside the star of David.
Learning is a fundamental driver for the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. People become volunteers, very often in their youth, to develop life-saving skills through extremely social forms of learning. The connection between youth, volunteers and learning are the very core of what we do to “save lives and change minds”. There are 13.1 million volunteers in the Red Cross and Red Crescent worldwide with a shared thirst for learning. This is a potentially massive, multilingual classroom — and the affordances of technology can help us realize the previously-unthinkable goal of linking these minds and hearts across borders for the purpose of learning together, from each other.
So where do we start sharing and, yes, co-constructing knowledge? Historically, the IFRC’s approach could be described as “trickle-down”: the Federation worked with the leadership of its members to provide guidance and expertise. Eventually some of this reached the communities where most volunteers work, at the grassroots.
In the last three years, something amazing has happened. IFRC invested in an online learning platform and made it open to all. Despite some limitations of this platform from a “new learning” standpoint, over 25,000 people have joined and they have already completed more than 30,000 online courses (which have been self-directed, individual click-through slides with a quiz at the end), with a completion rate close to 50%. 60% of these learners are volunteers from our National Societies — and most of them probably discovered the platform on their own, without being told to access it by their national leadership.
So, where do we go now? I’m thinking about a MOOC.
IFRC is organizing a global youth conference to bring together 150 youth activists from the Red Cross and other organizations, like YMCA, Boy Scouts, etc. Initially, the idea was to get them to write on our Learning network’s blog in answer to a set of questions about how youth are using technology to change the world. We did this with pretty amazing results in the run-up to RedTalk #12, an online webcast event. The mechanism was clunky: we used forum posts and pasted them into WordPress blog posts… We did not have recursive feedback, the multimodal meaning was limited to posting photos and videos as attachments to the forum posts, there was no formative assessment (only a post-event self-assessment), and the questions were the same for everyone. Despite these missing affordances, we collected an amazing 50 pages of writing from young people in 12 different countries and the live event brought together over 200 people in a powerful moment of communion and knowledge sharing.
So, why a MOOC?
IFRC’s youth policy declares that youth have “multiple roles” as “innovators, early adopters of communication, social media and other technologies, inter-cultural ambassadors, peer-to-peer facilitators, community mobilizes, agents of behavior change and advocates for vulnerable people.” That’s a tall order for young people.
If I had to formulate learning objectives, they might look something like this:
By participating in the MOOC, participants will develop their knowledge and skills to:
- discover and reflect how different technologies permeate our daily lives, by engaging with various online technologies used for social change and sharing experiences with others through a global online conversation in the run-up to the event.
- define technology and its place in humanitarian and development practice, by listening to and engaging with the RedTalk guest’s story during the one-hour live webcast.
- clarify what technology means in the context of a local/global humanitarian and development work.
- identify gaps in our understanding and use of technology, including the Digital Divide and inequalities in access related to gender, race or ethnicity, socio-economic status, etc.
- invent new ways of using technology to make our communities more resilient.
To explore these, across the broad diversity of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, requires a flexible, localizable scaffolding. The aim is to start with the 150 conference participants but to open it up to anyone, anywhere. I can imagine weekly activities that people could do at their own pace, after adapting them to their local context. For example, I’d love to have K-12 teachers — wherever they may be — enrolling their students into the MOOC’s weekly activities, adding their voices to the mix. But I wonder if the objectives would be relevant — and, if they’re not, how to make them so?
At this point, it’s just an idea in search of a platform and an audience beyond our own youth and volunteering networks.
So what do you think?