Development is a field that requires interpersonal communication and collaboration. It takes people skills and intercultural understandings. Unfortunately, in my opinion, international development classes in college can get too wrapped up in theoretical frameworks to the point of losing touch with my real interest in development: making a real impact and causing real changes in the world. While a strong contextual understanding of the field will benefit a researcher in practice, I have always internalized these concepts best while experiencing them first-hand with real people and in real situations– not the classroom. I am a hands-on learner. In the sense of getting real-time experience, my information and communication technologies class has been more successful than some of my previous courses.
Dr. Laura Murphy’s class was particularly influential to my understanding of international development because it involved real-life research, people, and experiences. We explored different versions of solar panels and how their application to cell phones can have real impacts on the way rural communities live. As a class, we were challenged to explore the benefits and downfalls of using solar energy in rural Africa. This exercise helped me understand that each development project is truly context specific, and certain challenges will arise depending on who you are working with, where you are working, and when it occurs. We “met” Rose, an elderly woman in a rural village who had the double burden of caring for her large family and holding a prestigious role in her community. What cell phone technology did she specifically need in order to benefit from having a cell phone? How was she going to charge her cell phone in a village with no electricity and responsibilities that kept her from traveling to the next village to charge her phone? Issues of safety and theft arose with the technologies that were small and portable, and had to be left in the sun to charge for hours. Panels that were overly complicated and needed a hundred small pieces were cumbersome, confusing, and impractical. We began to explore how long-distance technology fits into a culture that values face-to-face interaction and the power of information passed down from each generation? How long do these technologies last? What happens when they break?
We were allowed to brainstorm solutions without hesitation about what idea is impractical. Each idea we came up with provided a foundation to our end solution, and thus acted as an influential building block to our exploration and learning. It proved to me that international development requires innovative thought, real-time action, and cooperation between eclectic people with diverse backgrounds to eventually find a sustainable solution. This class was an effective way of combining everything that we have learned thus far in our ICT class and applying it to a real problem. It helped me to better understand what exactly being a development professional entails, and how I can use what I’ve learned along with my innate talents to get me there. I think this hands-on approach should be used in more international development classes so that Tulane can produce more experienced researchers, developers, and world-changers.