This course has definitely changed the framework within which I tend to think about the field of international development. I’m not a very technologically inclined person in general, so coming in to this course I was honestly not so sure what to expect. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t understand why this course was a requirement for the major. I would have certainly agreed that “modern technology” had the potential to do enormous good in terms of development, but I had never really examined the meaning, nuances, or implications of that belief. I have definitely come a long way from that starting point; reflecting back on this semester, I think that this has been one of the most informative, interesting, and relevant courses of my academic career.
One of the main things I quickly realized is that technology is not a subset of development, independent from other points of focus within the field, but rather is, or at least can be, integral to the various aspects of development. I hadn’t previously thought about how far-reaching and diverse the applications of ICT4D can be, from health to activism to economic growth to disaster and crisis management, beyond simply technological progress for its own sake.
Another salient lesson that changed the way in which I think about development projects and interventions, and was an important recurring theme throughout the course, was that technology by itself is rarely enough of a solution, and that simply “throwing technology at a problem” without consideration for factors such as logistical feasibility is neither effective nor sustainable. Related to this, a point which I found to be particularly important – and almost counterintuitive at first – was to consider that the newest technology isn’t always the best technology for a development intervention. I had definitely previously thought about the potential for cell phones and computers, but it hadn’t really occurred to me that sometimes older technologies, such as radio, may be the most effective technology in a given set of circumstances. It truly surprised me when I learned about how high the rate of failure is with ICT4D projects. On the one hand, I truly believe that ICT is one of the most, if not the single most, promising things for international development and that by its nature, the possibilities for ICT to improve people’s lives are ever multiplying; however I think the most important thing to understand, for me, has been that technology is an invaluable tool, but it is a tool, not an end goal in and of itself.
In addition to a greater intellectual or academic understanding, I really appreciated, and benefitted from, the opportunity to have more hands-on experiences. I think that the blog, the twitter, and activities such as the mapping project did a great deal to enhance our exposure to the ICT4D field. These experiences, as well as our individual research projects and class discussions about specific ICT4D efforts, provided an immersion in to the field in a way that was much fuller, more current, and more dynamic than I have experienced in many of my other classes. I certainly feel much more well-versed and comfortable with technology than I did at the beginning of the course, and particularly now that I understand how the ICT4D is becoming increasingly important and present in development, I’m grateful to have had this experience.