Author Archives: emswiet

About emswiet

I am a senior at Tulane studying International Development and Anthropology. After graduation, I hope to apply what I have learned in undergrad while working abroad and economically empowering women through their art. I have lived in Chicago, New Orleans, and Senegal.

Artfully AWARE Case Study

For the final case study of this course I have been researching Artfully AWARE, a non-profit organization in New Orleans that has been using art to empower people in marginalized communities for about one year now. Their mission is to “strengthen sustainable futures in both developed and developing societies by using the arts to enrich, educate and empower individuals and communities.” They provide different programs centered around art, drama, dance, music, and different media. Educational classes in each medium are a collaborative effort between Artfully AWARE staff and facilities of the Mahalia Jackson Center in Central City New Orleans. The organization gives a voice to kids in vulnerable communities, such as Central City, by promoting “self-expression and psycho-social healing.” In this sense, it uses the education of different media technologies as a means of art therapy to foster community capacity building.

For the purpose of this project, I will be focusing on a one of Artfully AWARE’s visual arts programs, the Virtual Communications Gallery and Awareness Project, that gives children the chance to “produce audio and visual manifestations of the issues [their] communities are dealing with.” It does this through participatory media workshops with film and photography that empower children to “tell their stories and overcome difficulties” as they create a virtual representation of their environment through artwork, photos, videos, and mapping of local risks and resources. The project can successfully “enhance communications messaging” as the projects are posted on the web and different communities begin their cultural exchange. This is beneficial because it creates a network where “participants, themselves, are answering to perceptions, questions, ideas, and thoughts that others have about their homes.”

It is also beneficial because the program effectively utilizes e-Learning as students are taught the process of filming, editing, production, and internet technologies, and thus puts the power in the hands of the community to break the digital divide. For the marginalized community, where previous barriers to technological access existed, this program uses a multidisciplinary approach to art and communication that strengthens human-centered design and promotes expressive empowerment. It provides the children the tools they need to succeed in vulnerable communities. While there are multiple beneficial implications of the Visual Communications Gallery and Awareness Project, there exist some difficulties for practical implementation of the project. Unfortunately, due to the expensive and fragile nature of information and communication technologies such as film and photography equipment, there are budgetary and practical limitations for how many children this type of project can effectively impact. Further, since Artfully AWARE is a non-profit, and the needed technologies are subject to become outdated, sustainability it is a constant concern that the organization has to overcome. Further, since the New Orleans chapter of Artfully AWARE has not been in existence long, there is little information about feedback and monitoring of the education media programs that is vital to understanding the successes and downfalls of this project.

This unique project that uses art as a means of empowerment is a refreshing take on how to develop communities both locally and abroad. It puts the power to decide about creative expression in the hands of the children in vulnerable communities which sustainably “promotes empowerment, cultural understanding and enables individual and community development.”

Sources:

 


Lessons Learned: ICT4D

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.


Frontline SMS

The famine in Somalia has been the topic of many of my International Development classes as of recent. Since disaster response is the topic of our ICT class this week, I think it is appropriate to comment on a few information and communication technologies that are being used to aid relief in the destitute, famine-stricken country. Frontline SMS is one such program that uses text messages to communicate with large numbers of people at one time. This is beneficial because it “enables instantaneous two-way communication on a large scale.” In order to use the program it needs to be downloaded on a computer (works on all Windows operating systems, Macs, and Linux) where the software uses the internet and a cell phone hook up with a sim card in order to send the text to a vast audience. By sending messages through an “online aggregator” there is the potential to reach more people at a faster rate, rather than the limited number of recipients allowed by regular cell phone systems.

Technologies are useful in a disaster such as this because the infrastructure is not wiped out as it would potentially be with hurricanes and earthquakes. With cell phones remaining intact they provide a valuable tool to communicate news of humanitarian aid and local events or insurgents.

To find out more about Frontline SMS, this video explains it well:

Or visit the website:

http://www.frontlinesms.com/


Mardi Gras iPhone App

Living in New Orleans can be a constant party, but the epitome of festivities occurs during Mardi Gras when thousands of people flood the city to join the celebration. Arthur Hardy’s “Mardi Gras Guide 2011” iPhone app by Calliope Digital, LLC is a neat technology tool for all Mardi Gras participants. This app has a bounty of information for first time MardiGras-goers as well as useful updates for the regulars and locals. The application is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, however, it requires iOS 3.0 or later. Some of the useful features (taken from the Apple app archives) include:

– Complete schedule and parade information. (Date/Time, Location, Theme, History, # of Floats, # of Members, Royalty, Throws, Special info, Arthur’s Facts).
– Parade Updates (from WDSU TV).
– Details of 53 Krewes. (Uptown, Metairie, west bank, Mandeville, St. Bernard, Covington, Slidell coverage only).
– Maps of all parades (zoomable)
– All articles from the print edition
– Notifications
– Historical information
– Safety
– Q&A
– What’s New in 2011
– Walking Clubs
– Native Tongue
– Schedule of Mardi Gras Balls
– Future Mardi Gras Dates
– Mardi Gras Happenings in 2011
– Mardi Gras Scene in 2010/2011

This app has functions that can better a person’s experience with Mardi Gras. Importantly, the complete schedule of parade routes and the corresponding maps make for less confusion, especially for those from out of town. However, the maps are not as detailed or as interactive as some users desire. While the parade maps do entail the exact streets each krewe will use, they do not incorporate the surrounding streets. This is detrimental to providing directions and a special context of where the parades physically exist. Further, the maps do not track the physical succession of the parade, so it is hard to locate the exact whereabouts of the parade as you wait on the parade route. This sort of GPS tracking is available on other Mardi Gras apps available by Calliope Digital, LLC, called “WDSU Parade Tracker”; yet the two apps remain separate, when it would be most beneficial to combine the two. In this sense, I would recommend the use of a few different Mardi Gras apps to those festival-goers that want complete coverage of the parades. Being able to cross-check information from various iPhone apps would also ensure correct information given from each application. Others apps include Zehnder Communications’ “Experience Mardi Gras” app and new competitors emerge each year. This is beneficial in the long run as new apps combine various advancements and become a complete techtool for Mardi Gras communication.

In terms of broader development practices, phone applications such as the ones demonstrated during Mardi Gras could be created to track medical caravans, food trucks, and various other forms of aid during disasters. The applications for a technology similar to the Mardi Gras app are endless, and could especially benefit information and communication technologies in development.

For more information, click here.


Instant Knowledge Critique


For my generation, knowledge is at our fingertips. Literally. In the age of google, vast online databases, and the smartphone, tech-savvy individuals can find the answers to any question that flutters across their mind. What was the score of the last Saints game? What exactly is in a hand-grenade on Bourbon? What year did Katrina happen? While no question is a stupid question, does our reliance on these instant-knowledge technologies make us the stupid ones? Our ability to instantly pull up the internet to answer our questions eliminates the need to rack the inventory of our brains for the facts that we seek. Further, just as easily the information enters our mind, as soon as we put the iPhone away the knowledge parts too. Easy come, easy go.

In this video, comedian Pete Holmes critiques this same idea of “instant knowledge” and the implications it has on our generation’s actual intelligence. While our tools allow us to “know” so much, in reality, what do we actually come away “knowing?”



The Concept of New Media and its Transformation Since 2007

In the December 2007 “Information 4 Development” magazine, editor Ravi Gupta writes about new media dreams that were emerging. Circa 2007, Gupta defines the evolving term of “new media” as “a group of digitial technologies…[such as] citizen journalists, bloggers, researchers, and organizations”  that put an optimistic spin on information technologies as they “provid[e] an alternative source of information and reportage.” These new medias have the potential to change the front of ICTs and how they impact development by fostering a “growing appreciation of individual attempts to provide texts of social, journalistic, and analytical merit.” This has the potential to strengthen the voice of individuals, instead of a one-sided representation of development as represented in mass media. Gupta explains this as positive because “new media [can potentially] challenge the hold of major media conglomerates over news-making.” This is extremely important in countries where the government is restrictive of media infrastructure such as television, internet, and radio. In this sense, new media has positive aspects that “can circumvent policing of the media by the government,” while at the same time negative aspects for individuals as new media, to some extent, promotes the “power of surveillance that the state can use to target citizens.”

In terms of education, new media can promote “life-long learning” where “education [is] more inclusive” and made public. I thought this point was especially pertinent because of the blogging about ICT that this class has recently started. The lessons we are learning in class are now made public via our use of new media in the form of this blog. While the information is public, I think it is important to note that it is also extremely accessible in the sense that it can be accessed on every continent. While Gupta may not have had the foresight in 2007 to the direction new media could take development practices, these new information and communication technologies give knowledge at the fingertips of individuals across the world, as we have increased globalization in 2011. At the end of the article, Gupta remarks that “new media therefore has implications of politics, democratic practice, intellectual property, censorship, surveillance, freedom of textual production, media critique, and community and individual expression.” In a mere four years, I find that new media has even surpassed the practical applications of communication and development that Gupta suggested, and it will be curious to see the direction that unravels are more individuals gain public access to developing information.

http://issuu.com/i4d_magazine/docs/i4d_december_2007_issue


A New Tech Tool Resource for My Peers

Originally Posted on Blackboard by Emily Swietlik

This week I wanted to share some valuable technology tools with my fellow classmates. While I was doing research on different ICT initiatives in Mexico, I found a magazine dedicated to ICT4D that releases monthly issues with new discourses on information and communication technologies and how they are practically being implemented around the world. I like this website because it gives you access to the entire database of magazines for free. Articles date back to 2003, so it is useful in comparing how ICTs have changed over time with discussions of actual projects and changing mentalities on ICT4D. If you are ever at a loss for a topic on the discussion board, this website gives you many articles to choose from.

What better way to manifest what we have been learning in class than to use the internet and our discussion board to share information with my peers. I hope this aids your future posts, and further exploration of how we can use information and communication technologies to expand knowledge.

I4D Magazine