Grenoble, May 2009
Online courses as a strategy for information dissemination
The experience of Modus Operandi’s Conflict Transformation courses.
Keywords: Internet and peace | New technologies for peace | | | | | Searching peace. Acting in favor of peace in a situation of war. | | | |
Modus Operandi has chosen online courses as a key strategy in the dissemination of its research findings because it provides a good balance between on the one hand the number of people that can be reached and on the other hand the interaction that can be established between the providers and readers of the information. Moreover this method is less costly than organising face-to-face meetings. Two courses that we have developed in cooperation with the Network University are “Gender and Conflict Transformation” and “Post-conflict Politics: state and society”. We also moderate a course on “Transforming Civil Conflicts”. This file intends to share this experience and contains the following topics:
1. Information dissemination strategies
2. Actors in online course creation: Modus Operandi and The Network University
3. A comparison of two course development processes
1. Information dissemination strategies
Online courses are one option for information dissemination among many:
Dissemination methods :
Video or film
Modop’s interest in organising online courses:
The primary motivation for Modop to invest a considerable amount of time in the creation of its online course on “Post-conflict politics” is because this method allows a dual learning process where our theory and collection of experiences serve others in their professional vocation while their field experience feeds back into our analytical model.
Feedback on the analytical framework:
In the discussion forum Modus Operandi tests certain hypotheses and answers fine tune our theoretical framework. A participant underlined for example the role of media in the legitimation of actors in a peace process. An issue we consequently have introduced in our approach to the actors that take part in peace processes and their impact on the durability of a peace process.
Feeding into research:
The experiences and comments participants share in assignments and during discussions serve Modop as research material. Modus Operandi is for example interested in the influence of beliefs in governance. One participant, working in Haiti, commented in an assignment on the influence of voodoo in the legitimisation of political leaders. This experience serves as testimony and is an indication that our analysis based on African experiences holds true for other geographical areas.
« Ripple effect », engagement with people working in policy making:
The majority of our participants are professionals working for international organisations
A selection of assignments has been published on the Irénées website as fiches expérience.
Creation of a worldwide network:
Online exchange has resulted in multiple physical encounters, like a meeting with a program officer at the Cambodia Development and Research Institute as partner with regard to the organisation of a seminar in Cambodia and a participant from Bolivia who consequently participated in the international research conference « post-crisis State Transformation, rethinking the foundations of the State ». Contacts from the courses also serve as possible internship addresses for students from different masters programs.
Advantages of online courses for students:
Experience shows that students suffer from less inhibitions to share their opinions than in classroom settings. Two recent experiments with a group of students debating in classroom and in an online learning environment both demonstrated that debates in the online environment were more dynamic and the number of students participating higher.
Moreover a course certificate after completion serves as valorisation of time spent on learning through internet and enables professionals to read content in depth.
2. Actors in online course creation : Modus Operandi and The Network University
For the development of its online courses, Modus Operandi (Modop) has entered a strategic partnership with The Network University (TNU). Modus Operandi is an independent research and training organisation based in Grenoble. It focuses on issues such as Conflict transformation, political legitimacy and management of natural resources. Its main activities concern the development of pedagogical material and the creation of opportunities for the cross-fertilisation of ideas.
The Network University is an organisation based in Amsterdam that offers opportunities for learning, capacity building and provides innovative services for social transformation. It develops its own courses on issues of social relevance in the global context; It assists in conceptual and content development, action research, and policy development on various themes with the ultimate aim to contribute to social change and it further provides expertise in e-learning and e-tools for development and social transformation. TNU has over 10 years experience with developing online courses for a wide variety of organisations. The majority of them are non-governmental or academic organisations interested in diverse issues related to development. Examples are Unicef, Wageningen University, Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Inwent (GTZ Germany), MSTCDC (Training Center for Development Cooperation), Community Biodiversity Development and Conservation Programme (CBDC) and Noragric. A list of topics can be found in appendix 1.
The partnership between Modus Operandi and the TNU exists of the TNU making available the Online Learning Environment that it has developed and Modus Operandi providing the content for TNU’s (own) online courses. The most recent course that has been realised is on « Post-Conflict Policies: State and Society relations », which is an adaptation of the research findings of a project on « Processes of transition and State reform in Post-crisis situations », financed by the Fondation Charles Léopold Mayer since 2004. In this document we intend to share some of this experience as well as the wider experience of the Network University with regard to the creation of online courses.
3. A comparison of two course development processes
To give some idea of the process of creating an online course, we compare two courses that TNU and Modop developed in 2002 and 2008. The first is «Gender and Conflict Transformation » (GCT) and « Post-Conflict politics: State and Society » (PCP). Both courses have been developed with the course software developed by The Network University. Courses exist of theory, assignments, a discussion forum, a chat function, participant profiles and a course library for background documents. They last 4 weeks and the time that participants spend on learning and doing course week is between 5-15 hours per week. The courses target professionals (working in Ngo’s or international organisations). A course fee is paid by participants and prices are negociated according to financial possibilities of participants.
The process of course development focuses on content creation and exists of the following steps:
Consultation Process (for whom?, by whom?, what for? The outcome is the rough framework of the course content) ;
Content Development Process (collective brainstorm, selection of key issues, writing content)
Adaptation of text to online format (from linear to layered content, adapted to different learning modes) ;
Pilot course and evaluation.
Development processes of both courses were similar. Some differences are to be found in the reason why the course were created (learner’s needs versus dissemination of research findings as starting point) and the number of organisations involved in the process of writing.
With regard to the « Gender and Conflict Transformation » course, a need had been identified to increase the understanding about the interaction between gender and conflict. Upon consultation with various gender, peace and/or development organisations, the target group and their learning needs were easily defined. The creation of content was a joint effort by five leading NGO’s on the subject, each with field research and training experience and who had extensive networks with NGO’s in coutries affected by conflict. The entire process lasted 18 months and was funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This institutional arrangement led to a slightly different orientation than the « Post-Conflict Politics » course: a larger focus on capacity building and accessibility for women and NGO’s.
The content of the « Post-Conflict Politics » course was already available as a result of previous research and seminars. These results had already been adapted to university education. The first step existed therefore in defining a target group and defining their learning needs to make sure these matched. The core of the development process consisted of translating academic and conceptual writing into concise and practical language, accessible to a variety of professionals (from NGO’s, international organisations, governmets and students). The duration of the course development process was shorter than the « Gender and Conflict Transformation » course, since less authors were involved and content was adapted rather than developed from scratch.
TNU and Modop’s online courses are very effective in creating exchange among a commited group or participants. Further development of the course environment should look at how to effectively feed the results of previous courses into the content without loosing the coherence and logic of the content and without making texts too long. It furthermore should work on a search function in the database of assignments that have been submitted over the years.
If you think online courses are a relevant tool for sharing information or you know actors working towards peace and conflict transformation that would like to contact us, please do so at firstname.lastname@example.org. The online learning environment which The Network University has developed might also be used by other Irenees partners. Modus Operandi can facilitate in exploring this option.