The members of the team Gempowered collaborated across five different time zones to design Julisha Mobile, a blended learning environment that integrates face-to-face mentorship into a mobile platform designed to empower girls living in disadvantaged communities in Nairobi, Kenya. The presentation they have submitted about their project can be found below:

“We call ourselves Gempowered, an obvious play on words to show that these women are beautiful and precious gems, that are empowered to do great things,” writes Heather Ripmeester, Team Lead. Heather hails from Ottawa, Canada and has written her Master’s degree research paper on factors affecting learning environments in Nigeria. When she enrolled in Professor Kim’s Designing a New Learning Environment course this fall, Heather was delighted to see that there were thousands of people who share similar interests.

Ripmeester initially linked ties with Alison Mead, a DNLE-er from Vancouver, who is actively involved with INVEST Africa, an organization that links 12 technical and vocational education and training institutions in 6 African countries in a capacity building project that uses educational media and technology in flexible and blended programmes. When Alison heard about Professor Kim’s DNLE course, she immediately extended the invitation to her online partners and four of her Kenyan colleagues, Flora Okuku, Nancy Chege, Anne Kithinji, and Freda Kibata, enrolled in the course and joined Gempowered. “Flora is the brains – it was her educational scenario that we developed into Julisha Mobile,” writes Ripmeester, explaining that it was Flora’s commitment to improving the lives of the girls she knew in the slums of Nairobi that drove this project forward. The team also includes Modupe Macaulay, the team’s visual artist, from Lagos, Nigeria, and Jacqui Stecher, the team’s technical wizard, from Capetown, South Africa, who was responsible for getting the team’s presentation up and running.

I have had the opportunity to correspond with each member of Gempowered to get an in-depth understanding of how the Venture Lab platform helped them to collaborate across different time-zones to enable them to formulate ideas and carefully design Julisha Mobile. Most members agreed that the forums were extremely helpful in getting their questions answered and enabling them to share ideas with their classmates. Nancy Chege, for whom Professor Kim’s course was the first exposure a massive open online course, describes her experience using Venture Lab’s forums:

“For me to contribute and participate in such a forum was unthinkable. Who would have thought a girl would grow from my kind of background and be able to hold a discussion with people who have grown with technology all their lives? Who would have thought that it would be possible to sit in the same class with the likes of people I see in this class? Wait……. get this picture. A girl walking through a thicket early in the morning walking like 10km every morning to attend school. Bare footed. See the same girl going through the whole day with no lunch because home was very far. See that same girl sitting in the comfort of her living room attending an MOOC class with people who have grown and developed with technology! See the same girl contributing in the forums and people find some of what she writes worth reading and reply back! Suddenly she feels like she has a forum. May be, just may be one day this same girl will travel outside Kenya and meet some of these people. and perhaps pursue her PhD in those areas which she has only read in books or watched on video!”

In addition to providing a space for dialog and open interaction with other students in he class, Nancy’s teammates echo the sentiment that the Venture Lab forums are full of helpful information that helped them throughout the the course.

A Venture Lab feature that team Gempowered used to collaborate with one another was team journals. This is a feature that allows team members to have one unified online space where members can initiate conversations about time management, divide and allocate responsibilities, and post individual work so that all members can be aware of the progress of their team. “Journals and Forums were very helpful in getting to grips with the people and the content,” writes Alison Mead. Alison also adds that due to the fact that journals were open to the public, the team was approached by other education enthusiasts who were interested in joining team Gempowered. Additionally, team member Modupe Macaulay, pointed out that she liked being able to look at other students’ journals and assignments, to learn from them even if they didn’t post anything on the forums. This was an added benefit of using journals open to the public.

The team also discussed logistical features of the platform that they found useful. All of the team members from Africa remarked that they found the availability of video transcripts to be a very helpful feature. Anne Kithinji mentions that she would often save the transcript and read it offline when she her limited access to the internet did not allow for video-streaming. The team also found that the peer-review process was more than a helpful motivator for students to participate in the course, as it provided a great way for students to be exposed to the ideas and perspectives of their peers.

While Venture Lab does provide a means for people in different continents to collaborate with one another, the projects submitted by team Gempowered and other exceptional DNLE teams are a simple result of hard work and dedication. “One of the many things that makes me proud of Gempowered as a team is that it was a true team effort. Every single person on our team contributed heart, soul and body to make Julisha Mobile a success,” writes Heather Ripmeester. The Venture Lab team congratulates Team Gempowered on their work in Designing a New Learning Environment.