In horse racing, to win the Trifecta a bettor has to select the first three finishers of a race in the correct order of finish. For mHealth practice-based teachers like us at Boston University School of Public Health, scoring a Trifecta meant developing a three-way partnership among NGOs working in resource-poor countries, a leading mHealth industry partner, Dimagi, and our mHealth course, Using Mobile Technologies to Improve Health Outcomes. Integrating our course with Dimagi Academy, an online learning center that hosts a variety of courses to equip individuals and organizations with the knowledge and skills they need to build mobile applications for frontline programs, completes a relationship we have developed over the past four years — it is a Trifecta for practice-based teaching.
Four years ago when we created our course, our goal was to develop a skills-based, practical course on using mobile technology to improve health outcomes. We wanted to give our students an opportunity to develop feasible mobile solutions to meet the needs of NGOs in resource-poor countries. We also wanted to find an industry partner with experience in developing and implementing mobile solutions globally. Dimagi, right next door in Cambridge, was the perfect choice. Dimagi is an award-winning social enterprise that developed CommCare, a free open source platform that enables non-programmers to build apps. We selected CommCare as our principal application-building platform and planted the seeds of our partnership with Dimagi.
Identifying organizations that want to work with our student teams is one of the challenges of practice-based teaching, but we have been tremendously successful. We have worked with organizations like Partners in Health in Mexico, PharmAccess in Namibia, Last Mile Health in Liberia, Primer Pasos in Guatemala, Mercy Corps in Pakistan, and Special Olympics International. Our partners provide the student teams with detailed terms of reference for their application and work virtually with the team during the application building process.
In the first years of the course, Dimagi staff came to class to introduce students to CommCare and to provide support for application building. This year Dimagi took our partnership to a new level by building a small private online course (SPOC) for our students. The SPOC, Mobile Application Building for BU Students, launched February 19th on Dimagi Academy. Students in the class now learn the basics of application building online before our course begins. Dimagi Academy’s online course on the Open edX platform is self-paced and self-instructional, so students are able to complete it when and where it works best for them. We expect that this online component of the course will allow us to devote more class time to program design, testing, and implementation rather than the mechanics of application building. An additional benefit of our partnership is the potential for our students to receive certification in CommCare Application Building from Dimagi. Students who (1) complete the SPOC successfully, (2) build their application for their partner organization during our course, and (3) pass Dimagi’s capstone project by the end of the course, will be certified in CommCare Application Building.
We have great expectations for our course, and we hope to come back to these blog pages over the next several months to report on the results of our collaboration. We are certain it will remain a Trifecta!
Interested in partnering with our Dimagi Academy team to develop a custom mobile app building course? Please email: [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you!