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Tufts Crisis Mapping Class » Course Description

Course Description

Crisis mapping is an emerging interdisciplinary field that uses technology to aid in the response to humanitarian emergencies. After the January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the crisis mapping community and a network of students at Tufts University led the largest and most successful deployment of a crisis map to date.

Around the world, crisis mapping technologies are being applied to an increasingly wide range of scenarios, including the monitoring of elections and human rights abuses, citizen journalists mobilization, conflict tracking, and aid evaluation.  As the world takes notice of the dramatic new possibilities opened up by these tools, there is a rapidly growing need for skilled professionals who understand both how to implement crisis mapping platforms in their work, and the broader implications of applying mapping technologies within various contexts of international social change. This course aims to teach students about the field and equip them with the skills to use the most important crisis mapping tools. The students will additionally become a part of a growing global network of skilled ‘crisis mappers’.

This syllabus is subject to change.

Course Goals

1) Technical Skills:

Students will learn how to deploy three key platforms for crisis response

  • Google Earth
  • Ushahidi
  • Frontline SMS
  • Open Street Maps

They will be able to independently execute deployments of these three platforms for crisis response, and will know where to access technical support when necessary.

2) Program Skills and Best Practices:

In addition to gaining the technical skills required to deploy crisis mapping technologies during and before emergencies, students will understand the impetus behind the birth of the crisis mapping field. This includes understanding not only the realities of fieldwork, but also the ways in which humanitarians have been cataloging geographic information for decades. Students will receive a basic overview of relevant issues in:

  • Field work
  • Program design & management
  • Principles of humanitarian action, especially in regards to disaster management

Students will be given a basic understanding of the above topics and will be encouraged to engage in further training and critical analysis of the role of crisis mapping in international social change.

3) Leveraging the Crisis Mapping Network:

As part of the course, students will join the major international online networks of crisis mappers. They will learn how to access information from the web of decentralized online resources, and will be required to contribute to field-wide learning through blog posts, twitter updates, and recorded ‘ignite’ presentations.

Reading Materials

The reading for the course will be posted on the course wiki. Any copyrighted material will be made available via blackboard or placed on reserve at the Tisch library. Readings will be drawn from blogs, web sites and other unpublished sources of shared learning, as well as from formal publications and selected books.

Students will be expected to have all assigned reading completed before class. It is important that students complete all reading to facilitate class discussion. Supplementary material may be assigned, but will not be required.

Expectations and Grading
The primary goal of this course is to give students a set of concrete skills that allows them to enter confidently into the crisis mapping community. Therefore, each student is expected to do the readings, prepare the presentations, and complete the outside lab work. Each assignment and reading has been chosen to give the students both theoretical background and a practical application. Any uncompleted assignments will cause the student to go down one partial letter grade. In other words, if a student prepares every assignment except one, the highest possible grade he/she can receive in the course is an ‘A-.’

The students will be graded as follows:
Blog Posts: 15%
Class Participation: 10%
Presentations: 20%
Group Lab Work: 35%
Final Simulation: 20%


Blog and Community Posts
Although the field of crisis mapping emphasizes new technologies, the human connection is equally important. Blogs, Skype chats, twitter, and wikis form the principle methods of online, shared learning.

In order for students to understand and become a part of the crisis mappers network, each student will be required to blog throughout the course. This will also allow the broader crisis mapping community to engage with the work of the students. Each student will be required to

  • Write at least one blog post for the class blog
  • Join the Crisis Mappers Network online network

Blog posts will be graded based on their content, clarity of written thought, and pertinence to the broader community.

Class Participation
This course is designed to be a collaborative environment with students learning not only from the instructors and guest speakers, but also from each other. Students will be expected to participate in class discussion and come prepared to talk about the readings for the week.

Within the technology community, short presentations have become the normal narrative style even for complex projects. One such format is called “Ignite.” The presenter is given 20 slides to discuss a topic, and each slide auto-advances every 15 sections. Each team will need to prepare Ignite-style presentations after the conclusion of their lab work. These presentations will be sent to the instructor no later than 4 pm before the day of class. A presentation schedule will be given during the first class.

Each group will also be required to give one longer 15-minute presentation at the conclusion of the semester focusing on the lessons learned from their team.

Group Lab Work
Each week the teams will be expected to use a given data set and tool in the context of the scenario given to them at the start of class. Each team will be responsible for a blog post detailing their successes and lessons learned from the exercise only on the weeks they are not presenting an Ignite talk. Teams are welcome to write a blog post in addition to their Ignite presentation, but it is not required. The class presentations and blog posts will emphasize the limitations of the specific platform for the given scenario and the important things to consider when deploying such a tool. Students should also consider alternative strategies and ways to innovate on the existing use cases.

Crisis Simulation
In April (exact date will be determined based on class availability) after course 5, there will be a crisis simulation to test the students’ skills in the field. More details will be given mid-way through the semester, to include team assignments and preparations for the day. Participants in the simulation will include all members of this course, Fletcher students, and Crisis Mapping practitioners.