Afghan Women Project


Problem Statement
In the summer of 2002, the University of Colorado at Denver (UCD) was selected to be one of five universities to provide technology training to a group of five Afghan women. Apryl Johnson, an Instructional Designer at the Center for Innovations in Teaching and Technology (CITT), assembled a group of instructional technologists to provide week-long face-to-face training sessions with the women to teach them necessary technology skills, so they could assume a leadership role in the reconstruction, and development of Afghanistan.

The foundation for this project was created, when President Bush, and Afghan Interim Authority Chairman Hamid Karzai, launched the U.S.- Afghan Women's Council in January 2002. This council, comprised of leaders from the government, business, and media of both countries, would faciliate public-private partnerships to empower the women of Afghanistan to play critical roles in the rebuilding of Afghanistan. This council sponsored 14 Afghan women, currently working in various ministries of the government, to travel to the U.S. to participate in the State Department’s International Visitor program. The program's focus was to teach the women computer technology, the internet, and software programs, proposal development, grant writing, communications and leadership management at a public university.

The problem was that we had very little knowledge as to what their skills and abilities were, and the program schedule was chaotic, with many last minute changes. The CITT scrambled to gather information on the women’s language abilities, assess their technology skills, and design presentations, instruction and handouts. I was to teach them how to use and research information in the internet, as research on the web had been one of my main work areas at CITT. We wanted to design instruction that would be of most benefit to the challenges they faced. The information given to us was superficial, so we assessed them the first morning they arrived.

Situation Analysis
The environment for assessing the women was chaotic. Each woman was at a computer trying to fill out the technology assessment, while being asked questions by reporters such as, "What do you think about President Bush’s policy on Iraq, do you think we should attack?" or "What do you think about September 11th etc." Observers were positioning for photo-ops, and it was difficult for anyone to focus. The women were jet lagged, struggling with the language, and media scrutiny. People involved were offering random suggestions. The instructional designers were weathering the scene, and looking forward to the following day, when we would have the women to ourselves in the lab.

After everyone left we looked over the assessment results, and shared our observations. The women were reasonably skilled with technology, they could all use MS word, some could use Excel, and they were familiar with the internet, even though they hadn’t had much experience, due to infrastructure damage in their country, and suppression by the Taliban government. Their language skills were varied, but they had a translator with them.

One of the heads of the delegation suggested that we limit our use of the translator in order for them to "practice studying their English." I thought this was unwise, as their language skills were not that strong. Based on my limited experience with foreign languages, I believed that the technology information would be difficult enough for them, and suggested we rely on the translator. My opinions to the delegation were ignored. We all left to revise our presentations, instruction, and handouts given what we had observed.

Learning Environment:
The learning environment was the 5032 computer lab in the North Clasroom building. Every woman would have a computer laptop donated by Dell. We planned to have four instructional designers in the room to be available to assist the women one on one, while each of us presented our material.

Instructional Design Goals
The goal for learning technology was so the Afghan women could eventually write international grants to help rebuild their country. They would need to be able to research information and funding sources, create budgets, and give presentations.
The CITT presentations would cover

Computer basics ( to operate the Dell laptops)
Searching the Internet

My instructional goals for the women were to

Have a basic understanding of how the internet worked
Understand what a search engine was, and practice using one
Experience going through a search pathway for relevant materials they would need for future web grant searches and language tools
Copy and past graphics and information to a second document to create and enhance their presentations.

These objectives are detailed in the class outline on the Afghan Materials Link


Rationale for Approach
I took the translator aside and gave him a list of words that I would be using in the next days presentation, so that he could prepare translations for some of the more difficult concepts I had to teach. I also told him that I would be using him a lot, asking about his internet skills, which were fine. I left to revise my instruction to make it simpler, and more in depth for how to use the web for research and document preparation. The sources for the handout were patched together from a variety of web resources. I assembled it by researching, and copy/pasting relevant information simplifying the language for the users.

Click here to see Instructional handout

The following day I began my presentation. With one hour to teach this material, this was definately teaching under pressure. As the second presenter, I was able to observe that not using the translator made it almost impossible for the women to follow along. The scene in the room was also stressed, because the program schedulers were realizing that they had not portioned enough instructional time in the week for the women, instead scheduling them to go to Elitch's, museums, luncheons, and photo-op interviews.

The translator and I stood together, I introduced the concepts I had outlined and he translated. The women immediately looked relieved. We sped through the instruction with the women raising their hands, and conferring with the translator whenever they had questions, or needed clarification. After seeing my success in using the translator, all the presenters opted for having his assisstance.I was glad I had used the translator because most of the information was new to them. While they were familiar with typing and using some software programs, they had never seen Google, or known how to “surf the web”, they were also unfamiliar with URLs, and copy/pasting information and graphics, off the web. When I showed them links in Dari, they were excited to see something familiar.

The Afghan women were very bright, strong individuals. One had run a school for girls in her home during the Taliban occupation, an act that had been punishable by death. All had survived under more stress than most of us can imagine.


Evidence of Value
The CITT did not collect evaluations from the women. We all had enough to do simply giving instruction. I did have opportunities to socialize with them at lunches, and receptions. They were all lovely women, who were appreciative of what we had taught. They told me that they had found the internet search instruction especially useful, for researching further international grant writing sources.We all only wished they’d had more classroom time.


Reflecting on the instruction I believe most of it still looks useful. I had tried to collect materials that they could use for their future training and research. In my presentation, I took a small risk in relying on the translator. Having experienced communicating with Tibetan refugees using translators, I understood their usefullness in bilingual teaching. My example helped enhance the rest of the weeks training.

Thinking back to this time, and these women, looking at their pictures, and remembering their stories I wonder how they all are doing. I kept in touch for several weeks after, but lost contact after that. I know one of them declared amnesty in Canada, and did not return to Afghanistan. I’ve heard little about Afghanistan since the US invaded Iraq, and can’t help but worry that the invasion would have added stress to an already devastated country.

Pictures of the women and the CITT designers in the lab are offered below.

You may also want to check out the links to the Afghan-U.S. Women's Council and the U.S. State Department to learn more about this educational event.

Click on this link: to learn more about the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council.

Click on this link: to read Secretary Colin Powell's remarks at the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council’s "Women in Government" Reception.


Demonstration of Competency 2:
Designs instruction or human performance strategy to meet the needs of learners

This responsibility was met by the creation of the presentation outline and handout to impart instruction in a short amount of time, under less than ideal circumstances.The CITT assessed and anticipated complex learner needs, and then matched them through appropriate presentations and handouts. (These assessment form results have unfortunatly been lost in the CITT server transition)
Demonstration of
Competency 4:
Understands how to capitalize on the capacities and abilities of each learner

This project meets the this resposnibility through anticipating the women's instructional needs, and choosing to use a translator. As previously noted,
having experienced communicating with non-english speakers via translators, I understood their usefullness in bilingual teaching. Further in preparing useful instructional materials, I tried to keep the resources focused to the skills they would find most relevant. For example, I included resource links to:
International fundraising
Language tools for Dari
Grant writing
I then had them go through a search pathway to fundraising sources, so they could practice getting to useful information, and copy/pasting it to future documents.