Adjunct Professor: Nathan Freitas

Thursday 09:30am to 12:00pm in 447

Fall 2010 / H79.2800.1 Call#77246

UPDATE FOR FALL 2010: Syllabus, notes, and other class content posted here: ITP2800.2010 Shared Google Docs Folder

We all know how mobile phones and ubiquitous computing have changed communication and networking in our personal lives, but do you understand the affect they have had on political and social justice movements around the world? More importantly, do you know how this has been done, so that you can apply these techniques when your own moment to raise your voice comes? While Obama’s Vice-Presidential SMS announcement was a milestone for politics in the U.S., activists and organizations around the world have been using mobile, portable communications technology for years to get their message out, organize their communities, safely communicate under authoritarian eyes and save lives in times of crisis. Through studying historic, global uses of mobile technology and then teaching you how to use and apply these techniques, this course will give you the power 2B THE CHNG U WNT 2 C.

This course will study and apply the use of SMS capture and broadcast systems (FrontlineSMS/RapidSMS), mobile crisis & event reporting tools (Ushahidi, VoteReport), Bluetooth broadcast systems, pirate Wifi mesh nodes, helmet-cam mobile phones and more. The course will also study about security and privacy of mobile phones and the possibility for open-source telephony. While the focus will be on the cutting edge, we’ll also review the historic importance of police scanners, HAM radio, walkie talkie radios and other “old school” tools that have played important roles in the civil rights movement, the environmental movement and more.

Actual organizations, causes and activists will be invited to speak to the class (both in-person and via Skype from around the world) to offer their stories and observations. Opportunities to work on projects with these movements will be presented to students. Some experience programming mobile devices (J2ME, iPhone, Android) will be useful, but not necessary. Experience in setting up at least one web server/application or blog system preferred. Having a cause you work or identify with or at least something you care about will be very important.

Important Resources:

Syllabus (this page):

Mailing List: TBD

SMS Mailing List: TBD

Homework Wiki: TBD

Books / Ongoing Resources:


Office Hours: TBD


  • 20% Assignments
  • 25% Class Participation / Attendance
  • 25% Midterm
  • 30% Final Project

** IMPORTANT: Every student will pick an active cause for which to orient/contextualize their work throughout the semester around. A portion of the grade on the Final Project and Midterm will be determined by feedback from the organization representing the cause.

(75% or less is a failing grade. See ITP Pass/Fail rules for more info.)


Mandatory, unexcused absences will effect your final grade. If you are going to be absent, please let me know ahead of time if you can.


Excessive lateness will effect your grade. Don’t be late.

Tech in Class:

Laptop use is prohibited while other students are presenting or during discussion. While I am lecturing you may use them for note taking or class related work. In other words, respect your fellow students and don’t check your email/tweets/streams.

As this is a class focus on the use of mobile technology, use of mobile devices during class to take notes, document speakers and so on will be highly encouraged. However, the same rules apply – don’t check your texts or call your buddies.

Wearable computing devices, especially really nerdy ones or invisible/stealthy ones are allowed 100% of the time.

Class Format: This class is a combination of a survey and workshop. Students will be lectured on the history and usage of specific mobile technologies in social activism. Each week will also feature one or more guest expert speakers (either live or remote via video/audio link) to provide real world, first-hand accounts of the application in the field for specific causes. Each student will pick a cause of their own to affiliate with for the entire semester. Homework, papers, midterms and final projects will all be within context of and applicable to this cause.

Weekly Rundown:

Week 1 – September 9 – Introduction

In class:

  • Class Introductions
  • Quick review of the Syllabus
  • Breaking down the overly broad and general terms “Social Activism” and “Mobile Technology”
  • Review cases of mobile technology making a positive impact or change in society or history
  • Virtual “teardown” of a mobile phone
  • Introduction to mobile development tools and service options
  • Walkthrough of basic app build demo on iPhone and Android


  • Signup for the mailing system (terrestrial and mobile), wikis, etc
  • Find a mobile app (iPhone, Android, Blackberry or other) that you think is a good representation of Social Activism, and be ready to present and demonstrate it in class
  • Build your own “Yes, We Can!” mobile app, promoting a cause of your choice or invention


Week 2 – September 16 The Power of 160 Characters: SMS,Twitter; Mobile Political Campaigns #WINs and #FAILs

In class:

  • The merits of short messaging vs. apps
  • Review the geographic/economic/mobile device map of the world
  • Present examples of mobile campaigns from politics and activism that have used SMS
  • Quick brainstorms on reducing complex messages to short messages
  • Walkthrough of PHP code for use with free SMS services


  • Design a mobile texting campaign – shortcodes, keywords, send/resp functions
  • Implement campaign using TextMarks, Txtify or Twitter

Week 3 – September 23 Understanding Mobile Network Topology and How to Subvert It

  • TBD

Week 4 – September 30 Cameras Everywhere: Opportunities and Challenges in Human Rights Video (Open Video Conference Tie-in)

Once upon a time, video cameras were rare. Now they are ubiquitous—as are the opportunities to share, use, and re-use video. What are the limits and possibilities of an ethics of openness when it comes to human rights footage?


  • Design a mobile video applications with features that specifically address human rights requirements
  • Attend Open Video Conference, specifically mobile video/human rights sessions
  • Attend Guardian Project’s Mobile Video App Hack Day

Week 5 – October 7 Using App Stores for Good; Building Social Apps using Appcelerator and HTML5


  • Publish a simple app into App Store or Android Market

Week 6 – October 14 Mapping a Crisis in Real-Time:  Ushahidi and More


  • Setup Ushahidi crisis map server instance (on own server or through Ushahidi hosted service)
  • Find a cause that could benefit from mobile mapping, and design a campaign for it

Week 7 – October 21 Review and Midterm Workshop

Week 8 – October 28 Show Midterms

Week 9 – November 4 The New Pirate Radio: Audio and Video Broad/Pod/Netcasting & Sharing through Phone Calls and Bluetooth


  • Setup mobile audio or video broadcast system using FreedomFone, RSS podcast or other tool
  • Produce a mobile video segment by shooting, editing (if possible) and uploading content from a mobile phone
  • Design mobile video presentation app

Week 10 – November 11 – China/Tibet, Iran, Egypt, Zimbabwe and Burma: On the Front Lines and In the Streets with Mobile Phone


  • TBD

Week 11 – November 18 – Vision for the Mobile Future: The Connected Activist of 2020


  • TBD

Week 12 – November 25 Final Project Proposals

Week 13 – December 2 Final Project Workshop

Week 14 – December 9 Final Projects Showtime