“What If We Were To Go?”: Undergraduates Simulate the Building of an NGO From Theory To Practice

Kimberly Davies Hoffman; Rose-Marie Chierici; and Amanda Spence


Project Overview

Institution: SUNY Geneseo

Institution Type: public, liberal arts, undergraduate, postgraduate

Project Discipline: Anthropology

Project Outcome: mock non-governmental organizations (NGOs), student-built websites

Tools Used: WordPress, Weebly, ArcMap

Resources Included in Chapter:

  • Course Syllabus
  • Course Schedule
  • Student Work Examples
  • Videos

At the start of this project, I had very little understanding about development work and how many responsibilities we would have in the 10 weeks we were given to organize an NGO. Sitting in a room full of strangers the first day, none of us really knew how many challenges we would be facing in the upcoming weeks. At that point, the problem seemed simple; we would pick a problem, a country and send a group there to fix it. However, we quickly realized that being a development worker isn’t just about taking care of one small problem and moving on; it is about digging deeper than what you see on the surface. As an NGO we decided to learn as much as we could about the people living with the problems we wanted to tackle, understanding the daily challenges they face in everyday life, and asking them what they wanted us to do to help. Throughout the project there were many ups and downs and new questions we had to answer at every step of the process and I learned to differentiate between theory learned in class and actual practice in the field. Working with PROSPER has been an incredibly eye opening experience and I look forward to using the skills I have acquired many times in the future.

—Nazanin Moeini, PROSPER 2014

In 2012, an anthropology professor, Rose-Marie Chierici, and her departmental librarian, Kimberly Davies-Hoffman, embarked on a new kind of course design at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Geneseo.[1] Just as students entering the course were apprehensive about what the semester would bring (as the above student quote suggests), so too were the course instructors. Previous years of trial and error, combined with a pivotal moment in January 2011, prompted the teaching team to take greater chances in course design to facilitate more engaged and authentic student learning, ownership over the content, and motivation to explore uncharted territory—all key elements of open pedagogical design (Open Pedagogy Notebook, n.d.; Sinkinson, 2018). The 2012–2014 course design addressed sound pedagogical theory, assessment of learning, and internal motivations of the instructors to integrate classroom theory with real-world practice.

The ensuing chapter will detail the history of how the anthropology course Third World Development took shape in the spirit of open pedagogical design and practices, pulling from the distinctive but collaborative and complementary teaching approaches of the professor and librarian team. Amanda Spence, a 2014 SUNY Geneseo graduate who enrolled in the course, will reflect on her experience taking the course and how her simulated non-governmental organization (NGO), Mothers Advocating for Reproductive Knowledge (M.A.R.K.), built their project. It is important to all three authors to have this opportunity to document the logistics of the latest iteration of Third World Development (from 2012–2014) as a way to leave their mark on a course that is no longer in existence[2] but can inspire readers of the power that open pedagogical practices can bring to learning design.

Prior to the NGO project and related course design

Chierici and Davies-Hoffman had been working together on curricular initiatives that incorporated information literacy skills into course content since the early 2000s. In early January 2011, their focus on content delivery radically changed to be more open-ended and student-driven. Chierici, a Haitian native who has applied her anthropological expertise to community-based development work in Borgne, Haiti, had just returned from a field visit when the 2011 earthquake struck, just days before the start of the spring semester. Chierici decided to scrap the original syllabus for Third World Development in favor of using the disaster as a unique opportunity to engage students in a “real-life,” evolving emergency. With input from students, she dedicated her teaching efforts to evaluating the impact of the disaster and potential responses. Chierici and Davies-Hoffman broke the class into teams that each focused on researching specific aspects of disaster response, evaluating relief organizations’ efforts, and, based on the students’ findings from literature reviews on disaster management, suggested potential, culturally sensitive solutions. This was Chierici’s and Davies-Hoffman’s first taste of transforming a classroom into a simulated experience with real-world impact. Targeted library instruction sessions introduced the class to search tools that connected the students to sites where information could be accessed in real time (e.g., Twitter, local headline news). The closer collaboration between professor and librarian led the pair to expand this original experience into an ongoing productive partnership and deeper learning for students. It became the catalyst for the NGO course design focused on in this chapter.

The professor’s approach

Teaching Applied Anthropology and Development provided Chierici the opportunity to bring her field experience into the classroom and share her work with students. For Chierici, teaching is a two-way process and the classroom a laboratory where knowledge is created when teacher and students engage with the class material together. She used an experiential approach in all her classes as a way of demystifying “theory” and demonstrating for students the dynamic interplay between theory and practice (i.e., models and theory guide how we make sense of phenomena, and lived experience, in turn, sharpens theoretical perspectives). This experiential approach was based on the concept of praxis developed in Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1993). Freire’s notion of praxis is that critical evaluation of a situation or a problem should be guided by theory as critical before undertaking action and applying findings and solutions. This fits well with an experiential approach to learning that stresses the empowerment of students as critical, informed learners and actors. Nancy Scheper-Hughes developed this notion further in Death Without Weeping (1993), where she states that “action without reflection is wrongheaded, reflection without action is self-indulgent” (p. 171). The earthquake in Haiti offered a unique opportunity to make this explicit for students and instructors and test a model of teaching that challenged the traditional “sage on the stage” professor, inviting students to become active participants in the classroom. It was a dynamic yet imperfect experience as the class followed events on the ground in real time, used anthropological theoretical models to understand those events, and suggested solutions to emerging problems.

The librarian’s approach

Davies-Hoffman developed her style of and approach to instruction through two pivotal experiences while at SUNY Geneseo. The first involved a graduate-level seminar designed and customized by an education professor who was invited for the specific purpose of training the library’s newest hires in 2000 (Argentieri et al., 2003). The group focused on three main pedagogical theories—behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. Davies-Hoffman became particularly impassioned by the latter two theories and leveraged her capacity to take risks in the classroom for the sake of increasing student engagement and learning. She subscribed wholeheartedly to the idea that each student entered class with rich and diverse learning backgrounds and abilities, and, when placed in a group of peers with a problem to solve, could contribute their strengths and past experiences to learn from each other. Cognitive theory encouraged the librarian to scaffold the various steps students would need to take to solve a given problem, in the form of skills, resources, and adequate time to practice, course-correct, and reflect on the learning. The second major influence to Davies-Hoffman’s teaching approach was instilled as she participated in, and later led, a summer camp experience at the college (Davies Hoffman & Norman, 2008). The original camp simulated a crime scene investigation based on stolen artwork, which became the participating instructors’ first taste at what open pedagogical design could look like. The teaching team was drawn to the idea of leaving the final answer of who committed the theft up to the student groups. Opening up the final answer allowed students to create their own path, invest themselves in the most relevant research and investigation, and, in the end, resolved the instructors’ worry that the middle- to high-school students would either “win” or “lose.” The ultimate objective was not about getting the right answer, but instead investing oneself into the process of learning, constructing meaning, and defending conclusions.

Course Design

In summer 2012, a seemingly simple question resulted in a course that incited excitement, passion, and internal motivation in both instructors and students. Chierici asked her librarian, “How can I get my students to truly understand the process of development work?” Davies-Hoffman answered with the suggestion, “What if we made them into development workers?” The pair worked through the summer to design a course structure that would require faculty guidance and scaffolding yet be open enough to allow students to find their own path to learning. The original idea of requiring the student teams to focus on a specified list of factors (e.g., medical, financial, educational) gave way to a more authentic process where student teams would decide for themselves the key elements they would need to research in order to propose a final solution. Based on the Spring 2011 experiential coursework related to the Haiti earthquake, the idea of placing students into real-life scenarios required just a small leap of faith from two instructors ready for a new teaching adventure. The idea was that students would collaborate, research, solve problems, make decisions, and create an authentic end product—all the while guided by development anthropological theory. The instructors would figure out key elements of the course design ahead of time, but for the duration of the course the students would ultimately be in charge of their projects.

To simulate the experience of development workers (especially as there was no immediate catastrophe as was the case in 2011), the course centered on the creation of two non-governmental organizations where the approximately 30 enrolled students were split into two groups. (See Appendix A for the syllabus with course learning outcomes. See Appendix B for project milestones.) The groups were not assigned a location in the world where they would conduct their research-based work nor were they handed an NGO with a name or mission. All details regarding the formalization of their NGO were left to the student groups who then had the semester to make decisions about the organization they would create. In the words of STEM team leader Melissa Royal, the new NGOs began with a group of “strangers with little idea of where to start” (STEM, 2014). Kristine Hale, a student leader for the PROSPER: Programs for Sustainable Progress through Environmental Recovery NGO (2014) further reflected, “The first day that we were assigned our groups I really had no idea how we were going to make it work. We all sat down and looked at each other with puzzled looks on our faces and just started. We did not even really know what exactly we were looking for but we dove in headfirst. We were given a minimal amount of direction and while at the time that frustrated everyone, I completely understand it and am grateful for it now. It allowed us to grow with our organization and mold it to be exactly what we wanted.”

For three sequential fall semesters, the class make-up had a similar profile—a fairly equal balance of upper-level students studying Anthropology and International Relations, with a few students from Biology, Geography, Business, and Languages. A survey on the first day of class routinely highlighted students’ life experience in study abroad—those who came to the US to study as well as American students who traveled abroad—previous experience with development work, and firsthand, personal knowledge of health, economic, and social issues challenging the developing world. Personalities ranged from quiet and reserved to boisterous and dominant. All of these student characteristics were taken into account when assigning students to the two NGOs as they would have to work very closely together for an entire semester. There was no guarantee that all the team members would work well together, but the instructors did their best to balance diverse perspectives, experiences, and personalities. Drawing from past experience with students from her other classes and summer fieldwork, Chierici was able to identify two team leaders per NGO who she believed could get the project started, keep the momentum going, and report weekly to the instructors on challenges, breakthroughs, and successes.

Theory to Practice

As mentioned above, Chierici viewed praxis as critical to teaching Applied Anthropology because it stresses the dynamic interplay between theory and practice and between discussion and active engagement in the formulation of solutions to real-life problems. This idea informed the structure of the course—75-minute sessions on Tuesdays consisted of an even mix of lectures and discussions of theories of development and relevant case studies, and the other 75-minute class meetings on Thursdays allowed for application of theory through “boardroom” experiences. Tuesday sessions took place in the typical classroom setting with Chierici independently leading discussions, while Thursday sessions happened in the library, under Davies-Hoffman’s coordination, in a variety of locations based on that week’s scheduled activities.[3] The goal was to guide students through obtaining the critical thinking skills they needed to evaluate and make sense of information they gathered through their research. Chierici felt that this model best reflected the reality of doing meaningful development work and prepared students to deal with the often murky situation of professional work.

While required readings incurred small costs for the students,[4] the practical work of research, communication, and webpage design provided an open-access format where resources were free of cost to the NGOs. The first few Thursdays were organized in a more formal fashion so that students could grasp the challenges ahead of them and learn about the variety of resources and skills that could help them come to conclusions. All 30 students would enter a library classroom equipped with desktop computers[5] to engage in brief lessons that encouraged critical thinking and set the stage for various project milestones.

When the NGOs did not have scheduled library sessions, they were holding “boardroom” meetings, with each NGO in a separate location within the library and one instructor per room serving in an observational role. These sessions were run entirely by NGO members, and while the team leaders came prepared with a general agenda, communication among the group was balanced in terms of hearing from a variety of voices. Students quickly learned how to successfully collaborate and organize themselves. Each team set roles, schedules, topics of research, and identified individual skill sets. They found themselves creating something from the bottom up: a simulated non-governmental organization without the direct interference of an authority figure.

Not many believe in, or think to run a business without a traditional boss on scene. However, in this class, that is exactly what we do. As a group we’re forced to develop trust among each other. It is effective in the sense that it allows team members to be innovative, communicate face to face, and reduces individual stress levels. There’s little to no checks and balances, which sometimes minimizes work yet maximizes control. Fortunately we’ve been working well together and have not experienced any sort of power struggle.

—Amanda Spence, M.A.R.K. 2013

Becoming M.A.R.K.

It seems to me that [M.A.R.K.] has an interesting dynamic. Everyone in the class consistently puts forth so much effort, and because of that it is easy to forget that this NGO not actually going to be implemented in Guyana. We often have had to stop in the middle of a discussion to remind ourselves not to get caught up in the tiniest of details, because we were focusing on things that may be necessary to focus on for a real NGO, but possibly not entirely necessary for the purpose of our project.

—Jessica Kirkpatrick, M.A.R.K. 2013

Mothers Advocating Reproductive Knowledge (M.A.R.K.) was one of the student-led groups developed during the second-year iteration of Third World Development. In order to create an NGO with limited experience and knowledge, students had to ask themselves: first, where would we go?; second, what would we focus on?; and then later, what would it be like if we were to go? Students examined a large body of potential issues faced by a wide array of countries—and smaller regions within them—and had to decide, among a multitude of factors, which narrow focus they would pursue. This broad scope of investigation gave students a glimpse at human struggle across the globe and how inequities between countries and within specific regions of countries can cause problems. As teams narrowed in on specific regions, they were careful not to tackle issues of widespread and complex political structures (e.g., human trafficking, universal schooling for girls). As discussed in the Tuesday class sessions, students would want to focus on an issue that a single NGO and its local community could solve together. Through their research toward course milestones for locating a region and identifying an issue to tackle, M.A.R.K. discovered that women in Potaro-Siparuni, Guyana were experiencing high maternal mortality rates, yet medical facilities with the necessary equipment needed for birthing were not within a commutable distance. Furthermore, the location was not receiving much attention from foreign donors. The team’s vision veered toward improving maternal health care among women of reproductive age in Potaro-Siparuni, Guyana.

Students determined that research is a matter of knowing how to ask the right questions in order to gain the information desired. When the scholarly literature and published news reports did not satisfy their research needs, M.A.R.K. reached out to personal and professional contacts (via e-mail, Twitter, etc.). The team identified individuals who were doing development work in Potaro-Siparuni, Guyana. Engaging with contacts from Peace Corps and local NGOs gave students the on-the-ground perspective they needed to address the issue they had chosen to research.

After taking a wide-angle view, students defined parameters to determine which services they would provide for their selected communities. Taking a grassroots approach, M.A.R.K.’s proposed solution was to collaborate with local nurses to learn more about the health issues faced by women of reproductive age and to train volunteer community health workers on relevant topics such as vaccination, nutrition, maternal sanitation, and best practices for a healthy pregnancy. M.A.R.K. also suggested offering individual and group counseling for mothers, as well as reproductive health screenings and medical checkups.

During the NGO project, particularly the “boardroom” experience, students were placed into situations where strong communication skills were essential. They found this to be true not only within the classroom but also in the simulated field of development work. International student Miriam van Voornveld from M.A.R.K. wrote, “Just like class, development is about participation. It’s about listening to others, trying to understand where they come from and work together on a solution. Not [only] did I learn [this] in this course about ‘Third World Development’, I learned the importance of group work and communication, about taking different perspectives and learned how interaction could lead to a wonderful outcome” (M.A.R.K., 2013). With few interjections from Chierci and Davies-Hoffman, M.A.R.K. naturally began to delegate tasks to their peers, forming subcommittees for projects including transportation and logistics, digital mapping, and developing a website to track the group’s semester-long progress. M.A.R.K. explored the unique, local challenge of geographic hardship. The group found that few maps existed for Potaro-Siparuni, Guyana and the area was often inaccessible by public transportation. These particular challenges led students to seek creative solutions. Student Michelle Graham stated, “I am currently pursuing a double major in anthropology and geography, and being in charge of creating a site map for M.A.R.K. was a great experience because it allowed me to unite both of my interests. I used ArcMap, a geographic information system, to create a map of Potaro-Siparuni, as well as perform a spatial analysis to determine the towns that M.A.R.K. has the potential of working in. Because M.A.R.K. has yet to actually visit Guyana and Potaro-Siparuni, using a geographic information system provided us with insight and information we otherwise would not have” (M.A.R.K., 2013).

A large part of the assignment involved building a customized NGO website. For M.A.R.K., students knew whatever they posted must be reflective of their vision statement—to improve maternal health care among women of reproductive age in Potaro-Siparuni, Guyana. The group understood that the information on their website must also be digestible, informative, and of interest to their audience. Knowing that experts were just a tweet away, the team contacted local NGOs, including current and past Peace Corps members, for input on how they should deliver their message on their website.

Many students reported never having researched or read so much within their college careers and that finding relevant and culturally sensitive information for a worthy cause was a huge motivating factor. For some students, working in WordPress was a new and intimidating experience, but they succeeded in their efforts.

Working with this specific site was new to me and upon starting to form the website I realized it had so many nuances and options! It was exciting to be able to customize and tailor the website with my partner to make it visually appealing while informationally relevant. Going further, however, I realized there was so much I didn’t know! Overwhelmed and a bit intimidated (I didn’t want to fail my group after all!) I spent many hours working with a phenomenal reference librarian that helped me learn how to navigate the site. After a few of our sessions I was able to have a firm grasp on editing, posting, tagging and many other features that made our site unique and easily navigated. Being able to put the group’s hard work into tangible and organized website has been wonderful and an exciting learning experience. Learning these skills in an age where the internet is essential is just another experience I will take with me beyond Geneseo.

—Jordan Laux, M.A.R.K. 2013

The students’ efforts resulted in a website divided into five sections: About, Our Work, Area Profile, The Project, and Resources/Bibliography. To learn more about M.A.R.K. and its semester-long progress, their website is located at M.A.R.K.: Mothers Advocating Reproductive Knowledge. Further, students from M.A.R.K. and The Epula Project (also from 2013) presented their work at the 3Ts conference in March 2014 (see Appendix C).

Assessing Student Learning and the Final Presentation

Student learning was assessed throughout the course via short written assignments based primarily on the core class readings and through peer assessment as related to the NGO project, and culminated in a simulated final group presentation where NGOs delivered their findings to several “grant funders.”

To engage their final audience and bring life to their presentation beyond spoken words, ideas emerged that took students outside of their comfort zones. In a class session prior to the final presentation, students were asked to draw out their NGO journey from a “seed of an idea” to its current state, encouraging students to think about ways they could represent their work using multiple intelligences. M.A.R.K. chose to begin their presentation with local music and dance from Guyana. The group also incorporated two case studies in which they role-played the group and individual sessions offered to members of the Guyanese community.

Another faction of the group led the audience in singing the ABCs song, representing the length of time one should wash their hands for proper hygiene.

For all work completed in Third World Development, team members rated each other’s performance based on three areas: contribution to research, participation in group discussions, and attendance. They also received individual ratings from team leaders who were then evaluated by their professors.

In each instance, students were working beyond the typical As and Bs and gaining much more valuable, internalized, and lifelong skills that could influence them beyond college.

Further student reflections of these experiences and skills gained through the process of development work are found within each NGO website.[6] For professor and librarian, it was essential to know students’ inner thoughts throughout the process of theory-to-practice, so they required each student to reflect on the experience as part of the final NGO website.

Lessons Learned and Possible Adaptations

The instructors were pleased with the internalized learning that students exhibited throughout the course and into their professional careers. As students reported in their reflections, the structure of this course was unlike any they had ever experienced and it took some getting used to. With patience and trust in their instructors, the students not only grew as scholars in their knowledge of issues facing the developing world, but also matured personally and professionally as they began to understand the world through others’ perspectives, share their concerns and ideas with each other, debate the merits of one solution over another, and learn to do so in a respectful and collegial manner. They held themselves accountable for the work that needed to get done and delegated responsibility among the group to be sure they were all staying on task. Knowing that the instructors could step in when needed, students became comfortable with the structured ambiguity of the course. Students learned a lot about themselves in relation to how they worked within a larger group (e.g., a student with a strong voice reflected that with time in her NGO came an awareness that she was not the only student who had something to say and she could learn from her peers) and international students, in particular, learned that education does not have to be a one-way process. They were truly struck by the democratic process the course adopted and realized that they had agency as equal partners in the class.

The structure of this course was unique in that it allowed a certain level of creative freedom for students to deliver a project reflective of the group’s research and value set. For example, is the site easily accessible? Is there a need? Does the location have an over-saturation of foreign aid? In asking these questions, students had to communicate, agree, and prioritize where they would like to execute their topic of interest. Students also gained valuable project management skills including leadership, communication, critical thinking, and member management. These skills were tested during instances when students had to determine how they wanted to execute their project, such as how to manage the logistics of meetings outside of the classroom. How should they document their research? And what would be the best method of communicating? Some chose the popular free texting service, WhatsApp. Despite some concerns regarding what information was available to them on the web, students confirmed that they learned how to research more effectively during the course. Using keywords, special characters, and advanced search features, students learned how to obtain specific information from various search engines. Some students were able to further their research by contacting individuals from organizations that were pertinent to their projects.

The ideas of open pedagogy and open student work were only starting to gain steam at the time of the 2012–2014 iterations of Third World Development. These were not concepts that the instructors were following closely or were even familiar with. Designing the course structure took an organic approach based on the instructors’ past teaching experience and their attempt to simulate the creation of a new NGO (e.g., requiring a publicly available NGO website with vision, mission, and proposed solutions to identified problems). At the time, Chierici and Davies-Hoffman were unaware of the required permissions through the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) or the choice for students to opt in or out of their work being shared on the web. If this course were to run again, these considerations would definitely be built into the process. However, because the NGO milestones incorporated contributions from the whole team, individual efforts became part of the greater good. Grading was more focused on expression of learning through individual assignments, contributions to the team with a variety of roles to choose from, and final, in-class group presentations. Students were given options as to which web-authoring tools they could use, how they could layout the website, what content they could add, and how they could represent themselves publicly. Any information and personalized reflections expressed on the NGOs’ websites were vetted by the team. The choice of adding names and photos to the collective reflections on the learning process was entirely up to each team. It is clear through their web design and the openness of their online commentary (and most recently, their expressed permission to emphasize their words in this publication) that students were proud to have accomplished the work of a burgeoning NGO trying to resolve real-world issues through community-based and culturally sensitive approaches.

As professors and librarians become inspired to develop class experiences through open pedagogical design, Chierici and Davies-Hoffman recommend thinking carefully about the professionally relevant skills, experiences, and end products that will remain meaningful to students beyond their college careers. For the first iteration of the course (2012), the final assignment included a group presentation at SUNY Geneseo’s annual day of student scholarship, GREAT Day (i.e., students presenting to students). Subsequent final presentations simulated a “pitch” to potential donors to fund ideas leading to solutions in the developing world. Consider what typical written and experiential work looks like within a particular discipline: lab reports and communicating research findings to the layperson in the sciences; legal briefs and courtroom debate in law; policy papers and legislative hearings in political science and government; lesson plans and classroom delivery for educators, and so forth. Without deliberate training and practice, students will rely on the written research reports they have been asked to develop since grade school. When students are immersed in experiences like the ones described in this chapter, they have room to try, err, and hone their skills and capacities to succeed in the real world.

A further best practice that Chierici and Davies-Hoffman recommend is to add structure to a course’s design but to remain flexible with the course schedule, especially when trying out an openly designed course for the first time. Expect the unexpected and lean into ideas and directions where students may want to guide the learning. In Fall 2012, and subsequently, Chierici wrote out and shared her syllabus for the first 8 weeks of the semester, leaving the second half of the semester to be determined by the students’ progress with their projects. Transparency in the process of experimentation with course design can help set students’ minds at ease, especially when they are clear about their graded expectations (e.g., more about personal contribution, reflection on the learning process, attendance).


It seems fitting that Third World Development, in its most current state (2012–2014), reached its pinnacle at a time when Chierici and Davies-Hoffman were leaving SUNY Geneseo. The teaching journey these two instructors took from the early 2000s to the end of 2014 culminated in an experiential course that benefited from all past iterations of their classroom collaboration. Each was committed to the application of theory and an idea that scaffolded practice reinforces and advances learning. Without the content expertise and topical inspiration from a professor’s course structure, librarians would not have the opportunity to mix in lessons of information and digital literacies, helping students reach success with critical thinking and communication skills within their assignments. Without the unique expertise and flexible teaching approach of librarians, a professor would be limited in seeing the wide array of resources that can cross interdisciplinary research questions and real-time applications that assignments may require. When both professor and librarian work together—playing off of each other’s expertise and diverse teaching backgrounds while providing space to allow brainstormed ideas to ferment—creativity, intriguing topics, and an organized course structure meld to inspire courses that students can get excited about.

With student learning at the center of their efforts, Chierici and Davies-Hoffman departed SUNY Geneseo knowing that the graduates of their classes were equipped to take on the next phase of their careers. The internalization of the lessons they learned will remain and continue to build with each new experience gained, beyond what students could produce in writing on a resume. Directly related, some of the NGO students pursued development work after they graduated—finding themselves teaching English in China or joining the Peace Corps. Former student Amanda Spence, a contributor to M.A.R.K., decided to engage in public health work, serving as a Peace Corps member in Guinea, West Africa. Her work as a public health educator in maternal and child health focused on topics such as nutrition, malaria, and sanitation. She explains that her participation in the development of M.A.R.K. helped prepare her for work in global health:

This class definitely helped prepare me for some of the issues I faced during my time as a public health educator. Guinean culture is one that encourages polyamory and the birth of many children. Men who have numerous children are believed to have been blessed by God. Of course, with more wives, that puts the husband and his partners at a higher risk of contracting an STI/STD and, with many children, there is less money to purchase the food that is critical to a child’s development. This was difficult to witness in person but Chierici’s class helped by teaching cultural competency.

Furthermore, the authors conclude with a video from Jordan Laux (M.A.R.K., 2013)—a student who also immediately applied the skills she gained in Third World Development to one of her first professional experiences as a college graduate—and the uplifting words of an international student from the Fall 2013 course.

With the amount of work that [our team] has put into developing M.A.R.K. without even anticipating to physically go to Guyana is astounding. The best part is that we are part of a generation that has not emerged onto the global scene just yet, but we have more potential than any other generation. Just think about how much we can do if we put in as much effort into developing real solutions, and not just for grades, but for the greater good. I know it sounds too idealistic, and normally I would be the first to dismiss that idealism, but I truly believe that we are part of a generation that will strive to solve problems that are plaguing people in places we can’t even imagine. We are a generation that does not look to the past for answers but rather focuses on the present and plans for the future. It is our time to step up to the plate and strive towards a better future; not just for us, but for everyone.

—Krzysztof Szafranski, M.A.R.K. 2013


Argentieri, E., Davies, K., Farrell, K., & Liles, J. (2003). Librarians hitting the books: Practicing educational theory in library instruction. In J. N. Nims, & E. Owens (Eds.), Managing library instruction programs in academic libraries (pp. 47–51). Pieran Press.

Davies Hoffman, K., & Norman, S.P. (2008). The Multicultural Classroom: Plan, build, renew librarian as constructivist architect. In B. Sietz, S DeVries, S. Grey, & R. Stevens (Eds.), Librarian as architect: Planning, building, & renewing (pp. 123-128). LOEX Press. https://commons.emich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1024&context=loexconf2008

The Epula Project (2013). The Epula Project. https://mozambiqueisthirsty.wordpress.com

Friere, P. (1993). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Continuum.

Laux, J. (2014). Reflections on Third World Development. https://youtu.be/ya04BGPfZVI

M.A.R.K. (2013). M.A.R.K.: Mothers Advocating Reproductive Knowledge.

Open Pedagogy Notebook. (n.d.). What is open pedagogy? http://openpedagogy.org/open-pedagogy/

PROSPER (2014). PROSPER: Programs for Sustainable Progress through Environmental Recovery. http://prosperngo.weebly.com/

Scheper-Hughes, N. (1993). Death without weeping: The violence of everyday life in Brazil. University of California Press.

Sinkinson, C. (2018). The values of open pedagogy. Educause Review.

STEM (2014). STEM: Supporting Tchad in Educating Midwives.


Contact Information

Author Kimberly Davies Hoffman may be contacted at khoffman@library.rochester.edu. Author Amanda Spence may be contacted at amanda.spence922@gmail.com.

Feedback, suggestions, or conversation about this chapter may be shared via our Rebus Community Discussion Page.


Appendix A

A document version of this syllabus can be downloaded here: Course syllabus




 Tuesday and Thursday 10:00-11:15

Bailey 201

Human development, as an approach, is concerned with what I take to be the basic development idea: namely, advancing the richness of human life, rather than the richness of the economy in which human beings live, which is only a part of it.”

—Amartya Sen
Professor of Economics, Harvard University
Nobel Laureate in Economics, 1998

Teaching Team:


What is development? What is the Third World? What are the dominant paradigms and ideologies, relationships or assumptions reflected in the oppositions between First World: Third World, Global North: Global South, developed: developing world? What are the political, economic or cultural implications of these oppositions? What is the “cost” of development for developing nations? What roles can anthropologists play in development programs? What is globalization really about? These are some of the themes that will be explored during the semester. Case studies as well as analyses and critiques of development programs will be used to sort out the dynamics between dependency, gender, politics, economic models, power relationships, and poverty. Students will apply what they learn through the readings, lectures and discussion on a semester long group research and creative activity. Development work is collaborative by nature; therefore we emphasize this strategy in this class.


  • Students will learn and demonstrate their writing competency through written s based on readings, lectures and individual research focused on the process of development and the effects of globalization on developing countries.
  • Students will be able to analyze and interpret issues facing developing and underdeveloped countries and the dynamics between wealthy and poor nations using Development Anthropology in essays, reports and oral presentations based on readings, lectures, group and individual research projects.
  • Students will understand theoretical perspectives and models of Development Anthropology in essays and class discussions using materials from readings, lectures, group and individual research projects.
  • Students will demonstrate critical thinking in their evaluation of the relevance of Development Anthropology relative to other models of development in essays drawn from readings, lectures and individual research projects.
  • Students will demonstrate oral competency, library competency and writing skills relative to the study of third world development in the presentation, discussion and classroom defense of their research projects.


This course uses an experiential and collaborative approach to learning. Half of your grade will come from team work and half from individual work. Therefore, class participation, individual and group work, and research are stressed. In order for you to get the most from this class, it is important that team members share the work equally and complete their share of each assignment. It is as important that each of you participates in class discussions and completes readings on time. Take it as a given that your contributions are valued and that your opinions will be respected.

A detailed outline of the group project with milestones due dates will be posted in the Course Materials section of the myCourses page for this class. You will be responsible to follow them and meet each deadline. Time will be set aside for group work during regular class periods.

Portfolio and Project Evaluation (50%).

Students will work in teams throughout the semester on a substantial project which includes a case study of a region that the group will select and an evaluation and critique of development strategies. Teams will design their group’s own NGO and projects, and a rationale for choosing the model and strategies that this virtual NGO will adopt.

Breakdown of Portfolio and Project Evaluation (on team website) grade:

  • 50% for team work
  • 25% for group work
  • 25% for participation

We will discuss this project at length and will guide you throughout the semester. Specific guidelines will be posted on myCourses.

Individual Paper: Critique of Development models and approaches (30%).

This is a formal, 6-7 page double-spaced paper plus bibliography.

You will review and evaluate the approaches to development that the readings for this class offer. Your evaluation of these works should reflect your understanding of development theory and your ability to analyze class material. The paper should include: a definition of development from your own perspective; a summary of the main arguments developed by each author and your evaluation of their contributions; and what you believe is/would be the best model and why. To make this a richer paper you will support your analysis with appropriate references to class readings and four additional readings from scholarly sources. No more than two of these additional sources can be accredited web sites. You can add articles from major newspapers or magazines but these will not count as additional sources. Make sure that you cite all your sources; consult a style guide if you are not sure of the format you are using. While I prefer the Chicago style, I will accept others as long as you follow a format.

Individual Submissions (10%)

Once a week, you will post comments on the readings and other assignments for that week. Your entries should be about 200 words and address a topic/ an aspect of the readings or discussion that you find particularly challenging or thought provoking. This is an opportunity to express your opinion or suggest a different way of addressing an issue. To receive full credit, you will need 10 entries. Drop your entries in the folder entitled Individual Submissions on myCourses.

Participation (10%)

This includes participation in class, in discussions, and on projects. Regular attendance and preparation are good indicators of your level of participation.

Extra Credit option: You can earn 2 extra credit points by attending four (4) events related to the topic of this class and writing a 200 words description of each event and what you learned from it.

Accommodations: SUNY Geneseo will make reasonable accommodations for persons with documented physical, emotional, or cognitive disabilities. Accommodations will also be made for medical conditions related to pregnancy or parenting. Students should contact Dean Buggie-Hunt in the Office of Disability Services (tbuggieh@geneseo.edu or 585-245-5112) and their faculty to discuss needed accommodations as early as possible in the semester.

Plagiarism policy: Plagiarism will not be tolerated and may result in failing the class. Read Geneseo’s Plagiarism Policy on the College’s website.


  • Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo, eds. Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking Of The Way To Fight Global Poverty. Public Affairs, 2011
  • Jessica Alexander. Chasing Chaos : My Decade In And Out Of Humanitarian Aid. Broadway Books, 2013.
  • You will find all other readings under Class Materials on myCourses.


Keep up on development news and job opportunities on Devex, an international development website.


Week 1
8/28: Milne 104
  • Discuss group work and form groups
  • Why team work? Check this site
  • Introduction of Librarian Kim Hoffman who is going to assist with this class
  • Form teams and get to know your partners and team leaders.
Week 2
    • Reading: Isbister, A World of Poverty from Promises Not Kept
  • Evolution of thinking about development and development models:
  • General discussion: Working in small groups, consider the following questions: How do you feel about the term “Third World” to describe certain countries? Why? What are alternative terminologies? What do you think about them? Reflect on the impact of these labels and find some examples on how they are used in newspapers, journals, the web, etc.
    • Summarize your group’s discussion and Drop your comments in the folder “Questions and Comments”.
9/4: Milne 104
  • Team Work – This week, teams will work on selecting a country/region and assign tasks and areas of research to their members.
Week 3
9/11: Milne 104
  • ***Milestone 1: Country selection
Week 4
  • Reading:
  • Discussion: these readings suggest various ways for the poor to get out of the poverty trap. What do you think? Outline pro’s and con’s.
  • Milestone 2: Draft your NGO’s Mission Statement
    • Begin shaping your NGO and its goals and objectives
  • Team work– Consult the calendar that Kim prepared to know where your team is supposed to be. When uncertain, contact your team leaders.
Week 5
  • Reading
    • Bodley, excerpts from “Poverty and Conflict in the Global Culture”
    • Banerjee and Duflo, Chapter 10
  • Film: The Price of Aid
  • Banerjee and Duflo, Chapters 4 and 5
  • Team work at Milne Library
Week 6
  • Reading:
    • Robbins, “Hunger, Poverty, and Economic Development”
    • Marks, “Human Rights in Development”
  • Discussion: Bring questions on readings and films from the previous 2 weeks. How do the alternatives presented in the readings for today reflect issues and concerns outlined in the material discussed thus far and how do they reflect what you are learning about your own region. Drop your questions and short answers in the folder “Questions and Comments”
  • Team work at Milne Library
  • Update on Projects I will meet with each group to review progress on your portfolio. Come prepared to give me a good overview.
  • Milestone 3 due: identify gaps in information
Week 7
  • Discussion of Banker to the Poor (Excerpts)
    • What are the basic premises of the book? How does this particular case study illustrate the struggle of the poor to get out of poverty; the constraints and barriers to individual development; and the potential for solving global problems? Do Yunis and Sachs have a common goal? How do they envision solutions to poverty?
  • Banerjee and Duflo: Chapters 8 and 9
  • Microcredit
  • Individual assignment: Formulate a thoughtful question based on these readings and analyze these questions in a short reaction paper (500 words)
    • ***drop your reaction paper in the folder entitled “Individual Submissions” on myCourses by Thursday Oct 16, no exceptions.
  • Milne 104, begin building your website
Week 8
  • Reading: Alexander, Chasing Chaos, Read about a third of the book and be ready to discuss the first 4 chapters.
    • Can you make a distinction between disaster relief and development? Is Alexander helping you to understand the complexity of “doing” development? What does that work involve?
  • Team work at Milne Library
Week 9
  • Reading: Alexander, Chasing Chaos, the second third and be ready to discuss the chapters that deal with India, North and South Darfur and Sri Lanka.
  • What is Alexander experiencing? What is she saying about development? How does she see her role and contributions? What is she learning?
  • Team work at Milne Library
Week 10
  • Reading: Alexander, Chasing Chaos,~ Finish reading the book and come prepared to discuss it and explain what Alexander’s message is to you.
  • Team work at Milne Library
Week 11
  • Team work at Milne Library
Week 12
  • Discussion From Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid: A Brief History of Aid, Aid is not Working, and The Silent Killer of Growth
  • Dambisa Moyo on Foreign Aid, China, and Celebrity
    • What is Moyo’s thesis? How realistic are her premises? What are the strengths and weaknesses of her argument? Where does she fit in the range of models/strategies to end poverty? What do Banerjee and Duflo say about her model?
  • Polak, excerpts from Out of Poverty.
    • How realistic is Polak’s model? Would it be useful at the site of your NGO?
  • Team work at Milne Library
Week 13
  • Team work at Milne Library
  • Milestone #4: completed drafts of NGO sites
Week 14

****All essays are due today at start of class. Late submissions will be penalized****


Week 15
  • Presentation of NGO
  • Presentation of NGO
Final Exam Period

Tuesday December 16, 8:00-11:00

Appendix B

A mock up of course schedule with in-class as tied to NGO project milestones readings.

Appendix C

A re-enactment, in short order, of the class design and learning principles as seen through a 3Ts conference session:

Graham, M., Laux, J., Maddock, D., Sovocool, M., Spence A., Trujillo, E . . . Davies Hoffman, K. (2014). Getting to the core of development work. Panel presentation at the 3Ts Conference: At the core of teaching, technology, and transliteracy, SUNY Geneseo, NY. Retrieved from https://cloud.ensemblevideo.com/Watch/HDriuhS5eUi3h0X1DtDq_g

  1. SUNY Geneseo is regularly celebrated for its excellence in public higher education (e.g., The Princeton Review, "Best College" for undergraduate education, 2019; U.S. News & World Report, topping “Best Undergraduate Teaching” rankings, 2019; Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Top 400 Best College Values, 2019) and Milne Library mirrors that same prestige with its own national awards (e.g., Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) Excellence in Academic Libraries Award, 2018; ALA Library Instruction Round Table (LIRT) Innovation in Instruction Award, 2016; ACRL Instruction Section (IS) Innovation Award, 2011).
  2. As Third World Development came to a close at the end of Fall 2014, Dr. Chierici was already into her retirement and Davies-Hoffman had accepted a position at the University of Rochester. The course ran one last time in Fall 2015 but not under the direction of the original teaching team.
  3. See Appendix B for the schedule of library lessons that related to project milestones, as well as time spent in the “boardroom” where students could deliberate on their process.
  4. See the course syllabus in Appendix A for titles required to purchase; approximately $23 cost per student in paperback texts.
  5. At the time when the course ran, Geneseo students were required to have their own laptop/mobile device so the desktop computers were not essential.
  6. 2012 NGO sites not included in the bibliography; 2013 NGOs—M.A.R.K. and Epula; 2014 NGOs—PROSPER and STEM.


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Open Pedagogy Approaches Copyright © by Kimberly Davies Hoffman; Rose-Marie Chierici; and Amanda Spence is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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