I’ve been supervised

I always want to write blog posts after talking with my supervisor. I finished today reviewing the transcripts from the interviews that were conducted with the 12 curriculum support officers in six counties. They. Were. Rrrrrich. I did find some challenges, though–differences in pronunciation, figures of speech, the presence of Kiswahili interjections, fast-talkers, mumblers, screaming children, rainstorms…I’m not sure if I’ll ever understand what some of these interviewees were saying. My supervisor asked me to meet with my transcription assistant (yes…I have been legitimized to the point of having a transcription assistant!) to make sure, essentially, that we heard everything correctly. Despite occasional moments of confusion in listening to the interviews, I still found a great deal of clear, usable information that I think will go a long way informing implementation of ICT for teacher support in Kenya and other similar contexts.

Beyond this, meeting with my supervisor gave me some perspective as well as some next steps for analysis and reporting for the study. I was hoping to print all 100 pages of the transcripts and code them manually (which would also be a learning process for me), but he suggested I use a qualitative analysis program called NVivo, and suggested I could get a student trial for a month. Just enough to get the study done! (But waiiiit…I just learned it’s only for Windows.)

He also asked me for a first draft before I leave the country on Tuesday, including the introduction, literature review, and methodology sections. I think I am going to have to put interview analysis on the back burner, or at least learn about the software during my breaks from doing this writing. I currently have a very general outline for these sections, but will be beefing them up (tofu-ing them up, if you’re vegan) a lot before I depart. #LooseEnds

Also, I have a Peace Corps China buddy visiting today and staying all week, coming from a summer in South Africa in an internship with other students from the Non Profit Management Program at The New School. It’ll be nice to speak 中文 without worrying too much about grammar or tone correction (thanks, though, FG 老师) because everyone here speaks English and we’ll need to utilize crosstalk sometimes when secretly negotiating for souvenirs. I’m taking two days this week off to introduce my friend to Nairobi, then I’ll set her off on her own for Thursday and Friday to explore and report back while I focus on 9-5 internship deliverables. I am thinking tomorrow and Wednesday will include glimmering hints of diligent report production, but overall will be reunion days. However, you can count on me being focused and productive for the following three days in the office (unless, um, I dunno…someone throws me a goodbye party…).

I’ve been granted Tuesday off even though my flight leaves at midnight. I am already supremely excited to get back to Philly and to explore a second year of opportunities for learning, work, and community. The day after I get back we’re going on a Rodin training/staff retreat at Liberty Mountain…Resort…and I’ve signed up to drive one of the vans. Country roads, remind me how to operate a moving motor vehicle. =]

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Mini-EGRA Transportation; Tablet Transcription

My ten days on the Indian Ocean coast have come and gone. I visited seven different schools–four of them in rural Kilifi County, and three in urban Mombasa. Of the Mombasa schools, two were Alternative Providers of Basic Education and Training (aka APBET). At these schools, I did a few things. Mostly, I observed interviews with Head Teachers (Principals) and teachers from Primary classes 1 and 2. I also was able to do my own mini-EGRA assessment (administering the test using English AND Kiswahili, thankyouverymuch) with a student outside of the sample for the official mini-EGRA, administered by my Kenyan colleagues.

The other big thing was observing the interviews with Curriculum Support Officers for “my” mixed methods study about these very important officers’ use of tablets to support teachers. There were two interviews conducted in Kilifi County, and 10 more conducted throughout five other counties. (Currently, I am transcribing these interviews.)


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Kilifi is bigger than Mombasa…and the daily drive to schools made that clear. (Photo: my desktop background image)


Though I was mostly present throughout this assignment as an assistant and observer, my organization gave me the title of M&E Coordinator. Each team had one representative from M&E, and I served, at least nominally, in that capacity on my team because I am the M&E Intern. Because of my limited experience with…everything…the deliverables of my role mostly entailed visiting schools and then writing daily briefs to be submitted to the M&E team, mentioning any data-collection issues and explaining sampling procedures. I gradually got the hang of it.

The trip was invaluable. In addition to the minor time spent on writing daily briefs, I gained a great deal of contextual understanding about the region’s schools, both public and low-cost private schools. I was able to interact with students from year one to year eight in class visits, and I had several informal conversations with teachers. I saw a different part of the country, the Swahili coast (!), and spent long days traveling on dusty rough roads with assessors from around Kenya. All the more enriching was the fact that my team loved having heated conversations around a range of local and international topics. I mostly sat and listened, happy to take it all in, until they would ask me periodically to clarify points of contention about the US. Usually, this meant me saying, “It depends,” and then launching into an overly complicated, soft-spoken explanation for a few minutes while everyone’s eyes glazed over.

Now that I’m back in the office, with a mere two weeks remaining, I am working on my capstone paper, the report about the study’s findings. As I’ve been transcribing, I’ve discovered some interesting trends in the ways the Curriculum Support Officers interact with the tablets during school visits and beyond. There will be a lot to frame in the report, and I look forward to sharing it with each and every willing reader. I think it could actually add some value in the way of informing ICT implementation and sharing precious user feedback with developers. …We’ll see! Anyway, I’ll be continuing with the writing for some time after returning to the US. (Wait…could this become a CIES presentation?)

I’m also low-key consumed with thinking about post-Penn plans. Several diverse options have arisen, albeit in their infancy, and I’m excited about all of them! I’m also heading back to Rodin College House for training immediately after finishing here on August 9. As you returners arrive back in Philly, get in touch!

Don’t put your bag down

My office is a glorious amalgamation of pockets of greetings, small talk, and boisterous laughing. It’s a markedly not-tense environment. The volume of social interactions swells after tea breaks at (~10:30am and 4:00pm). Moments ago, post-tea time brought a very entertaining conversation to my desk vicinity.

I was tapping away at my computer, organizing handouts for Friday’s interviewer training session, and I heard the mention of snakes, one of my favorite animal groups.

In Maragua, you don’t put your bag down in classrooms! … If you feel something brush against your leg, you jump and scream! … You wear tall boots when you are making school visits in Maragua. … This place has the most snakes of anywhere in Kenya. … At one school, 100 children are missing limbs because of snake bites. … Our health insurance may cover the illness but will not deal with the psychological trauma!


I looked to my right, smiling, and found three officemates nervously laughing, proclaiming that they would never visit this legendary place, Maragua. I wondered what kinds of snakes are there, recalling my visit to the Nairobi Snake Park with FG during our first weeks in town. While there, I turned a corner only to catch a fast movement in my peripheral vision. A 9-foot long black mamba, one of the world’s deadliest snakes, dropped off of the window pane where it was resting inside its enclosure. I was in love.

Often, during a random spate of googling snake videos, I recall fondly when, in those days of my youth in rural Georgia, we’d come upon snakes of all kinds…and on a few occasions got up close and personal. One particularly memorable day, my uncle brought a completely innocuous hognose snake along when he visited. Check out the features of this peculiar and cute species. My three siblings and I had fun playing with it, learning through participatory engagement…! 😀



Brothers and I, in our childhood element. Not far from snakes. PC: Sister?


So, as you might now better understand based on this anecdotal snapshot of one of my abundant interactions with slithering creatures during my formative years, I was very entertained by the conversation I overheard. Of course, here in Kenya, coming across a snake and getting too close could mean a pretty unpleasant experience. Now, as I prepare for a hike at Mount Longonot with coworkers on Saturday and then a ten-day assessment/research trip to coastal Kilifi starting on Monday, I will have my eyes open and downturned as I tromp across the terrain.


Have you researched your local venomous creatures, IEDPers? Let me know what you have lurking in the grass!

Going to the beach

I’m taking a break from reading about the practicalities of qualitative interviewing to interact with my lovely audience of IEDP readers. HOW ARE THINGS, YOU GUYS?! Going well, I hope. It’s been a pleasure to read the blog posts, and to see how everyone so uniquely discusses their situation. If you’re like me, you’re struggling between a more formal tone that demonstrates you are serious about your work with a presentation style that will appeal to the most Snapchat-obsessed millennial. Good luck to us all.

So #yas, since submitting my study proposal at the end of last week and getting approval on Monday for the budget, a few developments have happened here around the office. Through the (surprisingly quick n’ easy) process of making the budget on Monday morning, I learned that there will be six interviewers for a total of twelve interviewees. We’re sampling 6 counties and twelve zones. These interviews will take place during something they call a “mini-EGRA,” which isn’t really mini, but has comparatively mini implications as the results are mostly used as an internal measure of progress to guide implementation rather than a high-stakes representation of impact shown to donors. Anyway, shop talk, amirite?

But yes, these interviewers will team up with mini-EGRA for an eight-day journey through the counties. When they’re not meeting their two interview participants, they’ll be helping with EGRA administration.

As a person who is charged with pulling together logistics (and, as I currently understand it, training) for these interviews, I am gradually calming from the flailing response that I had when I first recognized the complexity of the task at hand. I found some great resources that address the nitty gritty details of all stages of interview work, notably this here publication, Qualitative Research Methods: A Data Collector’s Field Guide. Lovely, lovely thing brought to us by FHI360 and USAID. It’s improving my quality of life in so many ways.

So yes, I’ll be going to one county, Kilifi, out of the six in the sample, and I’ll spend 10 days “in the field” (anyone else not love this phrase?). I’ll be accompanying enumerators for the mini-EGRA and, as interview recordings are sent to me from the other counties, will begin the arduous work of transcribing. (As I’m a transcribing newb, I am relying on testimonies to alert me to the sobriety needed to approach transcription of hours of interviews.) Fortunately, the budget gods have provided me with another hired staff member who will assist in transcription.

This internship’s work processes have been a nice ebb and flow of relaxed and pressured. But it’s been a constant flow of educational.

In addition to all this qualitative jollity, I’ve been looking ahead to returning to Penn, trying to find the perfect work to boost my research skills while earning necessary funds for all my Fresh Grocer runs. I’ve got a few leads, but would love to know of anything my dear readers come across. Make the circle bigger, friends! (Friends in South Africa, hopefully you are aware of this [I think…] hit song from yesteryear!)





Proposal Submitted!

I’m taking a pause from my current side project of brushing up my basic statistics knowledge using this site http://onlinestatbook.com/ (shout out to Rice University, my alma mater, for putting this out into the world) to share that I have submitted my proposal for the research study I’ll be doing this summer!

It’s a good feeling. Originally, I thought it would be well submitted this time last week, but the M&E team’s (clean) data moved towards me slowly and my learning curve for the iterative process of quant data analysis was not so speedy either. Throw check-in meetings with my busy supervisor into the mix and a small-ish project was dragged out for a few more days. No worries, though–I was able to read a lot about sampling in the meantime. Snowball, nested, criterion, extreme…sampling sure does have imaginative names! In the process, I came acrossthe 220-page CV of this mixed method scholar. WUT.

This week I’ve also felt that I am developing some social footing in the office. At first, I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to adapt to social mores. Several weeks later, I now know that hands must be shaken in the mornings, tea must be taken twice a day, and ugali should be eaten at the cafe a two-minute walk from the office at lunch time. Also, despite it being June here and Kenya being right on the equator, Nairobi is cold. High altitude much? Officemates constantly remind me that it’s cold and seem to enjoy asking me if I actually think it’s cold. 🙂 I started off telling them it was pretty warm compared to winters at home, but now I am just accepting that it’s chilly and bringing a hoodie to work. I think my colleagues appreciate that I am no longer disagreeing that it’s intolerably frigid.

Recently, I’ve done a bit of hanging out outside the office. Last Friday I went for nyama choma with one of the IT guys. I have plans to go hiking at Mount Longonot with the graphic design crew. I often have lunch with folks from the finance and HR offices. I had a sandwich with the Deputy Chief of Party last week at Java, Nairobi’s hottest (most ubiquitous) mall cafe. She recommended that I be a student forever.

Phew, all of these social events. This is on top of meeting with classmates FG and DK whenever possible, and also hanging out with their friends!

I digress. I should get back to the real IEDP-y reason for this post! This past week involved analysis of survey responses from 60% of the teacher support staff from all 47 counties (each county has several zones, and there is about one staff member per zone…all in all, Kenya has about 14,000 of these teacher support staff members). I was able to figure out which counties ranked best/worst and the staff from zones in those counties will be included in the sample for the qualitative phase of the explanatory mixed methods study. It’s been a fun week!

The proposal has been sent to the Chief of Party, and soon I’ll get feedback and can continue preparing for phase two. There’s going to be lots of transcribing and coding in the future, and writing about the study will continue into my time back in Philly. However, my supervisor says it’s an important study and could be published!

Oh, look:










Today was A DAY

I spent the first few minutes in the office thinking about the interesting point I was at in the arc of my work. I could either keep reading about mixed methods and making notes on lit review sources for the Tablet/ICT study OR I could move ahead with preliminary visualization/analysis of the [uncleaned] data I had that would inform the development of the study’s research questions. Because of my lack of real Stata skills, a M&E (monitoring and evaluation) team colleague had been crunching the numbers for me since last Thursday, and I had been using the time to cull academic articles to build my knowledge of mixed methods and qualitative research. But this morning was different. I spent the time creating Excel-lent charts n’ graphs and trying to figure out the best way to present stats based on the variables and their relationships.

At 10:30, just around office tea time, a colleague told me there was a security briefing. I went into the conference room and waited around with some of my favorite colleagues. The head security director of my organization was in town to talk about developments in security and the measures the organization is taking to deal with them. Though I am mostly exempt from the organizational benefits employees get (due to my intern status), I found it interesting to get a glimpse into the hot topics of safety and security. One of the things that struck me was the meeting’s focus on security measures around US employees visiting Kenya…. I wondered about the rationale behind stopping business for an hour to present this information when 97% of the people in attendance were not US employees visiting Kenya.

Anyway, I went back to my desk afterwards and continued my work until lunch. Finally, around 3pm, I finished my charting of the not-quite-accurate/complete data.

Around 3:15, I got an email from the number-crunching colleague. The data had been processed! I rapidly updated my charts with his more reliable, valid, timely data, and emailed the information to my supervisor. Looks like tomorrow I can do significant work in developing my research proposal!

The ball is rolling, my friends.

Literacy needs books! Here’s a photo of proof versions of textbooks, developed in their entirety about one meter from my desk. This office environment is electric, I tell you!


Sequential Explanatory Mixed Methods Through Purposive Sampling and Pragmatic Philosophy

If this title looks scary to you, you are not alone. To ease the fear, consider the wise words of a friend earlier this week in responses to an SOS email from me that featured my apprehensive delight in the face of my very own research study for the summer:

[Developing research skills] is just learning a new language, and you’re a “language guy,” so soon you will be able to speak it!

Endless thanks to this particular friend, who is somehow highly optimistic and highly logical at the same time. I can only aspire to such greatness.

But yes, as the week closes, I’ll leave you with these words. Instead of…


…how about…


You gotta admit, it has a nice ring to it. And it makes a lot more sense to me than it did at the beginning of this week.

Happy Friday! I’m off to visit FG at the UN complex across town with Kenyan local/new IEDPer, DK the Great (who was my Kiswahili TA last year).

Weekend joys await 😀