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African Drone and Data Academy graduates first online cohort

ADDA grads with drones
ADDA instructors Alex Mtambo and Tadala Makuluni act out a preflight inspection for one of the instructional videos used in an online course.

Less than one year after graduating its first class, the UNICEF African Drone and Data Academy (ADDA) has made history again, graduating the first online cohort. 

In September, 19 Malawian youth received drone operator Level I certificates, following the completion of a four-week program on the foundations of drone technology and data applications. The Level I certificate is the prerequisite for the Level II certificate program, an internationally recognized accreditation program that enables students to fly remotely-piloted aircrafts.

The graduation was conducted remotely via Zoom, and while there was no in-person hand-shaking, the students were able to share reflections on the intense four-week program. Grace Ghambi from Blantyre, Malawi found the program to be “very amazing,” expressing that she “did not expect such wonderful things” from the course.

The online cohort was originally scheduled to meet in-person, but plans shifted as a result of the pandemic, according to Virginia Tech Assistant Professor Kevin Kochersberger, who led the development of the ADDA curriculum.

“We talked with UNICEF and realized that we needed to come up with 3-4 alternate plans. The lecture material and computer-based material didn’t need to be in-person and that led to the development of online material using the learning management system Moodle.

As part of the program, Kochersberger taught a one-week course on remotely-piloted drones, and Suresh Muthukrishnan, a professor at Furman University, taught a three-week course on drone data and geographic information system (GIS) technology. Four Malawians from the inaugural ADDA cohort were also hired through the Malawi University of Science and Technology to virtually assist students in the online program.

Kochersberger added that ADDA is modifying several parts of the program for future cohorts, as a result of the pandemic. The Level I certificate program will be offered online for the two remaining 2020 cohorts. However, participants in the Level II certificate program will meet in-person. “We have shortened the Level II certificate program from ten weeks to six weeks. Also, given the uncertainty of the pandemic, it is likely that only Malawians will participate in the first 2021 in-person course,” said Kochersberger.

Brian Kamamia, project manager in Malawi,  added that students in the Level I online cohort will be the preferred applicants for the Level II certificate program.