EC.701J | Fall 2009 | Undergraduate

D-Lab I: Development


Course Meeting Times

Classroom sessions (mix of lectures and labs): 3 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Evening film screenings: once every 2-3 weeks

Project team meetings: as arranged

Course Description

D-Lab: Development is part of the D-Lab series of courses and field trips that prepare students to respond to the basic needs of low-income households and communities in developing nations with technological solutions that are inexpensive, ecologically sustainable and able to be implemented within the local context.

This course introduces various notions of development, and explores several technological innovations that enhance the quality of life in these communities. The course also prepares students to focus on specific issues, such as the need for potable water, low-cost agricultural processing equipment, basic sanitation, and affordable energy, specifically in communities where students will travel during IAP [MIT’s Independent Activity Period, a month-long intersession between fall and spring terms.] Students will develop working relationships with partnering institutions in developing nations to ensure that the field trips provide both a learning opportunity and an international social network to test the viability of technological solutions jointly crafted by the students and the hosting communities.

D-Lab: Development begins with a historical understanding of why conventional developmental efforts have not universally enhanced the quality of life of low-income households and communities. This is followed by a series of hands-on workshops in which students learn practical approaches towards addressing these issues. These workshops are interspersed with discussions and case studies, led by the course staff and guest speakers who have developed and implemented technological solutions in specific topic areas such as: energy, lighting systems, agricultural technologies, low-cost housing, water, sanitation, micro enterprises, and health. The discussion of case studies also provides students the opportunity to select problem areas for deeper engagement during the IAP field trip. The third part of the course is focused on the preparation for the field trip by sensitizing students to the realities of fieldwork in unfamiliar settings, and discussing how to build enduring institutional relationships with communities for future collaboration. Students will work in small groups studying the history, culture, language, economy and politics of the communities they plan to visit during IAP to understand the context within which their particular technological innovations must be embedded.

Graduate students taking the course for graduate credit will select a technology and/or an implementation strategy within a community organization and perform in-depth research and analysis to prepare a case study on the topic.

Student Views on D-Lab, from MIT Admissions Blogs

Paul B. ‘11. “Introduction to D-Lab.” October 2008.

Office of Experiental Learning. “Greetings from Honduras: D-Lab students in the field.” January 18, 2012.

Office of Experiental Learning. “Greetings from Cambodia: D-Lab students in the field.” January 25, 2012.

Course Goals

  • Gain awareness of communities in the developing world and the technical challenges they face
  • Learn about appropriate technologies for developing communities, their impact, and how they can be conceived, designed and implemented
  • Understand the role MIT can play in helping and advancing developing communities throughout the world
  • Learn the hands-on skills required to implement selected development projects
  • Gain exposure to the culture, history, economic and developmental state of the host countries
  • Work with community organizations to prepare projects for the IAP fieldtrips

Required Text and Readings

Smillie, Ian. Mastering the Machine Revisited: Poverty, Aid and Technology. Practical Action, 2000. ISBN: 9781853395147.

Readings in this book will be supplemented by additional papers, book chapters, websites and films.


This is a twelve-unit class: four hours and a half each week will be spent in class, two hours per week will be spent in project team meetings and the remaining five hours will be spent working on readings, homework, and developing the field projects. Because much of the work for this class will be done during class time, attendance is essential. Students missing a class meeting should contact the TAs to make up the work. No more than two unexcused absences are allowed. This class is graded on an A/B/C/F basis; furthermore, it is a class where your work is impacting the lives of people around the world and we expect an appropriate level of commitment.

Project work and class participation 20%
Homework assignments 30%
Sector paper 15%
Quiz 1 10%
Quiz 2 10%
Presentations and final report 15%


Session Key (SES)

# = Classroom session (Lecture/Lab/Activity)

F# = Evening film screening

1 Introduction      

D-Lab philosophy of development

Stakeholder analysis and participation

Development role play

Homework 1

Homework 2

3 History of development: (1950-1970): The colonial legacy   Homework 3 Homework 1
F1 Evening film screening: Life and Debt      

History of development: (1970-1990)

Appropriate Technology

Intermediate Technology

    Homework 3

History of development: (1990-present)

UN Millennium Development Goals

Participatory development


Guest Speaker: Mitch Resnick (MIT Media Lab)

    Homework 2

Entrepreneurship, government, and development in Africa

Guest Speaker: John Kufuor, (former president of Ghana)

  Homework 4  
7 Agriculture Agricultural technology showcase: Post-harvest processing    
8 Projects and partners   Homework 5

Homework 4

Homework 5 (1 day later)

9 More projects and partners Agricultural technology showcase: Drip irrigation    
F2 Evening film screening: Peanuts      
10 Country team meetings  

Homework 6

Homework 7


Agricultural focus groups:

- Green Revolution
- Agriculture and External Aid
- Agriculture and Human Rights

  Project 1  
12 Energy: Biomass, biogas and biodiesel Energy lab: Charcoal

Project 2

Project 3

Homework 7

Energy: Sun

Guest Speaker: Jim Bales (MIT Edgerton Center)

Energy labs: Photovoltaics, LED lighting Homework 8  
14 Energy: Human power Energy lab: Human power production Homework 9

Homework 6

Homework 8


Energy: Wind and water

Guest Speakers: Shawn Frayne (Humdinger Wind), Peter Haas (AIDG)

  Homework 10  
16 Modeling energy systems

Village energy assessment

HOMER (Bring laptops to class)

Quiz 1

Project 4

17 Water quality Water lab 1: Bacterial testing

Project 1

Project 2

Project 3

Homework 9


Water Issues in the developing world

Guest Speaker: Susan Murcott

F3 Evening film screening: For Love of Water      

Harnessing the wind

Guest Speaker: William Kamkwamba

  Project 5 Quiz 1
20 Water quality (cont.) Water lab 2: Chemical testing Project 6 Homework 10

Institutions of development: World Bank and IMF

Guest Speaker: Rachel Glennerster

  Homework 11 Project 4

Institutions of development

Role of NGOs in development

  Homework 12 Homework 11
23 Microfinance   Homework 13 Project 5

Micro-enterprise case study: Grameen Phone

Guest Speaker: Iqbal Quadiir

  Quiz 2  
F4 Evening film screening: Drowned Out      

Discussion of Drowned Out

Guest Speaker: Balakrishnan Rajagopal

    Homework 12
26 ICT4D      


Guest Speaker: Mitch Resnick

SCRATCH (Bring laptops to class)

Homework 14 Quiz 2

Creative capacity building


Concrete lab

Homework 15

Project 7

29 Cooking Cooking lab  

Homework 13 outline

Homework 15

F5 Evening film screening: Living with AIDS      
30 The AIDS/HIV Crisis     Homework 14

Health issues in the developing world

Guest Speaker: Jose Gomez-Marquez

  Project 8  
32 Team Presentations     Project 7

Valuing Indigenous knowledge

Cultural taboos

Cultural implications of development


Market approaches to development

Supply chains

Guest speaker: Paul Polak, IDE

Water role play Homework 17  

What works: Lessons from JPAL

Guest Speakers: Kamilla Gumede (Jameel Poverty Action Lab)

    Homework 13 paper

Climate change


Guest Speaker: Ben Linder

37 Panel discussion with Special Program for Urban and Regional Studies (SPURS) fellows      
38 Evaluations      
39 Final posters and presentations      

Course Info

Learning Resource Types
Lecture Notes
Projects with Examples
Activity Assignments
Written Assignments with Examples