GATHER: For the Margins, not the Masses

DePaul University Professor Lisa Dush recently presented the Goldin Institute’s GATHER program as “A Learning Platform for the Margins, not the Masses,” at an April 1, 2019 "Research Meet and Greet" event for colleagues, members of the university community and special guests.

GATHER is both a curriculum for grassroots organizers and an on-line learning system that was designed by Goldin Institute Executive Director Travis Rejman working with a team of software engineers and advisors. Both the GATHER curriculum and the software were designed in collaboration with the Goldin Institute's network of community leaders in over 50 countries and the design is based on 17 years of experience empowering organizers in some of the world’s most difficult circumstances. As an expert of digital learning as well as a longtime ally of the Goldin Institute’s efforts, Lisa focused on the GATHER software’s genesis and development, analyzing its versatility as well as its potential.

Reviewing GATHER’s history and outlining the program’s future options, Lisa asked,

[quote]“Why were a scrappy group of less than 15 people able to create a learning platform with more novel features than an enterprise learning management system?”[/quote]

Lisa first worked with the Goldin Institute in 2011, teaching a workshop on digital learning and storytelling in Haiti, where Goldin was collaborating with Malya Villard-Appolon, a founder of KOFAVIV (Commission of Women Victims for Victims), to establish security for women in the wake of a massive earthquake that had destroyed the homes and infrastructure for much of the population the previous year. Lisa worked with leaders from five women's rights organizations in Haiti to teach digital storytelling so that they could tell their own stories in their own words using equipment donated by the Goldin Institute.

Lisa Dush working with the Goldin Institute to facilitate a digital storytelling workshop for partners in Haiti, in 2011.

Lisa discussed the evolution of GATHER from its initial concept and shared the role that faculty and student assistants from DePaul played in the process. Lisa noted that while the Goldin Institute is not a technology-driven organization, but the GATHER team progressed deliberately and brought in professional software developers to help realize the vision. The introduction of Apple’s iPad and other tablet devices in 2010 was a fortuitous development that sparked a "tablet-first" development strategy to make use of a mobile toolkit for community leadership.

Lisa Dush with Meg Palmer, a graduate assistant in DePaul’s MA program in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse, who is helping Lisa with data analysis in a study of the Inaugural Gather Cohort.


After years of testing and development, GATHER was first deployed in the spring of 2018 with an international cohort, and Lisa began an ongoing, intensive research study that includes a study of the behind-the-scenes architecture of the software as well as feedback from users. She documented every step of the way, including the delivery of the specially configured iPads to “all sorts of crazy addresses.”

Global Fellows received iPad tablet devices with the GATHER platform pre-loaded for their use in taking the course.

When it comes to facilitating peer-to-peer learning, GATHER has significant advantages over existing learning management systems, which are designed principally to facilitate teacher-directed learning. Additionally, Lisa noted that enterprise LMSs’ devote significant effort to optimizing their platforms for learning analytics, rather than for student engagement and learning.

About GATHER, Lisa said,

[quote]“First, the platform is designed for a networked, global cohort of learners, so that they can learn together to scale up their work. Overall, you are constantly reminded that you are a community of learners.”[/quote]

Lisa continued, "GATHER’s interface makes the participants visible to each other in ways that are unavailable in other learning programs, while the use of a tablet encourages “walking through the world, engaging with your environment, sharing with your community.”

The GATHER toolkit, moreover, gives participants useful techniques through earned “tools” that can be brought along to real world situations. Lisa cited surveys which showed high satisfaction among the GATHER graduates, who pledged to stay in touch with each other and said that their work already had been positively influenced by the program.

Professor Dush shares the results of her research study of the GATHER Platform.

The Goldin Institute is currently engaged in a new GATHER curriculum designed to build the capacity of organizers based in Chicago neighborhoods, the Chicago Peace Fellows, a joint initiative with the Conant Family Foundation.

Jacquelyn Moore, a Peace Fellow with extensive experience in technology and finance who runs robotics programs for young people in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood, said Lisa’s presentation accorded with her experience with the GATHER software thus far. As a new member of the GATHER community of learning, Jacquelyn said she particularly enjoyed getting to know the international alumni of the programming. Jackie shared:

[quote]“Even though the GATHER fellows in Africa are spread out across that continent, we here in Chicago often feel isolated from each other. Through GATHER, I’ve gotten to know people I could talk to.”[/quote]