Next Generation, Cross-Curricular Global Learning through Immersive Technology

Blog by Neesha N. Rahim, Co-Founder Level Up Village

The Level Up Village (LUV) team joined forces with the UN SDG Action Campaign, Shared_Studios, VIF, The Qatar Foundation International & P21 at the 2016 Global Ed Forum in Philadelphia in October. With the goal of providing an immersive, perspective-building experience for some of the best and brightest educators working to build global competency skills in K-12 students,  the experience provided a unique interpretation of “cross-curricular learning” and showed how global competency could be infused in all aspects of education.

Thought leaders from around the world had the opportunity to immerse themselves virtually in the stunningly heartbreaking world of a Syrian refugee child named Sidra via Clouds Over Sidra. This set the stage to understanding what life is like in a Syrian refugee camp, adding depth and intimacy to an issue that many see only on the news.  Those who saw the film came away excited by the promises of VR, seeing the film and technology as an opportunity to effectively teach today’s digital natives about topics from the refugee crisis to the Sustainable Development Goals.


“Watching Clouds over Sidra in VR was an incredibly impactful experience,” said Connor Seidenschwarz of the Qatar Foundation International.  “Last summer I worked in a refugee camp in Lebanon, and the VR experience made me feel like I was right back there again.  I think this type of medium, along with the Shared_Studios portal and Level Up Village programs, will have a huge impact on anyone learning about refugee experience, especially in terms of what it can do to create humanize refugees.”

“I’ve worked in many countries, including in the developing world.  Yet this film drove home what life is really like for refugee children and made me see the differences and similarities between children here and there in a different light,” David Ross, Chief Strategy Officer at P21 said of the experience.

“Global education is the lens through which all teaching and learning should occur. Virtual exchanges, collaborative projects, and immersive VR experiences like Clouds over Sidra are critical elements for delivering quality education to all,” said David Young CEO of VIF, an organization that works districts and schools to develop global-ready teachers and students.

After watching the film, participants walked into a gold colored, sparkling Shared_Studios Portal tent where they connected in real time through full-body video conference with groups in Iraq, Pakistan and Nicaragua.  These live interactions pulled the world of each of these groups even closer, breaking down the wall of self consciousness that we often see via modes like Skype.  Through this opportunity, educators explored how students might be able to play and engage meaningfully with peers from around the world.    

Boys who fled the ISIS takeover of Mosul two years ago and are living in Harsham Camp for internally displaced Iraqis in the city of Erbil spoke directly to conference participants via the Erbil Portal, curated by UNICEF Iraq.  Amidst more serious conversations, one US educator spontaneously played a game of rock, paper, scissors with the children who taught her the Arabic words for the game.  The young Iraqi boys then taught a group of three women in the US a local dance.

Lindsay Mackenzie, communications specialist with UNICEF Iraq, explained that connecting with people around the world serves to build perspective and open the world for children in the camp, while giving voice to those who do not feel heard. Moreover, these opportunities represent hope and a moment of respite from otherwise harrowing situations.

Participants also connected in real time with educators and students from Level Up Village’s Global Partner programs in Pakistan and Nicaragua. iEarn Pakistan, led by Farah Kamal, has done incredible work in building global competency and tech skills in Pakistani students, often against seemingly insurmountable odds.  

“It was thrilling to stand right in front of my counterparts at the GEF 2016 and talk. We have the same hopes and aspirations – to have our students grow and thrive in a peaceful world,”  said Farah Kamal, Executive Director of iEarn Pakistan.   

Global Ed Forum participants interacted in real time with Level Up Village global partners NicaPhoto Nicaragua and iEARN Pakistan

At NicaPhoto in Nicaragua, Ronnie Maher has provided quality education, nutrition and other social services to hundreds of students who live in homes that were only recently wired for electricity.  Via Level Up Village programs, students in each location have engaged in one-to-one STEAM (STEM + arts) collaborations with students at schools in the US.

“The impact of Level Up Village programs on our kids is great, beginning with learning to use a computer, learning to form their own ideas, and to ask questions,” said Ronnie Maher, Founder & Executive Director of NicaPhoto. “The video letters and one-to-one connections help them to be less shy as they learn to express themselves. The project-based, small class environment is a unique opportunity that can have a big impact on learning here in Nicaragua.”

At the conference, we also demonstrated how Level Up Village’s social media-inspired platform facilitates the exchange of asynchronous video letters and project collaboration across the globe. In our courses, students in the US are paired one-on-one with partner students from around the world to learn cutting-edge STEAM skills and apply them to real-world problems, In addition, they collaborate on shared project files and exchange information about about each other’s daily lives and cultures through a guided exchange of video letters. The result is meaningful global collaboration and an enhanced understanding of the world – at a personal level.

Students in 20+ countries connect and collaborate using Level Up Village’s mobile-friendly Global Communications Platform in courses such as Global Inventors (3D printing). This type of innovative global STEAM collaboration with real-world applications teaches important 21st Century skills and creates meaningful personal connections

Participants at the Global Ed Forum experienced firsthand how a variety of exciting new technologies are proving to be game-changers in the field of global education. We look forward to further opportunities to collaborate with VIF, P21, The Qatar Foundation International, Shared_Studios and the UN SDG Action Campaign to move global education forward. In the next few years, we expect many more schools in the US and around the world will access the tools they need to bring the world into their classroom and the impact will be profound. Students will be able to develop social awareness, empathy and global competency in unprecedented ways, providing them with the framework they need to become compassionate leaders of tomorrow.

** Special thanks to GEF 2016 organizer Brandon Wiley & Dave Potter of VIF for making this experience possible.

About Level Up Village: A social enterprise based in Old Greenwich, Connecticut, Level Up Village (LUV) delivers pioneering Global STEAM (STEM + Arts) enrichment courses that promote design thinking and one-to-one collaboration on real-world problems between K-9 students in the U.S. and partner students in developing countries. Launched in 2012, LUV runs courses during school, after-school and in the summer at more than 150 U.S. schools, with 30+ Global Partner organizations in more than 20 countries.  For more information, visit at or find us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter @LevelUpVillage.

Immersive exhibition brings delegates closer than ever to refugees, displaced, and migrants during UNGA

The 71st regular session of the United Nations General Assembly met this past September, which also coincided with the High Level Meeting on Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants. In an effort to raise the voices are those most in danger of being left behind, the UN SDG Action Campaign brought two immersive technology experiences to the UN Secretariat Building, highlighting some of the most complex global challenges the UN faces. The particular focus on refugees, displaced people, and migrants allowed diplomats direct access and a deeper understanding of their everyday realities.

Above: Haider al Abadi, Prime Minister of Iraq speaking to Waleed, a young boy displaced from Mosul by violence now living in the Harsham IDP Camp. Below: Ewan MacGregor, Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF poses with Mirna, young girl he met on his last visit to the Camp in Erbil.

The United Nations Virtual Reality film series and Portals immersive experiences enables people to access locations and situations they would otherwise never experience, providing context for some of the most complex issues the UN is striving to mitigate. By doing so, the Campaign hopes it will help transform understanding of critical global issues that must be addressed in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals into a medium that is instantly empathetic and universally relatable.

Throughout the course of the week, Delegates were able to watch several films on the newly launched UNVR app (available at about the everyday realities of refugees. Filmed in the Zaatari Camp in Jordan, Clouds Over Sidra recounts the new normal for a young girl from Syria, and Born Into Exile by UNFPA highlights the importance of providing safe births for mothers, revealing the amazing statistic that zero mothers have been lost at the camp. Beyond the Lake recounts the harrowing experience of a woman escaping violence in Burundi who is able to start a new life in the DRC through the support of UN Women safe spaces. UNOCHA also previewed Home, a new film documenting the UN Secretary-General’s humanitarian tour, highlighting the plight of refugees living in Lebanon, Syria and the DRC.

Delegates further had the opportunity to have full-body conversations with individuals living these realities, in real time, through the UN Portal, curated by the CampaignShared_Studios, and Bridges of Understanding. It is part of an international project with countless locations around the world by Shared_Studios. The UN Portal connected to the Harsham IDP Camp in Erbil, curated by UNICEF  Iraq, allowing delegates to speak to young Iraqis displaced by fighting in Mosul. It also connected to a refugee resettlement home outside of Berlin, where delegates could speak to people from Chad, South Sudan, Afghanistan, and Syria in varying stages of asylum seeking, and to young people at the University of Kabul in Afghanistan with Turquoise Mountain Institute. In the afternoons, the UN Portal connected to Mexico City with an NGO called Proyecto Habesha that is supporting Syrian refugees in coordinates higher education degrees in Mexico.

This exhibition was made possible through the political support of the Government of the Netherlands, the Government of Germany, the Government of Iraq, and the UN Department of Information.

The Campaign also shared the space with UNICEF’s Time Machine, an installation that  translating childhood memories from data into unique sound – giving visitors and delegates attending the UNGA an opportunity to understand the data on children currently available and areas that fall short.

UN SDG Action Campaign visits Lehigh University

In April 2016, the SDG Action Campaign visited the Lehigh Global Union Program, coordinated by Director Bill Hunter, to kick off a closer relationship. Lehigh University is an accredited partner of the UN, the sixth university in the world to gain official recognition as a non-governmental organization by the UN Department of Public Information. The Global Union for the United Nations Program regularly provides possibilities for interactions between students and the UN. Students are able to see UN affiliated speakers lecture on campus and at the UN, and many serve as NGO representatives, youth advocates and volunteers.

The UN SDG Action Campaign’s Kristin Gutekunst visited campus for a two day open pop up exhibition. During the visit, students learned about the Sustainable Development Goals by exploring MY World 2015 data, and pilot testing MY World 2030 ahead of its official launch in July. Over 200 students were also able to truly immerse themselves in the global challenges of today through the United Nations Virtual Reality Series.

The collaboration drew upon the support from student volunteers to promote and coordinate the visit and to document the process through photo and video – providing a multitude of students from diverse backgrounds an outlet for their respected disciplines.

The experience generated two reflective blogs, one by Kelsey Leck and another by Katie Morris. Sophomore Katie Morris wanted to do more to increase global awareness by including the stories and images of others. A dual major in Global Studies and Journalism, she collected votes and stories for the Humans of MY World. This photo-narrative project, hosted on a Facebook page shares the personal stories of some of the individuals who voted in the MY World survey.

Sophomore Nadine Elsayed documented the students’ reactions to the UNVR films in a special video. 

The two day event closed with a special panel discussion discussing the impact of the Syrian refugee crisis in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where the school is located. This region has one of the largest populations of Syrians in the country. Invited panelists included Abbas Khalaf, Case Manager with Luthern Children and Family Service, an Iraqi refugee who had resettled in the city, and now dedicating his time to helping others making the transition, and  Hasshan, another professional working in supporting with refugee populations.

Abbas had the chance to speak candidly about his experience resettling in the United States as a refugee from Iraq. He also told us his feelings after watching the virtual reality film, Clouds Over Sidra, about a young Syrian Refugee.

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