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 levelupvillage.com or find us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter @LevelUpVillage.

This summer, visit Refugees: a new exhibition in the UN Visitors Lobby

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Refugees Exhibition, UN Visitors Lobby (c) ARG Media

This upcoming September 2016, the UN General Assembly will address large movements of refugees and migrants at a High-level Summit in New York that will precede the annual General Assembly Debate. In the lead up to this, the UN Sustainable Development Goals Action Campaign will be partnering with the UN Department of Public Information and UNHCR on an exhibition to draw attention to the plight of refugees, showcasing the individual stories and faces of those who are in in need of immediate help and desperate for the international community to reach and implement comprehensive and sustainable solutions. Through artistic installations that include infographics, photography, video, virtual reality, and a Portal, the exhibition will feature the personal stories of refugees as well as UNHCR’s latest facts and figures about the crisis. The exhibition will be open to the public in the UN Visitors Lobby from 20 June until mid-September.

As part of the exhibition, the UN SDG Action Campaign will bring you two immersive experiences, United Nations Virtual Reality + Portals, that allow visitors to feel first-hand what it means to be a refugee in the Zaatari Camp in Jordan. The Zaatari Camp is home to roughly 80,000 Syrians fleeing violence and war. Children make up half the camp’s population.

Opening of a new UN Portal to connect to the Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan
Participants experiencing Clouds Over Sidra at the Refugees exhibition (c) UN Photo/Loey Felipe

 

Clouds Over Sidra is an award winning United Nations Virtual Reality film, which enables you to see Zaatari through the eyes of a young Syrian Refugee girl living in the camp. Individuals and groups may also schedule an appointment to visit the UN Portal that will and allow them to engage in dialogue and programmed events with Zaatari

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Dialogue with young boys living in Zaatari Camp, inside the Portal

The combined experience enables people to access locations and situations they would otherwise never experience, providing context for some of the most complex issues. Interactive experiences such as these also help build understanding of how successful implementation of the Goals can improve the life of a single person, and hopefully inspires action in helping to improve their lives, however small. Ultimately, the aim is to 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.

Opening of a new UN Portal to connect to the Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan
Richard Amdur, speech writer for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, tells of his experience after he talked with a young Syrian refugee at the Zaatari camp via the UN Portal  (c) UN Photo/Loey Felipe

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The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Action Campaign is a special initiative of the UN Secretary-General that seeks to create an enabling environment for SDG Implementation by building new multi-stakeholder partnerships and empowering people with the knowledge and tools to become actively involved in supporting their governments with the implementation of the SDGs. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are the world’s plan and guiding principle towards a more sustainable and equitable planet. These are a universal set of goals, interconnected and focused on leaving no one behind. While these are long-term goals, they are also highly relevant during pressing moments of crisis as well.

United Nations Virtual Reality (UNVR), coordinated by the UN SDG Action Campaign, uses high tech headsets to immerse viewers in some of the most complex global challenges. Building upon its mandate to amplify the voices of those who are often unheard, particularly the world’s most vulnerable, the project seeks to show the human story behind development challenges, allowing people with the power to make a difference have a deeper understanding of their world, and hopefully to act to make a difference. See more: www.UNVR.org #UNVR @sdgaction

Portals is part of a global network of interconnected shipping containers with immersive audio and video technology that allow visitors to converse face-to-face with people across the world. Together they form a global community where people can engage one another across myriad forms of distance. The Portal is made possible by a partnership between the UN SDG Action Campaign; Shared_Studios, a multidisciplinary arts, design, and technology collective focused on carving wormholes in the world through the use of new technologies and partnerships; Bridges of Understanding Foundation, a 501(c)3 not-for-profit, nonpolitical organization established in 2007 that enhances positive relations between the United States and Arab World through one-to-one connections between thought leaders and the creation of original youth focused programs; and UNICEF Jordan. See more: www.sharedstudios.com/ #UNPortal #ZaatariPortal @sharedstudios

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(c) ARG Media