Virtual Playground Unites 1000s of Kids Across Distance & Culture

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Virtual Playground Unites 1000s of Kids Across Distance & Culture

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Budget: 
$50,000 - $100,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Instead of seeing each other in magazines or never at all, kids around the world can show their worlds directly to each other.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Global Playground believes that education is the most promising means to eliminating poverty, violence, intolerance, and misunderstanding in our world. Young minds are most open to cross-cultural understanding and appreciation of difference. Global Playground’s growing network of schools across the world and its educational contacts within the United States afford it a valuable and unique opportunity to bring corners of the globe together through cross-cultural dialogue. The Virtual Playground utilizes technology to foster these interactions which have the potential to generate an understanding of the shared human experience both within and outside of each child’s own cultural worldview. Global Playground has structured its Five-Year Plan to include clearly-established goals in this regard, including fundraising for the Virtual Playground, developing its Twitter and Facebook platforms, and positioning Teaching Fellows in-country to facilitate communications on the Virtual Playground.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

The Virtual Playground holds to a single vision: to give children around the world a place to learn, play, and work together through online games, lessons, and activities, cultivating relationships that will help forge a more united planet. The Virtual Playground will serve children from 6-18 years old who live in different countries, speak many languages, and emerge from vastly differing cultures. Some students have grown up with access to technology, others have not. Some have extensive experience in a school, others are attending a school for the first time. For children in resource-poor countries, the opportunity to acquire computer skills, to become familiar with information technology and social media, and to interact, teach, and learn from other children with similar concerns and solutions is critical to granting them access to a world of ideas, people, and education. For youth who already have greater access to technology, the Virtual Playground provides an opportunity to gain cultural awareness, broaden global perspectives, and demonstrate the similarities in children across the planet, thereby engendering a vital and rarely afforded paradigm shift in their world view, one that can help foster cooperation, learning, and support across borders, languages, and societies.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

The model offered by the Virtual Playground replaces passive absorption of sometimes irrelevant information and creates a rich, immediate, and direct cultural exchange among youth globally. Current efforts to increase cultural awareness and connect children with the world around them are limited to the distribution of magazines, the discussion of books and pictures, and the viewing of random websites. The Virtual Playground places interaction, learning, play, and connection directly into the hands of children around the world. Instead of passively looking at pictures, students capture images in their home neighborhoods and share them with each other. Instead of reading about foods, behaviors, and customs, children in these countries can cook together, describe their day’s activities to each other, and even play a virtual game of soccer. Children in Honduras will solve algebra problems with children in Cambodia. Children in Uganda will make art and write stories with children in the United States. Through the Virtual Playground, children will transcend the current paradigm of passive recipients of facts and images in favor of actively using information technology and social and digital media to interact with each other, learn together, and co-create.
Sustainability

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

The market for connecting youth in resource-poor and -rich countries is wide open with virtually no competition; peers are likely to collaborate to achieve common goals. Companies like “Whyville” (which currently hosts an avatar-driven interactive online learning environment) could benefit from Global Playground’s brick and mortar schools and the placement of our Teaching Fellows, just as we could benefit from their experience in facilitating online interactions. Google collaborative tools facilitate sharing of ideas already among our Teaching Fellows. Microsoft interactive technologies (Kinect and Lync) can be directly employed by our students, teachers, and extended community and Google+ could be a content distribution channel and a peer to peer connection manager for students.
About You
Organization:
Global Playground
About You
First Name

Edward

Last Name

Branagan

About Your Organization
Organization Name

Global Playground

Organization Country
Country where this project is creating social impact
How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

Innovation
Select the stage that best applies to your solution

Start-Up (a pilot that has just begun operating)

How long have you been in operation?

Still in idea phase, but looking to launch soon

Social Impact
FOUNDING STORY: We want to hear about your “Aha!” moment. Share the story of where and when the founder(s) saw this solution’s potential to change the world.

Global Playground visitors to an orphanage in Uganda were met with a barrage of questions from local children: “Your people go to the moon. I want to go to the moon.” A boy even tried to wipe the white off our skin. We began to imagine the epiphany that both children in Uganda and those around the world would experience if they heard these questions and were able to answer.
We later returned to Uganda with a video of U.S. children asking questions on topics ranging from daily life to sports. The children in Uganda were mesmerized and responded and posed questions of their own. But the exchange was not in real time. It occurred to us that an online Virtual Playground would both allow children across the world to interact instantly and provide outlets for cross-cultural dialogue, a bridge to tolerance and resolution of larger challenges that communities face.

Specify both the depth and scale of your solution’s social impact to date

To engage students across national, cultural, economic, and linguistic boundaries, we must begin with a scaffolded approach. We recognize the need to start with small, easily achievable interactions that build enthusiasm on the part of students and teachers (as well as Global Playground and Virtual Playground supporters). To establish consistent interactions that inspire participation, we have already begun to test one mechanism that would be incorporated into the Virtual Playground. Our Moment of the Week engages Global Playground Teaching Fellows in asking (and training, where necessary) students to take pictures and videos, and create original artwork that tells a story about who they are and/or what their lives are like. Teaching Fellows can employ various themes when framing the assignment to their students. The collected assets are posted once per week to the Global Playground website.

What is your projected impact within the next 1-5 years? Is your idea replicable? If so, how?

With sufficient funding, we anticipate full connectivity to the Virtual Playground at all Global Playground schools by year-end 2013 and active participation at all Global Playground schools, including those in our expanding network, within five years. The Virtual Playground development team at Global Playground has designed an extensive seven-phase timeline to achieve this goal, with clear milestones identified throughout the course of development, implementation, assessment, evaluation and expansion. Once the platforms are developed and the Teaching Fellows are connected, we will have created a highly replicable program that others can emulate.

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve and mark growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact

Roll out and test curriculum, including five Areas of Engagement to globalize students and offer opportunities for connection.

Six-Month Tasks
Task 1

Create a single inbound portal and harness outbound channels to lay the foundation for Teaching Fellows to upload content

Task 2

Launch Field Team of Teaching Fellows to procure relevant content and manage metadata with Moment of the Week and other projects

Task 3

Develop curricula: Digital Literacy; Cultural Awareness/Curiosity; Problemsolving; Communication/Teamwork; and Creativity.

Now think bigger! Identify your 12-month impact milestone

Assess and expand: bring more schools online, improve network, increase direct student involvement, add mobile and real-time.

12-Month Tasks
Task 1

Expand and modify: double the number of Teaching Fellows and invite other schools in GP countries to join Virtual Playground.

Task 2

Reconvene team to assess future development based on student feedback, organizational growth, and first phase discoveries.

Task 3

Introduce Mobile apps/texting and direct, real-time student interactions (including Kinect and Lync) and a VP Field Day.

How many people have been impacted by your project?

1,001 - 10,000

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

More than 10,000

Sustainability
Explain how your company, program, service or product is structured

Non-profit

What barriers have hindered the success of your project to date? How do you plan to overcome these and other challenges as you grow your solution?

The Virtual Playground has faced three barriers in developing countries: (1) inconsistent schedules and learning interruptions at schools; (2) technological challenges; and (3) students’ lack of critical and independent thinking and limited exposure to the world. To address these challenges, the Virtual Playground has elected to start its work with larger, more organized schools that have more reliable technology and a stronger English foundation and bring Teaching Fellows to more remote schools to help build stronger relationships and introduce and encourage critical thinking via the Virtual Playground. We have already seen immediate results.

How do you see the information-technology and media sectors shifting over the next decade? How will your solution adapt to and/or drive that changing environment?

In developing countries in particular, the shift is already moving from desktop to mobile device, and media consumption, information acquisition, and social interaction reflect this accelerating transition. The Virtual Playground therefore will use HTML5 and web apps that can easily port from desktop computer to cellular device. The Virtual Playground can therefore be a driving force in the adoption and effective use of mobile learning, mobile media, and mobile interactivity.

Failure is not always an option. If your solution fails to gain traction in the next two years, what other applications of the idea could you explore?

With the current and ever-growing network of schools in the Global Playground “community,” the presence of Teaching Fellows in-country to facilitate implementation of the Virtual Playground, and the commitment of the Global Playground board to its cross-cultural initiatives, we humbly submit that failure is in fact not only not an option, but highly unlikely.

Expand on your selections, explaining how you will sustain funding

Global Playground’s robust and diverse capital campaign will back the Virtual Playground. Global Playground has not only sought funding from grantors like Ashoka, but also from individual and corporate donors. Additionally, as the Virtual Playground enables connections with schools in the United States, those schools can, in turn, generate support in their local communities to support the Virtual Playground. Finally, Global Playground is exploring the ability of colleges and universities to endow Teaching Fellowships for the benefit of their current students and alumni, revenue from which will also help fund the Virtual Playground.

Tell us about your partnerships

Since 2006, Global Playground has developed partnerships with four organizations around the world, including Students Helping Honduras, in Honduras; the Samsara Foundation, in Thailand; American Assistance for Cambodia, in Cambodia, and Building Tomorrow, in Uganda. Each of our partners plays a vital role, not only logistically through their assistance with building schools and hiring teachers, but also through their ability to understand and assess the local communities’ needs.

What type of team (staff, volunteers, etc.) will ensure that you achieve the growth milestones identified in the Social Impact section?

In addition to and among the team of twelve Global Playground board and volunteer staff who have contributed to the detailed Virtual Playground development and implementation proposal presented here, the Virtual Playground will require three Web Developers, multiple Teaching Fellows, an Instructional Designer, a Network Administrator, between seven and twelve people who together comprise a team to assess the success of the project, a Social Networking and Social Learning Advisor, and two Mobile App Developers.

Changemakers is a collaborative and supportive space. Please specify any community resources you would need to grow and sustain your initiative. Select all that apply

Investment, Marketing or media, Research or information, Collaboration or networking, Innovation or ideas, Mentorship.

Specify any resources you might offer to support other initiatives. Select all that apply

Human resources or talent, Research or information, Collaboration or networking, Innovation or ideas.

Please elaborate on any needs or offers you have mentioned above and/or suggest categories of support that aren’t specified within the list
Summary
Define your company, program, service or product in 1-2 short sentences

6 countries, 6 languages, 1000 kids and counting: 1 Virtual Playground brings them all together to learn, play, laugh, and grow.