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MacArthur & HASTAC fund 17 badass digital civic engagement and education projects


Picture of Sustainable South Bronx FabLab

Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of being among an energetic group of educators, tech developers, activists, and researchers representing 17 new digital media and learning projects funded by the MacArthur Foundation and the HASTAC consortium.  I'm extremely proud of Global Kid's own winning project -- RezEd -- a social networking platform and podcast for educators who use virtual worlds and MMORPGs in the classroom.  But I'm also blown away by the bleeding edge, diverse initiatives that the other winners are launching -- from an environmental ARG to a conflict resolution computer game to a news/social activism mash-up.

After the jump I discuss some of my favorites...

"Black Cloud" Environmental Studies Gaming
PI: Greg Niemeyer, UC Berkeley Center for New Media, Berkeley, CA

Black Cloud is an environmental studies game that mixes the physical with the virtual to engage high school students in Los Angeles and Cairo Egypt.  Teams role-play as either real estate developers or environmentalists using actual air quality sensors hidden through the city to monitor neighborhood pollution.  Their goal is to select good sites for either additional development or conservation. Combining scientific data with human experiences, students collaborate, share and analyze their findings, including working cross-culturally between cities.   

I love the idea of an international group of students participating in an alternative reality game focused on environmental issues.  I would totally be a real estate developer in LA.  Greg and his collaborator Andy Garcia seemed really jazzed about the unanticipated outcomes of puttings kids in this kind of role play environment.

Hypercities1_2 Hypercities
PI: Todd Presner, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA

Based on digital models of real cities, “HyperCities” is a web-based learning platform that connects geographical locations with stories of the people and who live there and those who have lived there in the past. Through collaboration between universities and community partners in Los Angeles, Lima, Berlin, and Rome, HyperCities will develop and offer a participatory, open-ended learning environment grounded in space and time, place and history, memory and social interaction, oral history and digital media.

Todd and I had a cool conversation about the rich possibilities of embedding deep knowledge into specific geographic locations. And places like LA, Lima and Berlin are great places to start -- with diverse and vibrant local communities as well as connections to a rich history.

Sustainable South Bronx Fab Lab
PI: Miquela Craytor, Sustainable South Bronx, Bronx, NY

The Sustainable South Bronx Fab Lab project is a laboratory that allows people to turn digital models into real world constructions of plastic, metal, wood and more.  Part of a broader MIT-led initiative, this particular project will apply the principles of personal fabrication to learning about urban sustainability.   The project will examine connections between virtual and physical spaces, collaborative design, and the potential for impact within the South Bronx.

FabLabs are an incredible concept that has been used around the world to empower local people with the tools to create solutions to local problems.  I'll be excited to see how Miquela and her team work with folks in the South Bronx and what solutions they come up with.

Vcrfarmer Virtual Conflict Resolution: Turning Swords to Ploughshares   
PI: Timothy Lenoir, Duke University, Raleigh-Durham, NC

Virtual Conflict Resolution is a digital humanitarian assistance game that creates a learning environment for young people studying public policy and international relations.  The game will be developed by repurposing an existing military simulation into a tool for humanitarian training.  Learning within the game will focus on leadership skills, cultural awareness, problem solving, and adaptive thinking —all of which are necessary to coordinate international humanitarian assistance for natural disaster relief.

What's awesome about this project is that it takes a computer game platform designed for the US military and re-tools it as a way to teach about conflict resolution.  How he breaks gamers out of the "first person SHOOTER" dynamic will be a real challenge, when the solutions often have to do with dialogue, cultural awareness and empathy. The results will be a rich dataset of knowledge about gaming environments as teaching tools.

Fractor: Act on Facts
PI: Benjamin Robison, Ardesco, Inc., Long Island City, NY

Fractor is a web application that matches news stories with opportunities for social activism and community service. 'Facts' and 'Acts' are organized on a single, intuitive page where every news story is linked to real-world actions that users can pursue. Fractor gives news readers the tools to 'act on facts,' connecting them to a world of dynamic social involvement and activism.

I've actually known about Fractor for awhile, when my friend Funksoup presented it to me a couple of years ago. It's great to see it get some seed money to get it rolling.  Connecting news to activism is a powerful mix that can break people out of cycles of information overload and powerlessness.

Let the Games Begin: A 101 Workshop for Social Issue Game Designers
PI: Suzanne Seggerman, Games for Change, New York, NY

The Let the Games Begin workshop is a soup-to-nuts tutorial on the fundamentals of social issue games.  Appealing to those who are new to designing learning games but passionate about social issues, the workshop will feature leading experts on topics including game design, fundraising, evaluation, youth participation, distribution, and press strategies.  The workshop will be held in conjunction with the 2008 Games for Change Festival, and will be extended for the rest of the year through an online community dedicated to learning about social games. 

I've long been a huge fan of Games for Change and this new workshop plays to their strengths as being a bridge between the gaming community and the non-profit world.  I'll be recommending this workshop to non-profit friends soon.


Ohmwork: Networking Homebrew Science
Laura Allen/Vision Ed. Inc., New York, NY

Ohmwork is a new social network and podcast site where young people can become inventive and passionate about science by sharing their do-it-yourself (DIY) science projects. They can also contribute to one another's projects, customize the site, and collaborate as part of their collective digital learning. Developed by Vision Education, Ohmwork aspires to become an online network for DIY science. 

Laura and her team seem like the perfect group to launch this social network for youth DIYers and scientists.  Their initial population is likely to be kids interested in robotics.  If I were a teen, I would definitely be programming my Lego Mindstorm and saving up for an Aibo.

Howardrheingold2 Social Media Virtual Classroom
PI: Howard Rheingold, Stanford University, Mill Valley, CA

The Social Media Virtual Classroom will develop an online community for teachers and students to collaborate and contribute ideas for teaching and learning about the psychological, interpersonal, and social issues related to participatory media. This digital learning space will both feature and analyze the use of blogs, wikis, chat, instant messaging, microblogging, forums, social bookmarking and instructional screencasts for teachers and students.

I got to chat a few times with the legendary Howard Rheingold on Thursday, which was such a treat. For those that don't know, he is one of the leading gurus in the online community field and thus one of my personal heroes.  He's the perfect guy to head up this new community to support the use of participatory media in the classroom.

All of the projects are awesome in their own ways of course. But these were just the ones I got the most face-time with in Chicago.

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