A Public-Private Partnership for Gigabit Innovation and Internet Health

Chris Lawrence

Mozilla, the National Science Foundation and U.S. Ignite announce $300,000 in grants for gigabit internet projects in Eugene, OR and Lafayette, LA


By Chris Lawrence, VP, Leadership Network

At Mozilla, we believe in a networked approach — leveraging the power of diverse people, pooled expertise and shared values.

This was the approach we took nearly 15 years ago when we first launched Firefox. Our open-source browser was — and is — built by a global network of engineers, designers and open web advocates.

This is also the approach Mozilla takes when working toward its greater mission: keeping the internet healthy. We can’t build a healthy internet — one that cherishes freedom, openness and inclusion — alone. To keep the internet a global public resource, we need a network of individuals and organizations and institutions.

One such partnership is Mozilla’s ongoing collaboration with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and U.S. Ignite. We’re currently offering a $2 million prize for projects that decentralize the web. And together in 2014, we launched the Gigabit Community Fund. We committed to supporting promising projects in gigabit-enabled U.S. cities — projects that use connectivity 250-times normal speeds to make learning more engaging, equitable and impactful.

Today, we’re adding two new cities to the Gigabit Community Fund: Eugene, OR and Lafayette, LA.

Beginning in May 2017, we’re providing a total of $300,000 in grants to projects in both new cities. Applications for grants will open in early summer 2017; applicants can be individuals, nonprofits and for-profits.

We’ll support educators, technologists and community activists in Eugene and Lafayette who are building and beta-testing the emerging technologies that are shaping the web. We’ll fuel projects that leverage gigabit networks to make learning more inclusive and engaging through VR field trips, ultra-high definition classroom collaboration, and real-time cross-city robot battles. (These are all real examples from the existing Mozilla gigabit cities of Austin, Chattanooga and Kansas City.)

We’re also investing in the local communities on the ground in Eugene and Lafayette — and in the makers, technologists, and educators who are passionate about local innovation. Mozilla will bring its Mozilla Network approach to both cities, hosting local events and strengthening connections between individuals, schools, nonprofits, museums, and other organizations.

Video: Learn how the Mozilla Gigabit Community Fund supports innovative local projects across the U.S.

Why Eugene and Lafayette? Mozilla Community Gigabit Fund cities are selected based on a range of criteria, including a widely deployed high-speed fiber network; a developing conversation about digital literacy, access, and innovation; a critical mass of community anchor organizations, including arts and educational organizations; an evolving entrepreneurial community; and opportunities to engage K-12 school systems.

We’re excited to fuel innovation in the communities of Eugene and Lafayette  — and to continue our networked approach with NSF, U.S. Ignite and others, in service of a healthier internet.

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PenPal Schools Field Trip to Pakistan

Robert Friedman

Authentic Cultural Experiences in Virtual Reality Classrooms

To many Americans, Pakistan is one of the most misunderstood countries on Earth. We often form perceptions about Pakistan based on what we see in the evening news: a two dimensional filter offering little insight into the country’s rich history and culture.

A student from Beaconhouse Newlands school in Lahore, Pakistan enjoys a preview of the VR Field Trip

PenPal Schools’ new course “VR Field Trip to Pakistan” will develop cultural competency for young learners worldwide by enabling them to explore Pakistan in 3D. Mozilla Hive Austin is excited to support this next generation PenPal Schools experience with a grant from the Gigabit Community Fund.

Are you an educator? Sign up here today.

NYC to ATX: Mozilla & PenPal Schools Come Full Circle

This latest grant reunites PenPal Schools and Mozilla at an exciting moment; enabling the globally successful learning platform to reach young people through their captivating Web technology. PenPal Schools’ initial seed funding actually came through a grant from Hive NYC in 2012 for what was then called, PenPal News.

Today, PenPal Schools calls Austin, TX home and while their mission is to reach students worldwide, they are especially committed to serving learners in their community. With support from Hive Austin, PenPal Schools is providing their service free of charge to educators and learners in the Austin area who sign up in 2017.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeG_8DlPPKc?ecver=1]

A teaser trailer for the VR field trip experience, produced by Austin local, Chocolate Milk & Donuts

Austin to Lahore: Filming in Pakistan

On the invitation of the Pakistani Government, PenPal Schools has filmed Virtual Reality video content throughout the ancient city of Lahore, in the Punjab province of Pakistan. Through incredibly immersive VR “field trips,” students from around the world will experience the bustling streets, ancient forts, and stunning mosques of Lahore. They’ll also get a glimpse of Pakistan’s rich culture, arts, food, and traditions — all while improving their reading, writing, and technology skills.

Of course, no PenPal Schools course would be complete without PenPals, so they’ve teamed up with the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation so that students around the world can learn with PenPals from across Pakistan! The federation represents over 197,000 schools and 20 million students from every province in Pakistan, so there should be plenty of Pakistani PenPals to go around!

Sign Up Your Class Today

Teachers can sign up for the English version of the course beginning on March 6 (the Urdu language version will be available this Spring). Teachers will even be able to order inexpensive cardboard VR headsets (pictured above) through the PenPal Schools website too!

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Community Spotlight: Link Clark

Lainie Decoursy

Code/Interactive (C/I) is a NYC-based non-profit that focuses on inspiring youth to learn, build, and collaborate with technology. In Austin, TX, C/I operates Coding4TX, a computer science education program that serves teachers and students statewide. Coding4TX has partnered with  Mozilla Hive Austin to contribute to allied educational efforts across the city.

Mozilla invited Link Clark, C/I Austin Program Manager, to bring C/I’s expertise to the second annual SPARK! hackathon, a collaboration with St. Anne’s-Belfield School in Charlottesville, Virginia. SPARK! will bring together over 65 students from 16 area high schools to imagine how they might address local community needs through the Internet of Things (IoT).

We had the opportunity to chat with Link to learn more about C/I, Coding4TX and their work to spread web literacy through hackathons and code jams. Here is what Link had to say:

Coding4TXhackathon, December 10, 2016

Coding4TXhackathon, December 10, 2016


How did C/I Austin’s Coding4TX program get its start?

Coding4TX is a coding and computer science education program serving teachers and students in the state of Texas. The initiative, organized and initially funded by the KLE Foundation, is operated by C/I, a NYC-based non-profit focused on inspiring the next generation to learn, build, and collaborate with technology.

Coding4TX launched in August 2015 in seven schools across five districts in Central Texas, successfully introducing coding and computer science to 225 students in middle and high school. During the 2016-2017 school year, C/I became its operator. Currently, we serve 16 schools across nine Texas districts, reaching over 1,500 elementary, middle and high school students.



How does this work align with promoting the general health of the Internet?

Our organizational mission of diversifying the tech pipeline will increase participation in the industry that is integral to an Internet open to all, not just for entertainment and consumption.

How are Hive Austin & C/I working together? Any plans for 2017?

Hive Austin and C/I are symbiotic in our organizational missions as we work to bridge the digital divide in Austin and Central Texas through our respective efforts in digital literacy and coding education to shape the web. Hive Austin’s event,  “Empowering Educators to Shape the Web Empowers Learners to Shape Society“, was an excellent way to identify and grow our resources for a new era that will help teachers provide students the tools to shape the internet and society. C/I was fortunate enough to pull from Mozilla’sHack the Newsactivities for a part of our Hour of Code, because the teachers we support understand that learning to code does not happen in a vacuum and digital citizenship is shoulder to shoulder with computer science education. The next step in our plan is to co-host a hackathon based on what we learn at SPARK and Mozilla’s curriculum and expertise in web literacy.

Tell us more about the goal and purpose of the Coding4TX hackathon that happened in December.

The hackathon provides innovative real-world training for a new and necessary generation of tech builders and leaders from low-income communities. Students get a chance to work hand-in-hand with some of Central Texas’ most successful technologists to define, design, develop, and deploy real tech products to solve issues that are negatively impacting the community of our students and their peers.

What is one stand-out project that resulted from the hackathon that has made a positive impact on the local community?

Since the theme of our hackathon is to solve an issue that negatively impacts the community, it’s hard to choose just one! Projects from our December hackathon included: a babysitting app for teen mothers based on grades, crowd funding for low-income students for school uniforms, how to manage stress and mental health and balance school success, and a project by the “Coding Queens” that addressed racial cyber bullying. These girls knew firsthand the pains and danger of cyber bullying and decided to solve the problem themselves by building an educational and actionable tool to counter the increasingly hateful language found online. You can read about the event from one of our judges, Hugh Forrest, here.


What have you found to be the best way to connect learning with preparing for real-world careers and community impact?

The most successful connection tool, by far, has been the tech office visits we set up for the schools we support. Each semester, a school is able to visit a tech office at businesses such as Samsung, Whole Foods, Facebook, RetailMeNot, Oracle, etc,  that includes a tour and a Q&A with a diverse panel of employees, diverse in terms of background and role at the company. One of the most salient examples took place at Whole Foods Market, where the panel included folks from five different positions connected to their digital presence and an in-depth presentation of current work with two students at a time. The teacher told me multiple students said after that, “I can see myself doing that job,” having been given the chance to learn about it in detail by someone from a similar background.

How do you expect next generation networks to support C/I Austin’s efforts?

The more students that can engage computer science/coding education increases the number of citizens that participate in the building of the internet, which the Gigabit will contribute to immensely. Also, internet speed will be the next phase of the digital divide, so increasing fuller participation in all aspects of digital/internet community permits a greater opportunity to tap into potential.  

What are you most excited about in working with Mozilla and bringing web literacy work to Austin?

Web literacy will help students fully utilize gigabit internet and the multitude of opportunities that come with understanding how the internet can change our communities. For example, Coding4TX and Austin Public Library developed a program, Juntos Online, to encourage families to embrace digital tools at the library.

Learn more about C/I and Coding4TX here, follow them on Twitter @weareci.

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Open Credentials: Promising Practices

An-Me Chung

In 2011, Mozilla created Open Badges with funding from the MacArthur Foundation and a network of partners committed to developing a new way to recognize and connect learning anytime, any place, and any pace. Since then a growing community of contributors has driven the Open Badges movement.

Over the past five years, open credentials or digital badges have gained momentum as a way to capture and demonstrate knowledge and achievement. Through these efforts, badges have gained widespread interest and adoption by policy, technology, and education stakeholders. Open Badges are re-imagining ways to recognize learning beyond formal credentialing systems.

Funded by the C.S. Mott Foundation, Promising Practices of Open Credentials: Five Years of Progress, is a compilation of case studies focused on out-of-school learning, K–12 schools, higher education and workforce badging initiatives and lessons learned about designing and implementing open badging systems.

We want to hear from you — What valuable lessons are you learning? Where would you like to see Open Badges going in the next five years?

In the meantime, next steps for the Open Badges technical specification include widespread market development and adoption. IMS Global Learning Consortium will manage the evolution of the Open Badges technical specification, which defines the technical requirements for what a badge must represent for both issuers and earners. As an open-governance, member-based standards consortium, IMS Global has deep experience with Open Badges and the expertise to lead the evolution of the specification, and also drive the adoption and portability of badges. The aim is to create a global skills currency based on the Open Badges Specification, under the leadership of IMS members with the support of the Open Badges community. More information on how to contribute to the development of Open Badges technical specification can be found here.

In addition, Digitalme has carried out important updates to the Mozilla Backpack to maintain an open source, inter-operable option for individuals to store, share and move their badges between platforms.

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Engaging Communities to Inspire Digital Innovation

Janice Wait

A new gigabit network rolling out in Detroit is part of a groundswell of innovation currently taking place in this rapidly changing city. To make sure the incredible resource of this gigabit network is made available to more of the community, several organizations recently came together to launch the Equitable Internet Initiative to bring high speed connectivity to more neighborhoods in Detroit. This effort is a partnership between the Detroit Community Technology Project, Allied Media Projects, Grace in Action Collectives, WNUC Community Radio, and the Church of the Messiah’s Boulevard Harambee Program, and aims to build wireless broadband infrastructure and provide community members with the skills necessary to bring their communities online.

We at Mozilla are really interested in how these super fast networks are shaping the future of the internet and of communities. We were honored to be in Detroit as part of the launch of the Equitable Internet Initiative to explore how the high speed network they’re building can be leveraged for community impact.

We believe a healthy internet demands equal participation from diverse communities – that the future of the web should be built by and for all of us, not just a select few. Emerging high speed networks can create amazing possibilities for new technology like smart sensors to support public health and immersive virtual reality applications to expand the reach of teaching and learning. However, we have also seen how these networks can add layers to digital access within communities – advanced internet networks, and the technologies they enable, can feel even more out of reach for those already lacking connectivity.

As the digital landscape changes, it’s important that we’re inviting everyone to participate in a conversation about the potential of new technology to transform their communities and their lives. That’s why we were thrilled to be in Detroit to explore what story they’d like to be able to tell about high speed internet in neighborhoods throughout the city.

Detroit workshop participants make sticky note art during an activity focused on understanding gigabit connectivity

We facilitated an evening workshop that included a series of activities focused on creating a common understanding and shared language around gigabit internet, and inviting participants to think of new technologies that could create real impact. From applications that address pressing public health issues to ways for leveraging high speed networks to improve education, the workshop participants had great ideas they’ll be able to take forward in their neighborhoods as the new gigabit infrastructure is being built.

As communities in Detroit are working to spread the reach of gigabit internet and use that connectivity to inspire community based innovation, our team will continue developing this workshop as a framework of activities to help make these new technologies more accessible and approachable.

We look forward to sharing more of that framework as it’s developed. In the meantime, we wanted to share an activity around understanding gigabit internet connectivity that was a big hit with the workshop participants in Detroit.

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Mozilla Awards $241,000 to Explore the Intersection of Gigabit Technology and Civics, Robotics, Farming, and More

Jenn Beard

Mozilla Gigabit Community Fund will support 19 grantees across Austin, Chattanooga and Kansas City

Mozilla is pleased to announce the nineteen grant award recipients in Austin, Kansas City and Chattanooga that will receive support from the Gigabit Community Fund. Grantees across the three cities will receive a total of $241,000 for a 16-week pilot period beginning January 30. The Gigabit Community Fund, a collaboration with National Science Foundation and US Ignite, is investing in projects that utilize gigabit technology to impact learning.

Grantees will utilize the awarded funds to build, pilot, and scale gigabit-enabled applications and associated curricula that have immediate, measurable effect on classrooms and informal learning organizations. Through these projects, Austin, Chattanooga and Kansas City will continue to study how these next-generation networks can impact education and workforce development.

Cultivating Local Networks of Gigabit Innovators

Grantees of the Gigabit Community Fund this round include technologists, educators, advocates, and even farmers! Each brings a new perspective to shape the future of gigabit technology and of Mozilla’s global network of leaders working together to advance a healthy internet. To share and learn from these different points of view, the local grantee cohort will participate in regular meetups to share their planning, progress, lessons learned, and best practices.

Grantees include:

Cross-city (Austin + Kansas City)

The Gigabots Cross City Connected Robotics — Big Bang
The Gigabots bring real-time internet connectivity to educational robotics platforms between schools in Kansas City and Austin, TX.


Accelerate, Augmented Reality for Workforce Training — Austin Free-Net
Accelerate, Augmented Reality for Workforce Training will leverage gigabit connectivity to design an augmented reality tool that supports entry-level IT learning for adults.
Digital Mock City Council — Austin Monitor
An online, open-source, digital budget debate platform and curriculum designed for middle and high school students to explore civic challenges and priorities.
Gigabit Girls – Austin Public Housing — Latinitas
This VR introductory course will be taught to girls engaged with Latinitas programming and living in Austin Public Housing. The project will also include recruitment of VR professionals to support the program and bridge the century long divide between Austin’s downtown business district and East Austin’s housing projects.
Gigabit VR: MBK Coding WebVR Scenes — Changing Expectations
To foster an inclusive computing culture, Changing Expectations will add WebVR coding projects to the My Brother’s Keeper Coding Makerspace to prepare boys of color for the VR workforce. The MBK students will learn to code WebVR scenes based on their ethnically diverse interests and perspectives and share through mini-workshops with younger youth and their parents visiting the Carver Museum.
Virtual Reality STEM Lessons — University of Texas UTeach Outreach
UTeach will design robust, validated, lessons for gigabit-connected middle school classrooms that support Google Expeditions and Unity game design software to create virtual reality experiences that increase students’ interest in computer science and engineering fields.
World Explorer Virtual Exchange — PenPal Schools
PenPal Schools connects students worldwide through online courses to learn about global challenges while practicing essential technology skills. PenPal Schools will extend their digital content with 360 4K video in a pilot cultural exchange experience linking PenPals in Austin with international locations.


Eduity — Eduity, LLC
The Community Technology Leadership Program takes the technology leadership program model from the corporate setting to help small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) make greater use of ultra-fast networks and build the technology workforce.
Giving Garden Technology Lab Project — Catoosa County Public School System
The Giving Garden Tech Lab project allows students to experience Life Science in a new, interactive way utilizing innovative technology, like virtual reality and 4K streaming.
Global Kids Chattanooga Haunts — Global Kids
Haunts is a STEM program for youth ages 14-18 that supports historical-based community exploration through geo-locative game development.
Input Genies — Studio MindStride
Input Genies teaches youth how to code or build tools for other youth, who cannot easily use a keyboard or mouse.
LOLA in the Classroom — The Enterprise Center
Hamilton County Department of Education, the Enterprise Center and the Public Education Foundation are using LOw LAtency technology to expand access to arts education across the city of Chattanooga, and beyond.
Next Generation Professional Learning — Hamilton County Department of Education
This project creates a collaborative lab for teacher professional learning by harnessing the gigabit network, utilizing multiple telepresence robots and leveraging the experience across Hamilton County Department of Education schools (and eventually beyond Chattanooga).
ViatoR VR — ViatoR, LLC
ViatoR utilizes VR to submerge users in an immersive environment for an interactive, engaging language learning experience.

Kansas City

CERN+KC Gigabit Challenge — ElevateEDU
A project that leverages citizen science, volunteer computing, and gigabit connectivity to create project based learning opportunities for students to participate in research taking place at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.
Housing Smart Cities — University of Kansas, School of Architecture, Design & Planning
Students and professors at the University of Kansas are leading a project looking to deploy Population Health strategies in smart cities through the design of smart, sustainable, and affordable prefabricated housing.
Immersive VR for Local and Remote Medical and Anatomical Education — Trinity Animation
Trinity Animation will use high realism medical VR for anatomical education, both local on HTC VIVE and remote via gigabit monitoring.
Urban Farming Guys Smart Greenhouse — The Urban Farming Guys
Urban Farming Guys IoT Smart Greenhouse and aquaponics will benefit the local community via food production and education through an open source community.
Virtual Realities in Culture: Explorations of the African Diaspora — V Form Alliance
V Form Alliance will work with students to create virtual field trips to landmarks in KS and MO that are important to black history.

How to get involved:

– Join the Mozilla Leadership Network, coming soon
– Attend the US Ignite Smart Cities Summit in Austin, TX June 26-28 to see demonstrations of several of these applications
– Attend our 2017 Education Innovation Showcase co-hosted with EdTech Austin to learn how you can collaborate or submit to our next round of funding


Carrying momentum across locally-partnered events

Katie Mitchell

About a year ago, the phrase “Internet of Things” kept coming up in conversations I had at Mozilla. The Internet of Things (IoT) is a network of physical objects and services that sense the environment around them and exchange data over the internet. At Mozilla’s Hive Chattanooga, we thought it would be fun to find ways of combining IoT with the high-speed internet we have in town along with education, which is our passion. Once the idea was born, we approached an incredible local partner, The Company Lab (CoLab), about collaborating with them on a local event, and suddenly the 48Hour Launch IoT Edition was born!

48Hour Launch (48HL) is a weekend-long competition that challenges teams of entrepreneurs and specialists to transform a startup concept into a viable business model, prototype, policy proposal, or piece of curriculum. We asked folks across Mozilla if they would mentor these local teams and share their skills with our neighbors in Chattanooga. I had the unique position of representing Mozilla’s work in Chattanooga with our mentor cohort as well as representing Mozilla to our local partner. The Company Lab planned, organized and hosted the event itself while I worked with our Mozilla convenings team to develop our mentor cohort journey.

This was the first time this event had mentors outside of Chattanooga come to join teams and likewise, this was the first time we had developed a mentor journey like this for such a localized event. We wanted to make the most of each mentor’s time and skillsets as well infuse the Mozilla flavor into a local event, so leading up to the weekend, we did things like:

  • Met one on one with each mentor to hear about their vision for joining the cohort.
  • Led a call for group introductions and discussions before the weekend with the cohort.
  • Wrote blogs leading up to the event, sharing Mozilla’s interest and participation in 48HL.
  • Had weekly planning meetings with Co.Lab leading up to the event to keep clear communication between both partners.

We learned a ton in the months leading up to the 48Hour Launch, as well as throughout the weekend itself. Our mentors’ contributions to one another and to the local event were incredible! They came ready to give and dive into the work being done throughout the weekend.

Additionally, balancing so many details on both sides – with the mentors and with Co.Lab, there could have been misfires but they culminated into an incredible collaboration within and outside Mozilla for a fantastic local event.

Here are three of our biggest take-aways for planning events with local partners:

  • Collaboration between partners should be a natural fit between each organization’s mission and vision
  • There should be clearly defined expectations of duties between both partners
  • Partnered events  can amplify and spread local work across a global network of likeminded people working to protect internet health and users’ rights.

Looking ahead, we didn’t want to lose momentum with what we’ve learned as well as what opportunities this new cohort (and others) could add to local events. To that end, we’ve begun co-planning another local event built on the Chattanooga 48HL model. This January, we’ll be sending Mozilla mentors to the SPARK youth hackathon hosted by St. Anne’s-Belfield School (STAB) in Charlottesville, VA.

I’ve teamed up with Chad Sansing, a curriculum developer at Mozilla, and Kim Wilkens, a local school computer science coordinator and SPARK organizer, to pass along the lessons I learned from our 48HL event.  We want to build off what went well and avoid repeating what didn’t go so well.

For example, we’ll continue working with our mentors to make sure the experience is valuable for them and we’ll continue to send mentors from a wide variety of backgrounds to support local hackathon participants in areas like coding, design, and project management. However, we’ll also work with STAB to make SPARK a collaborative event; as we believe that not every hackathon should be a competition or winner-takes-all affair.

As Chad and I anticipate the SPARK weekend, we’re excited to be refining the mentorship and cross-team collaboration process within Mozilla. Later this spring, we hope to iterate on it again at another local IoT event. Let us know if you’re interested in learning more and tell us how you think we might improve the work!

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Learning the Web in 9 New Languages with Offline Icebreakers

Gideon Thomas

Providing resources to help teach the web in local communities across the world is an important part of our mission. To further our commitment, we launched a campaign in November to rally volunteers from our communities to help localize the “Offline Icebreakers”  teaching activities.

The response from our communities to this campaign was fantastic. In the first week, we had 11 community members sign-up. The pool of volunteers was quite diverse, and included teachers, club members, localizers, and others, all eager to help us in this campaign. It was inspiring to witness them collaborate and work together to localize curriculum in their languages.


With that said, possibly the most significant learning from this exercise was that this diverse set of community members is not only enthusiastic about helping Mozilla strengthen its commitment to web literacy, but is keen on getting involved in the process. Their feedback in this campaign has been incredibly valuable to us and is helping us further refine and improve future localization efforts.

While we have plans to integrate the contributions from this campaign into the Activities section of our Learning website, we do want to first showcase their amazing work here. Below you can find a list of the localized activities.

If you enjoyed contributing to this campaign or are interested in contributing to making curriculum globally relevant and accessible, stay tuned for more information about how to get involved in localization projects in the future.

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Community Spotlight: Eyebeam

Kristina Gorr

Mozilla’s mission is to ensure a healthy and equitable Internet for all. Mozilla’s partnerships and connections in the community bring the fabric of our work together through five key issues designed to support the health of the Internet: privacy and security, open innovation, decentralization, web literacy and digital inclusion.Every month we feature one inspirational organization or individual doing work at the intersection of these. For December, we are proud to spotlight  Hive NYC member Eyebeam, which merges arts and technology to teach the web in groundbreaking ways. Based in New York City, Eyebeam is a nonprofit studio for collaborative experiments with technology.

“Eyebeam’s core philosophy is ‘technology, by artists’. Throughout our history, many of our residents have created workshops and learning tools as a natural extension to share their research with a larger community.“ – Lauren Gardner, Eyebeam

We asked Lauren Gardner, Community Engagement Associate at Eyebeam, and Kaho Abe and Ramsey Nasser, Eyebeam Impact Residents and Playable Fashion’s Co-Directors, to share more about this dynamic, ground-breaking, avant garde organization. Here’s what they had to say:

How did Eyebeam get its start?

Eyebeam was founded as a non-profit in 1997, by John S. Johnson. It was conceived as the studio dedicated to technology by artists.

Through awarding generous residencies, Eyebeam has helped artists make conceptual breakthroughs in technology. The very first “share” button was developed in Eyebeam as the ReBlog, and platforms like del.icio.us got their start here too. Creative coding frameworks such as Open Frameworks and p5.js were supported at an early stage here, as were creative electronics enterprises like the “Lego for electronics” startup littleBits and the NYC-based distributor AdaFruit.

Alums from the residencies can “open source” their practice by becoming teachers in our innovative teen education programs. Digital Day Camp, Rap Research Lab, and, of course, Playable Fashion, are just some of the results of their work. We joke that we’re one of the best incubators on the East Coast—without trying to be.

Playable Fashion Weekend - Buzzkill Module Photo provided by Eyebeam.

Playable Fashion Weekend – Buzzkill Module Photo provided by Eyebeam.

How did the Playable Fashion project with Hive NYC get started?

Kaho Abe is an artist and former Eyebeam Fellow who combined her professional background in fashion and electronics into an art practice building custom, wearable game controllers. Having taught at multiple NYC universities and k-12 through workshops facilitated with Eyebeam, we sought additional funding to continue offering workshops and received a grant in 2012 specifically for Fashion through the Hive Digital Media Learning Fund at New York Community Trust. During the first year, Kaho and artist Sarah Schoemann initially tested the waters with a weekend workshop where about 40 youth attended, followed by the whole afterschool program. Since 2013, Playable Fashion has been taught and developed by Kaho and former Eyebeam Fellow, educator and game designer Ramsey Nasser.

The success of the initial workshop inspired us to continue by developing a full afterschool program which has served over 400 under-resourced youth through after-school programs at Eyebeam and workshops throughout the city at alternative learning spaces like Brooklyn Public Library, New York Hall of Science, Bronx Museum and NYC Parks Resource Centers. Initially taught as a full program, Playable Fashion is now developed as separate “modules” which can be taught together or as stand alone workshops and consist of:

  • Buzz Kill – An introduction to Wearable Game Controllers, student make customizable clapping glove game controllers and mod video game code.
  • Game Literacy – Students learn to think and talk like a game designer through playing games and discussing them.
  • Abstract Electronic Toys – An exploration of electronics and wearables with some hands on hardware hacking and modding. This module is a stepping stone to ‘Fashion in Depth’
  • Fashion in Depth – Hands-on exploration of sewing, soft circuits, programing microcontrollers, and LEDs.
  • World’s Slowest Computer – An embodied exercise to learn the fundamentals in computational thinking and computer hardware as a stepping stone before ‘Coding in Depth’.
  • Coding in Depth – An in-depth exploration into the industry standard game development stack of the day.
  • Brainstorming – Brainstorming exercises designed to emphasize consensus, collaboration and the representation of ideas.
  • Game Jam – Exploring the production process to get a game done.
  • Next Steps – Suggestions on how students can keep learning even when the program is over.

Tell us more about the World’s Slowest Computer. Where did the idea originate? What impact did it have on students?

Coding is often introduced without referencing the essential computational thinking behind it, and the relationship between hardware and code. So we created a lesson in our afterschool program to be a stepping stone to programming, which is covered later. In this exercise, youth participants in the workshop embody the parts and functions of a computer, creating a visceral, tactile experience with the foundations of computer science.

Participants are grouped into small teams, around 5 people each, with each team acting as a computer. Each team is given sixteen memory cells (represented by post-its and markers) and a 10×10 display (represented by a 10×10 grid of two colored sponges). Teams then receive identical booklets of instructions written in a human-readable “sponge-computing” language. Each page is numbered and contains one instruction. Participants work to execute the instructions as quickly and correctly as possible, competing against other teams to draw the right their 10×10 sponge-screens before anyone else.

Once all teams have an image on their sponge-grid monitor we review, note similarities and differences between results, and declare a winner. Every team’s time is recorded, and we also announce their clock speed in Hz (usually around 0.02Hz). The after-activity discussion is aided by an online sponge-computer-emulator (currently a prototype), which can debug identical programs in an interactive digital tool. This is an effective way to work through unexpected results.

Comparing results from the online emulator, which are generated in milliseconds, to what takes participants dozens of minutes to achieve helps connect the participants’ visceral experience to the actual execution of code on a modern computer. This serves as a powerful reference point when we teach programming later. When students encounter loops in JavaScript, for example, they do so having had the physical experience of executing the same construct, making it that much less abstract.

“The similarity of the experience left me feeling that we had genuinely experienced/performed a form of computation and observed it from the inside.” — Max Fowler, Participant from the School For Poetic Computation.

Sponge Computer. Photo provided by Eyebeam.

Sponge Computer. Photo provided by Eyebeam.

What do you hope educators and youth will take away from your events and workshops?

Aside from the goal of sharing our content online, we run teacher workshop events, providing an opportunity for educators to experience the content and discuss ways in which the content can be integrated into their own curriculum. We recognize that many teachers have their own unique experiences and rich teaching backgrounds to offer, and that’s why instead of sharing our program as an entire afterschool program, we have broken it up into “modules” that allow teachers to take parts of the content so that it is easier to adapt.

One of our goals is that the youth continue to learn even after the program is over. We have a whole module dedicated to “Next Steps” that teaches students how to join communities and participate in open source once our limited time together is done. We want our students to keep making games, writing code, and hacking hardware for the rest of their lives. Our hope is that continued curiosity and growth will ultimately lead these students to develop a more critical, informed and active role in technology and its use in the world around us.

Youth demonstrating abstract electronic toy. Photo provided by Eyebeam.

Youth demonstrating abstract electronic toy. Photo provided by Eyebeam.

Why is computer science and coding so important for youth?

Computational and systems thinking is a crucial skill to make sense of the world around us. Whether or not students will go on to write software in any capacity, they will live in a world controlled by it, and understanding its fundamentals is a prerequisite to critical engagement with society.

Computer science and coding are distinct skills although they tend to be talked about and taught as the same thing. Computational thinking does not depend on knowledge of any particular programming language, so we design activities that give each skill the focus and time it deserves to build a deeper understanding around how computers work.  

As technology becomes a bigger part of our lives — and the tools and systems around us become more locked down by corporations — knowledge, curiosity and the ability to think critically becomes more important than ever. Many young people are growing up in a world where programmable computers and the open web are not the norm, replaced instead by proprietary mobile devices and walled-garden social media platforms. This trend is no accident; the stock market consistently rewards companies who become gatekeepers of so-called “app stores”. In this environment, understanding how computers and technology work at a fundamental level is the only way to engage with it safely, with dignity, and as a producer rather than the consumers most technology expects us to be.

How is Eyebeam inspiring others to teach digital skills in their community?

Eyebeam not only supports artists and their practice through residencies, but also encourages artists to become more active in their communities through sharing via public engagement, activism or education. In this way, the organization develops and nurtures teaching artists. Eyebeam recognizes that teaching artists can provide powerful learning content, passing on passion and depth of knowledge, as their curriculum reflects their unique practice.

What’s next for Eyebeam?

Eyebeam’s core philosophy is ‘technology, by artists’. Throughout our history, many of our residents have created workshops and learning tools as a natural extension to share their research with a larger community. It was never a requirement of the residency program but the fact that this kept happening made us realize that education is integral to both our mission and to our artist’s practice, they inform each other.

Eyebeam is interested in answering questions like: What is the role of the teaching artist in informal and formal education? In CS- or technology-related initiatives? What are the most effective methods and techniques of sharing teaching content with other educators? Online? Live workshops? Professional development? A mix of them all? How can we cater to educators with diverse and varied understandings of technology? How do we create more evergreen content that stands the test of time in our ever-changing technological landscape?  And what role can Eyebeam play in supporting teachers and educators who want to continue their own inquiries as this intersection of art and computer science grows?

Sponge Computer Activity. Photo provided by Eyebeam.

Sponge Computer Activity. Photo provided by Eyebeam.

How can others get involved?

We are looking for opportunities to work with other institutions to share these workshops with students, teachers, facilitators and educators. Feedback from a wider community is vital for us to continue development as we want to make this material as accessible as possible. Please contact us if this sounds like something you’d like to be part of, thank you!

Eyebeam and Playable Fashion would like to thank and acknowledge the support from our funders The Pinkerton Foundation, Capital One and from National Writing Project’s Educator Innovator Initiative and the LRNG Innovation Challenge, part of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and John Legend’s Show Me Campaign.

To learn more about Eyebeam, visit eyebeam.org; follow them on Facebook and Twitter for provocative events and ideas, and see the residents’ point of view on Instagram.

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Supporting Youth Leadership In Digital Spaces

Kristina Gorr

As the Internet becomes more embedded in our daily lives, Mozilla believes we need to broaden participation to make it a more inclusive, open platform and experience for all. Mozilla supports this belief by fueling new approaches to digital learning through initiatives such as Hives, Clubs and Gigabit cities.

During our November community call, we highlighted efforts across our network that focus on developing youth as leaders – on and offline.

Mozilla’s Hive Chicago and Hive NYC worked together to facilitate a Q&A style panel discussion that focused on supporting young people’s development as they work to change social issues that matter to them. Call curators and special guests included:

  • Rita Geladze, Educator’s Camp, NYC
  • Vanessa Sanchez, Yollocalli Arts Reach, Chicago
  • Eva L., Youth organizer, Black Lives Matter Chicago
  • Chrystian Rodriguez, Network Manager, Mozilla Hive NYC
  • Hana Sun, Portfolio Strategist, Mozilla Hive NYC
  • Kenyatta Forbes, Community Manager, Mozilla Hive Chicago

Linking Youth Leadership, Mentorship & Digital Spaces

The Q&A style panel discussion revealed a common thread that the panelists’ own paths to youth leadership began in programs that had one-on-one adult mentors who encouraged and supported their growth. For Rita and Vanessa, leadership development started at summer camps, clubs, and other local organizations. Chrystian had a teacher who introduced him to resources that connected his passion for the arts with online media as a method for developing his own political consciousness. Eva’s mother brought her to social movement events throughout her childhood, supporting her positive sense of identity and confidence as a young black woman.

Taking advantage of these introductory pathways, digital spaces are an opportunity to challenge and push for youth engagement and leadership as change agents. Youth voices can be shared far and wide online, and add a vital, underrepresented perspectives to conversations that could not be possible without a healthy internet.

Adults can do a lot to ally themselves with young people and support them in sharing their voices and stories online to impact issues that are important to their communities. It’s a mentor’s responsibility to encourage youth to think through and express their thoughts in an impactful, inspiring way. Digital spaces–which provide opportunities for deep reflection, expression and call to action–can be perfect outlets for adults and youth to work together and harness the potential of these online environments.

A few tips on positioning yourself to support youth in a positive manner were discussed during the call. For example, Vanessa shared a great tip about not tokenizing youth for one’s own benefit, but working alongside them and validating them as people with their own lived experiences. Acknowledging young people’s experiences is also key, according to Chrystian, who reminds us that experiences are different from person to person, regardless of age. Eva added that allowing youth to make their own mistakes and learn along their journey is especially important to validating their identity and respecting their experiences.

There is a lot to improve upon as we head into the future, with youth looking to adults for guidance and mentorship both on and offline. Mozilla Learning will continue to serve local and global communities by acting as a connector for digital resources and networks. We hope you’ll join us to build a more inclusive, open Internet for all.

You can watch the entire community call below to learn more about each guest’s ongoing work. You can also add your thoughts to the etherpad here.

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