Ariam is a learning technologist and designer, educator, and social activist working at the intersection of education, human rights, and global development. Currently an Education Innovation Specialist with UNICEF Innovation, she was previously Director of Digital Learning and Leadership for Global Kids and an active member of the Hive NYC Learning Network. Ariam is also the founder of the Nairobi Play Project, a game design and computer programming initiative that equips urban refugee youth with 21st-century skills while supporting their integration into Kenyan society. In 2016, she was awarded a Women in Power fellowship.
- Ariam’s LinkedIn profile
- @aamogos on Twitter
- Connecting Youth Civic Engagement with 21st Century Skills (Mozilla Learning Community Call video; start watching at minute 27)
- Cracking the Youth Leadership Code
- The Power of Making: A Model for Intercultural Competence and Play
- Empathy & Design Thinking
- Download portrait of Ariam or a photo of her at the Museum of Natural History
Let’s start with an overview of your work.
I currently run digital learning and leadership programs at Global Kids, a non-profit organization based in New York and DC. We focus primarily on leadership, peer-to-peer mentorship, human rights, and foreign policy education — with the goal of helping our students understand there is a world outside of their community they’re connected to.
Our digital learning programs support our youth explore global issues through a project-based approach, they can create their own original games, radio documentaries, etc., using various digital media tools and technologies.
Can you tell me about a specific time where you felt a sense of success?
In the spring of 2016, I ran a program called the Young Innovator’s Squad with the support of Mozilla and the Hive NYC. The purpose of the program was to create a sense of community and a network for youth who are interested in digital learning and technology, similar to how the Hive has its own network of educators who work in the digital media and learning space. The Young Innovators Squad was also very focused on producing events which support the diversification of the tech industry.
I worked with a group of high school students who were already friends and passionate about computer programming and civic engagement. We planned about five youth meet-ups for the Young Innovator’s Squad, and we had such a great turnout. Kids came back for multiple events because they loved the digital learning tools they were exposed to and how to apply them in the real world.
I think they really enjoyed problem solving and making projects with other kids. From the feedback we received, they wanted these events to happen more frequently, so I feel like that project was successful.
Watching the new friendships that developed within the network was very encouraging. We had students who heard about the Young Innovator’s Squad through their friends and online platforms — and I think they felt so embraced by this network that they branched out of the Young Innovator’s Squad to get involved in other technology events for youth. It was really great to see that happen.
So this is the 40,000 foot view — what about a specific anecdote?
At the second Young Innovators Squad meetup there were about 40 kids. This one kid, Bilal, showed up. He heard about the meetup online somewhere, and he really enjoyed it. Then the Young Innovators Squad Youth Committee, the young people organizing the events with me, designed and planned a Hip Hop Hackathon at Spotify through the Young Hackers, another youth group they run.
I went to support them, and I saw Bilal there, and he was like, “Where have you been all day?” To see him, when he hardly knew these kids, was amazing. I was like, “It’s great you’re all here.” And they were like, “Oh, he’s part of the squad now… He’s now going to be designing hackathons with us.” Two weeks ago he didn’t even know these kids. They don’t go to the same schools.
To see the Young Innovators Squad make these types of connections for kids, and to see him find this community, definitely made me feel like we were having an impact.
They all still work together now, which demonstrates how these kids have become a resource for other kids. Adults are primarily thought of as a resource for young people, but young people can be a resource for each other. To see that happen has been really amazing.
Flipping that, how about an example of a challenge you’ve faced?
We have kids who come to our programs at Global Kids, and they get really into Scratch, for example — starting to learn how to code and the foundation of computational thinking — and they’ve been in our programs for a couple years and now they want to level up their skills.
There are so many youth organizations in New York City, and more and more creating digital learning programs, but many like Global Kids, don’t have a lot of capacity. Young people in our programs almost require a personalized learning experience or learning plan to successfully move to the next level.
That’s definitely been a challenge, because you want to see them grow and level up their skills, but you don’t always have the capacity to help guide them and take them on that path — and that’s the type of guidance they need, which a lot of them aren’t getting in school. You want to help them, but you don’t have the bandwidth or resources and you don’t want to see them stop on their journey.
We’re designing programs, running programs, and we have Global Kids related responsibilities. It’s hard to find time to support our youth beyond Global Kids programming, especially because we work with so many young people. We work with over 2,000 kids a week across all our programs and we don’t want to let them down.
How have you addressed this challenge? Do you form partnerships to link programs?
It’s funny you mention it. In the spring, I started working with Jess Klein, who used to work at the Mozilla Foundation and now works at Bocoup. They do a lot of design work for nonprofits and think tanks, and we talked through the issue. There are so many organizations in the Hive network, we’re all well-connected — but our programs aren’t.
There’s no scaffolding. We could easily create many different pathways, where our kids could select one of those 10 pathways from the programs being scaffolded or create their own. We need a type of platform where I can input information about my program, and organizations like MOUSE and Eyebeam can do the same.
Then, the kids can choose their pathway, based on the skills they want to acquire. For instance, from Global Kids they can say, “OK, what did I enjoy? What else do I want to learn? The design part of game design was cool, not so much the coding,” or “OK, Eyebeam has a program that looks awesome, where I can learn more about design, let me try that next”
We need a tool to help guide them while taking the load off of the educators. We organized a small design charrette at Global Kids, and interviewed some of our youth on what this process might look like for them. We created a paper prototype for this application that would be accessible Hive-wide.
The project is on pause for a little bit, but we want to look for funding so we can build out our prototype.
I’ve talked to Eyebeam and a couple of other organizations and they’re facing the same challenge: what’s next for our youth beyond our organizations? How do we guide our participants to the next best learning experience? It’s a network-wide issue. Mozilla has partnered with LRNG, which may address part of the problem, but I’m not familiar enough with the initiative.
Turning to the broadest issue in the Mozilla universe, the open internet. What, for you, is the open internet?
The open internet is a place that is accessible to everyone. Not just accessible — it’s more than that — everyone has the skills and is provided with the tools to understand how to use the web to benefit us all.
Some people know how to do that, because they have the resources to learn, while other people don’t. Unfortunately, this creates a lot of inequity on the web, because certain people are participating, and other people are not, or they’re not visible.
I also believe that resources and tools on the internet should be open source, so everyone has access and we can make these resources better. That’s what an open web is: A place where we can all build and participate.
Is there a time where you’ve experienced this openness, and where it’s been important to you?
Yes. I’ve run programs with students who don’t have access to the internet, and who have had very little experience with using the internet. I’ve worked with them on learning how to open a tab in a web browser and doing a Google search. Just seeing how one day on the web can shift the way youth think about information and what’s available to them is amazing.
That’s happened to me a lot, especially with regard to the work I’ve done in Sub-Saharan Africa. I’ve worked with students who haven’t had much access to technology, and when they get on the web connecting with others, making their own games, etc., you see the excitement on their faces. There’s this whole world they weren’t aware of — it’s exciting.
These are kids who don’t have access on their mobile phones, right?
For the most part, yes.
Taking a bit of a detour, have you dealt at all with issues around bullying and trolls? Is that part of your curriculum?
Honestly not as much. I know bullying is a big issue on the web and it’s important, but it’s been less of a focus in my work.
I wish there was more attention placed on privacy and some other things kids tend not to learn — that they’re not exposed to. They don’t understand the value of privacy on the web, net neutrality, and the need to advocate for an open and free web.
Shifting now to Mozilla, how did you get involved with Mozilla and what has that been like?
In 2010 I started working for the American Museum of Natural History on a grant from the MacArthur Foundation. It was to start a network of youth organizations in New York called the New Youth City Learning Network. A couple years later, that turned into Hive NYC, and that network fell under the stewardship of Mozilla.
So that’s when I got involved with Mozilla and started learning more about their leadership and their principles around the open web. Most of my interaction with them is through the Hive NYC network.
Can you tell me about a time that these interactions have had some impact on your life or your work?
I hadn’t realized how important it was to teach kids about the open web until I started working with Mozilla. Web literacy is a life skill — I didn’t recognize that before.
Anything related to digital learning and web literacy is a big piece of what we do at Global Kids. And, for my projects outside of Global Kids, web literacy now is a big piece of that because I see the value and the significance of young people understanding how to participate on the web, how to share on the web, how to build on the web.
Mozilla also has great set of web literacy curriculum — I’ve used it many times.
I would also recognize the Hive Learning Network that Mozilla has led — and led so well — as a collaborative network. I have made so many new friends and colleagues in the Hive Learning Network over the years thanks to Mozilla, and they’ve also been able to facilitate fantastic partnerships within that network and such an amazing exchange of knowledge and ideas. We’re not all running siloed programs but we’re really collaborating. I’d say that’s another thing I’ve taken away from their leadership.
Do you have any feedback or have you had experiences or interactions with Mozilla or Hive where your expectations were not met?
I think Mozilla tried linking programs and helping youth level up through badges. A big goal and focus of badges was to create these learning pathways, which I was very excited about for a long time. The only thing I’d say is I wish there was more follow through on that project.
I don’t know where it is right now and I think Mozilla is still working on it, but whether it’s in the form of badges or some other tool to help support educators make those learning pathways happen, we need help. It’s important and it’s affecting everybody in the network.
How might the stories that we’re collecting be useful to you, if at all?
You noted that there’s expected impact, or expected results, and we all have that, not only within our own programs or organizations, but in other organizations. So hearing the more unconventional stories, or hearing about impact I might not have expected, that’s valuable.
There are also challenges I face in my role, and hearing stories of impact where someone might be designing a solution around the challenge I’m facing is very valuable to me. I know that’s happening, but I might not be aware of it.
For example, people don’t know Jess and I are working on this platform to bridge programs, and that’s because we haven’t had the capacity to share our story, share why we’re doing this. If we did, I think other people would partner and want to contribute in some way.
That’s why these stories are so important — because we’re all working on projects and trying to achieve certain types of impact or facing challenges, and it’s a way we can support each other if we know what’s happening and take from each other’s models of successes.
If Eyebeam has created a successful model for something I’m struggling with, once I’ve heard that story, I can borrow from their success.
You also do work with urban refugees in Nairobi. Have your interactions with Mozilla impacted that work?
Absolutely. For the work I’ve done with urban refugees, I ran a game design program called the Nairobi Play Project for 24 youth — 16 urban refugees and 8 Kenyan nationals. Most of them have minimal access to the web.
The first day of the program was primarily focused on web literacy. I pulled most of that from Mozilla’s curriculum. All those activities are really fun. The kids really enjoyed it. It’s had a huge impact on all the work I do.