Reimagining Learning with the Roebling Platform

author: Mark Belinsky
date: 2010-02-22 19:18:32+00:00
slug: reimagining-learning-with-the-roebling-platform
title: Reimagining Learning with the Roebling Platform
wordpress_id: 1430

What is education in the 21st century? How do we prepare kids for the future when our teachers are unprepared? And what about the underserved children living on the margins of society, whether the tens of thousands of newly resettled refugees from Burma, Somalia and Iraq, or youth from districts that spend more money on the prison system than schools.

Digital media & learning are intrinsically tied and Digital Democracy is looking to use free and open source tools to support the future of education around the world. One of these projects is called Roebling – Bridging international cultural and social divides among refugee youth and their classmates.

The Digital Media & Learning competition and conference was recently held and we were proud to submit an application, and thrilled to be one of the  contenders with the most comments. Thank you to all who have contributed. While commenting has ended, we want to be transparent in our process and learn from the skills that all of YOU bring to the table. If you weren’t able to comment then, please comment now. Your thoughts are extremely helpful as we move forward in thinking about how our programming can have the biggest impact.


Our proposal

Named for the builders of the Brooklyn Bridge, Roebling is the first educational platform targeting the tens of thousands of refugees that are resettled into the US every year. Empowering marginalized youth through community storytelling, Roebling connects schools in the US and in refugee camps through a multi-lingual platform that facilitates collaborative projects, equipping them with the tools they need to be 21st Century global citizens.
Internally, Roebling is a free and open source online portal built on Open Atrium, a Drupal-based content management system. The Drupal community offers thousands of add-on modules for student-led design and localization. Functioning as a secure intranet, Roebling is a lightweight safe space is a sandbox for students and teachers, with an easy and fun user interface. This online platform is coupled with a cross-disciplinary curriculum that emphasizes participatory learning and new media literacy, using mapping, photography, and video. Students share media, blog posts and homework assignments. Through the skills they develop, Roebling affects studentsâ!TM academic performance in math, sciences and the humanities and encourages civic participation through mapping cultural landmarks and resources in their communities.
Externally, Roebling encourages offline exhibitions and connection to social media. Projects finished can be filtered for interaction with online communities like Flickr, Facebook, Myspace & Twitter and virtual worlds like Second Life & Open Street Maps. Coding sites like GitHub will spread youth- initiated innovations, and interactive gallery exhibitions will allow viewers to text comments, bridging offline and online community involvement. Initial projects have been launched at schools in Haiti, Bangladesh, Thailand and South Africa. Roebling is piloting to connect a school in a Thai refugee camp with resettled refugees and their classmates in Indiana. Other partners include development teams at MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media and Eyebeam: Art & Technology Center, plus sponsorship from Nokia.


Written by Ejacobi 2 days ago This educational exchange has the power to transform students into engaged global citizens. Check out the work our team has already done …
Eyebeam – the leading center for art & technology in the US – is creating transformative projects that merge technology & art with new educational practices –
MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media is a leader in developing technologies that support community media –
Digital Democracy has pioneered educational exchange, conducting trainings with refugee youth in Bangladesh & Thailand, and marginalized youth in South Africa & Haiti.
How do YOU think refugees & their classmates around the world can be connected through technology ?

What is particularly compelling about this project is the connection between online collaboration and offline classroom-based curriculum. Students will have the full benefit of connecting to their peers around the world, while also connecting to the communities in which they live. By increasing interaction offline, as well as providing a connection to other communities globally online, this program limits social alienation/exclusion of these student participants/creators. The program provides a way for resettled refugees to become engaged with their new communities and culture, without losing the culture and sense of place from which they came. How do resettled refugees view their new communities? What can American and refugee students teach each other about their differing and similar world-views through the use of community mapping and the creation of video projects? It is with this program, that these questions will be answered. With the use of skills and technologies that are only now developing and improving, the program will provide a forum that will give these youth a voice, and enable them to be future leaders.
Written by Agoldberg 2 days ago Amazing work. I love how this project is using ICT tools and new media to develop youth diplomacy and engagement with the world. And Roebling, what a great name!! I look forward to seeing this develop…
Written by Emmalloyd 2 days ago This is a project based on the belief that through the spirit of openness, creativity and innovation are fostered, challenges are overcome and real change happens. The platform is a vehicle to share open source technology, skills and peer to peer feedback thus creating informed global youth who can participate in shaping the world they are inheriting. It aims to provide them with the tools, expertise and support to become not just consumers of culture but change makers. Roebling, built on cutting edge open source software is determined to break down borders, whether they be technological, financial or physical.
Written by Danwalmsley 2 days ago This project sounds amazing. I’ve worked building education software in Australia for many years, and this kind of open platform is the way of the future. Time and time again we saw closed platforms enter the marketplace with slick features, only to chain teachers, schools and kids to an inflexible platform that was quickly out-of-date.
A project like this will provide a great example to the world of how educational softwareshouldbe done.
Written by Mushon 2 days ago This project can switch reality on its head.
Refugee youth are dealing with the harsh reality of growing us away from their culture often misunderstood in a different and not always welcoming environments. Using communication technologies and constructive collaboration tools Roebling can turn a marginalized immigrant kid stuck in some small neighborhood to a leader in with a global outlook on her role and potential in life.
This is a brilliant and inspiring project. I do hope it gets the support it deserves.
Written by Leducmills 2 days ago A really inspiring project with a lot of potential to do good in the world – especially with such an interesting collaborative team – MIT, Eyebeam, and Digital Democracy all have their own strengths and together one would assume that this project is actually going to get out into the world and fundamentally change how refugees tell their stories and how other people receive them. Very cool.
Written by Pazonada 2 days ago What I especially like about this project is its potential to connect youth in completely different places by utilizing the latest technologies and allowing kids to do what they’re already doing — taking pictures, using phones, chatting, connecting with one another via social networks — but on a platform that aggregates that content for the purpose of bridging cultural divides. I would have loved to have had this as a teenager, especially the opportunity to connect with refugee youth in other countries as digital penpals. Great to see how kids will use this.
Written by Ewiles 1 day 16 hours ago I have 12 New York City high schools already interested in hosting it in their classrooms and developing curriculum with it. It would be a blessing to our New York City public high school youth if this project received the support it deserves. Our kids and our communities are eagerly waiting…
Written by TimBulkeley 1 day 14 hours ago I am a tertiary teacher who has visited the Mae La camp twice (a month in 2008 and three weeks in 2010) this project sounds great. Bearing in mind the social and physical conditions both in the camp and previously in Burma I hope that the plans include adequate support for the young people in Mae La to use the system effectively, and to maintain the infrastructure needed so that they can continue to use Internet based means of staying in contact after the competition is over. Please don’t misunderstand, I think the project is great and could have large benefits at both ends, I love the way refugees in Indiana will be involved 🙂 I am just a little concerned that the project does not raise expectations that will later be dashed.
Written by Corrine 1 day 13 hours ago Beautiful project with endless potential, can’t wait to see what these kids are able to do with these tools!
Written by Bentonc 1 day 9 hours ago The most challenging aspect of Roebling may make the most powerful impact. When refugees flee to America, connecting with their community will likely be dangerous or at least technically difficult. When social structures and tech infrastructure back home are in disarray, the social media element of Roebling could be as vital for the refugees and those they left behind as the education component.
Written by Cjzed 17 hours ago As a teacher working with refugee youth and adults, I see this as a powerful tool for refugees now living in the US, especially students making the transition into public schools. It could also have great potential as an educational tool for non-refugee students and teachers. I’d also love to see this extended in the future to include adult education programs for refugees.
Written by Srduncombe 17 hours agoFantastic project. I hope it gets the support it deserves.
Written by Callaghan1964 15 hours ago Groundbreaking + very important – deserves every bit of support possible. Related pilot activities between hard-to-reach NYC/Liverpool young people and communities proved incredibly successful and truly inspiring for all those involved. Global hyperlocal is where its at…
Please fund this internationally significant creative initiative!
Written by Fungalicious 15 hours ago This is a very worthwhile project. An online and offline connection is important to secure participation. Open source module-based structure invites future community developments. This project deserves support to realize their goals! This is great. I look forward to seeing their result.
Written by Rbrown 13 hours ago This is a fantastic project – a great way to use new technologies to bring together members of the diaspora and empower students to tell their own stories and recognize the importance of the experiences. This initiative has the potential to inspire and support a generation of marginalized youth by bringing them together into supportive networks so that they can learn and enhance their own skills and confidence.
Written by Rid1O 13 hours ago This is an amazing project which will be looked down as phenomenal. A great way to bring people together.
Written by Ytorf 11 hours ago Really excited to see this project come to fruition, and to see what it does for these kids. It’s an engaging way to teach teenagers about emerging technologies and what it means to be a creator, not just a consumer. It will also be just as important for the non-refugee students in broadening their worldview.
Written by Robran 10 hours ago A beautifully conceived project that will have an extraordinary impact on the lives of young people. WHO
Written by Mounton 10 hours ago I’m a creative writing and literature teacher and really recognise the value of such an exciting project. It will certainly open up new worlds to the students and create wonderful opportunities.

Written by Natty148 hours ago With this project a new world of opportunities would be open for those who don’t get the chance to share their stories. this could be what we’ve been waiting for,m hope it gets all the votes needed.
Written by Lizslagus 7 hours ago Introducing youth to technology is not enough. However, a project that not only allows youth access to technology, but also encourages community, resourcefulness, creative/critical thinking and sharing via technology and literacy is a project that WILL have impact and make a difference in the lives of the refugee youth for which it has been developed.
In addition to this project’s beautiful commitment to open access and supporting youth to support themselves and their peers, I believe strongly in the partners involved. Each one engages in social issues via creative technological applications and solutions with heart and passion.
Written by Raydot 5 hours ago What a fantastic idea! When so many schools are having trouble figuring out their digital strategies, here’s a project that really makes sense. I think the potential for what could follow is endless — it could help inner city schools close the digital divide, for instance. Can’t wait to see what comes out if it.
Written by Treasurecrumbs 2 hours 58 minutes ago Highly capable, creative and ambitious team. Fantastic project.
Written by Pdip 2 hours 4 minutes ago This is a very promising and necessary project. I am pleased to see that the team has an understanding that this online initiative has to be synergistic with education groups in the trenches. This is by far the best proposal I have read, with the most appropriate use of technology as it applies to an "online pedagogy".
I believe that education is one of the most sustainable practices we can invest in, and if I were in a better position to do so, I would help bank roll this project personally.

The Competition

HASTAC and the MacArthur Foundation are excited to launch the third year of the Digital Media and Learning Competition. Today, young people are learning, socializing, and participating in civic life in dramatic new ways and assessing information in ways never before imagined. They are reimagining learning on a daily basis and are engaged in what is called "participatory learning." The 2010 Digital Media and Learning Competition challenges designers, entrepreneurs, practitioners, researchers, and young people to put participatory learning to work on behalf of science, technology, engineering, math and their social contexts in the 21st century.

The Digital Media and Learning Competition, created in 2007, was designed to find "and to inspire" the most novel uses of new media in support of learning. Projects explore how digital technologies are changing the way people learn and participate in daily life. Awards have recognized individuals, for-profit companies, universities, and community organizations using new media to transform learning.

The 2010 Competition, launched in partnership with National Lab Day, challenges designers, inventors, entrepreneurs, practitioners and researchers to build learning labs and/or learning experiences for the 21st Century, environments that will help young people interact, share, build, tinker, and explore in new and innovative ways.