Ariam's ARCADE

Many Abilities//Many Paths//Many Communities

Over the last few months I’ve been working at the Stanford in their K12 Lab on a special project around emerging tech and equity. Re-posting a blogpost written in collaboration with stellar colleagues Laura McBain, Lisa Kay Solomon, Carissa Carter and Megan Stariha.


Technology is power.

It can enable you to share an idea with millions of people around the world in a matter of seconds. And in those same few seconds, it can enable someone else to steal your identity and drain your bank account.

Whether it’s being used to spread information, incite violence, influence elections, or shop for glasses, who should have access to such powers? Who should be able to design and utilize technology to shape the world in their vision and image?

The present reality is that this power is in the hands of very few, and manifesting into serious consequences for the most marginalized people in the world. This is why we all need to be technologists. We all have the right to participate in and shape the growing influence technology has on our lives and communities, and build our digital agency. Whether you are the creator, user or policymaker, we all have a role in designing and deciding the future we all want to live in.

Today many emerging technologies (still in a phase of development and/or haven’t reached commercial scale) like machine learning, wearable tech, synthetic biology and others are often riddled with embedded biases (Ruha Benjamin, 2018). Computer scientist Joy Buolamwini found that three widely-used gender recognition tools could only accurately identify dark-skinned women as women from a photograph 35 percent of the time, while white men were identified as men 99 percent of the time (New York Times, 2018). This is a symptom of how emerging technologies are not created by diverse groups of people who reflect different values, life experiences, expertise, and take the responsibility to ensure all voices are represented in the design process.

At the we believe educators are uniquely situated to address this critical issue. Educators have the capacity to shape a future in which all voices are represented and valued. They have the ability to equip students with the skills, mindsets, and dispositions needed to evaluate the ethical implications of technology and prioritize equity-centered design. But educators, particularly those who are serving students furthest from opportunity, need new resources to help students engage and create with emerging technology.


Educators experiment with the “I Love Algorithms” card deck designed by the Stanford Teaching and Learning Studio. Photos courtesy of the Stanford Beaudouin.

We believe that design can play an important role in addressing the digital inequities that exist in our K-12 communities, and the challenges facing digital inclusion. Built on our ongoing exploration of emerging tech, equity, and design we are exploring questions like…

  • How are emerging technologies used by different communities?
  • Who is creating emerging technologies like machine learning, blockchain, and synthetic biology?
  • Who is not being represented in the creation and pioneering of these emerging technologies?
  • How are oppressive social structures and practices, like racial profiling, manifesting in the early stages of the creation and application of emerging technologies? Why?
  • How might we equip educators and students with the creative confidence to understand, evaluate, and create with emerging technologies in their communities?

These questions and the research we’ve done are leading us to this design challenge:

How might we leverage emerging technologies to advance equity, empathy, and self-efficacy in K-12 education?

Our design work is grounded in four pillars of understanding, centered around participation and radical access, built on the early design work from Carissa Carter’s You Love Algorithms:

  1. It’s not about becoming a coder; it’s about knowing what the code can do (Carissa Carter, 2018). We all need to understand what emerging technologies can do, how they’re interlinked, and how they can be designed by increasingly diverse groups of creators and decision makers. This means that each of us should have a basic understanding of how emerging technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, brain computer interface technologies, etc. work. Does that mean we’re all verifying transactions on a blockchain? No. But it does mean that we understand it’s rooted in decentralization, transparency, and immutability, and why some systems may or may not benefit from using blockchain.
  2. If we want emerging technology to represent all of us, it needs to be created by all of us (Carissa Carter, 2018). Technology needs to be inclusive. Creation encompasses more than just technical production or programming, it means all of our experiences, perspectives and voices are incorporated in the creation, adaption, and delivery of the technology. It requires that we all have an understanding of the concepts underlying emerging technology, and that each of us are an integral part of the design process.
  3. Technology is personal. Educators need support with how to cultivate and leverage the valuable digital practices and identities their students bring into the classroom (Matt Rafalow, 2018). To cultivate students’ abilities and support them in connecting with emerging technology, we need to consistently find ways to make technology personal to them. If students don’t recognize themselves or their communities in the technology they are using or designing with, this only further marginalizes them and reinforces embedded bias.
  4. Learning is about lifelong participation and creation; not consumption. Constructionism has shown us that the most powerful learning experiences emerge from creating something from our own curiosity, understanding, knowledge, and experience of the world. There is nothing more rewarding than designing something that solves a problem for you and the people you care about in your community.

How we are getting started.

In our pursuit to expand radical access to emerging technology and to cultivate a diverse generation of technology creators, we’ve launched a design project called 10 Tools for 1,000 Schools, a portfolio of design resources, tools, and approaches to help build the creative and digital agency of K-12 communities.

In the toolbox, educators will find engaging activities which will help them understand and teach the foundational concepts of emerging technologies, and resources on how to integrate them into various academic disciplines, along with easy-to-adapt community-based design challenges. We kicked off the playteest of two of our first 10 Tools resources at the first ever K12 Futures Fest, a gathering of more than 200 educators, students, and other community members who showcased their work and engaged in our new experiments.


Educators participate in a Futures Fest session on Blockchain. Photos courtesy of the Stanford Beaudouin.

Educators participated in a session which immersed them in the blockchain concepts of decentralization and transparency through taking on the persona of detectives tasked with cracking unsolved mysteries; and in another session, designed their own dance moves to express different machine learning algorithms. Participants pushed back on the perceived benefits of the technologies, rapidly came up with new ideas for how they might apply these technologies to new design challenges, and asked thought-provoking questions about the potential impacts on their students.

As our prototypes and learning evolve, we aim to share our work on the K12 Lab site. And we hope to encourage more educators to take up this challenge in their own communities by adopting and remixing these resources to fit the diverse needs and identities of their students.

Our collaborators include a crew of pioneering educators: Kwaku Aning, Louka Parry, Jennifer Gaspar-Santos, Akala Francis, and Daniel Ramos. They are each collaborating with us to create, integrate, and adapt these resources in their own contexts.

On the horizon.

In 2020 Karen Ingram, a designer who has a special focus on synthetic biology will join the team as an Emerging Tech Fellow.

How to learn more?

Want to learn more about our work? Read updates here. You can also join our newsletter for updates and events! Follow our progress on twitter using #10tools4schools.

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  1. Benjamin, R. (2019). Race after Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code. Polity Press.
  2. Lohr, S. (2018, February 9). Facial Recognition Is Accurate, if You’re a White Guy. Retrieved from
  3. Green, B. (2019, April 17). Can predictive policing help stamp out racial profiling? — The Boston Globe. Retrieved from
  4. Matt Rafalow (2018). Disciplining Play: Digital Youth Culture as Capital at School. American Journal of Sociology. 123:5, 1416–1452.

This past summer I spent a few months working with Asian Development Bank on evaluating learning technologies for early childhood education. In 2019, they wanted to support the People’s Republic of China identify technologies which can lead to positive learning outcomes, are contextually appropriate, affordable, and overall accessible.


I had a chance to meet with Putao ABC in Beijing, an ed tech company which develops a lot of AI-enabled and AR learning applications.

It was a fun mix of reviewing existing literature, conducting interviews with universities in Beijing and Shanghai to learn about the newest research, and visiting ed tech companies and test driving new products. Ultimately I synthesized all this data to create a framework which supports government determine which technologies are effective, and how and when to use them. The classification of technologies broke down into the administration of teaching to include student information systems and classroom management and communication tools, and the implementation of teaching, which more broadly encompassed everything from teaching aids and computer-assisted learning, to teacher professional development and assessment tools. The framework highlighted the technologies, types of software and hardware, costs, obstacles around implementation, use cases and examples of products.

I was especially delighted by this project with ADB because there’s a critical need for government, international organizations and NGO’s to make informed, evidence-based decisions for procurement of ed tech products. All too often technologies are procured and either don’t work for the context or are incredibly expensive (again…don’t work for the context). I hope this classification can provide some insights and guidance and will continue to iterate on it as new technologies enter the market.


Whoa.. it’s been a minute since I’ve have had a chance to write, reflect and post anything here, and the holidays are a great time for it. 

One of the coolest and challenging projects I had the opportunity to work on in 2019 was the Kenya Education Cloud. In late 2018, the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development wanted to expand the content offerings on the Kenya Education Cloud (the country’s national digital learning platform), in a cost-affordable way for students, teachers and school communities. Digital learning content can be costly, and KICD wanted to understand how Open Educational Resources (OER) could be leveraged for the Kenyan context. It was fantastic to join KICD on this journey as a digital learning consultant. 

The Challenge

70% of OER globally are only available in English and because OER emerged to disrupt tertiary education, few OER exist for primary education, particularly in Kiswahili, Luo, Kikuyu and other indigenous languages of Kenya. After an extensive review of available OER, it was established early on that it would be critical for success to approach proprietary content developers and build strong partnerships within the local ecosystem. There was just a dearth of high-quality interactive OERs. Through a multi-pronged approach which consisted of reaching out to local content producers and global content producers, we mapped about 1,000 resources (a mix of local and global) to Kenya’s new competency-based curriculum. Some offered KICD no-fee licenses for either full repositories or select repositories of content. As expected, there was a bigger bulk of OER in Mathematics, Science and English Language, and scarcity in KSL (Kenyan Sign Language), Indigenous Languages and Religious Education. Locating interactive OER which were gender-responsive in line with national policies (Education and Training Sector Gender Policy) was also very challenging. And we hadn’t even gotten to the vetting process yet…

Quality Assurance: Will these hold up to our standards?

Once we had a set of OER, we designed a series of hands-on trainings to build the capacity of KICD curators, subject matter experts tasked with vetting content across Kenya’s 9 learning areas for grades 1-3 to meet quality assurance standards. While KICD curators were experts in their domains and in content creation, OERS were new terrain for most of them. Curators were taken through creative commons licenses, the remix/reuse/share/reduce OER model, and practical exercises of how to use OER in the classroom. They also engaged in project-based activities to explore OER expected to be available in the KEC, and reviewed them against existing OER standards established by KICD. There were great learning moments around defending decisions to recommend or not recommend content for the KEC, which also made us re-evaluate some of the standards.  It was good a time. 

IMG_5087 2

This PD expanded into a larger session a few months later with 63 public schools teachers from across Nairobi, Garissa, and Turkana on how to integrate OER into the classroom. The professional development took teachers through a cycle of evaluating and selecting an OER, designing a lesson plan with it for their students, and a dynamic facilitation of the lesson plan with peer feedback. Many teachers expressed that with more practice, they felt confident they could integrate OER into the classroom. One of the highlights of the session was watching teachers immerse themselves in the design process and recognize their own creativity. 

Over the project period, we created a full circle strategy encompassing interactive content mapping, partnerships and acquisition all the way through interactive content use in the classroom.

Key Outcomes, Lessons and New Questions

  1. It can be a fruitful endeavor to source OER, but due to the dearth of OER for primary and even secondary education, particularly OER that are of high-quality, it is equally important to mobilize time and resources to build relationships with content producers, donors, community-based organizations and other stakeholders. KICD and international organizations like UNICEF can be key conveners and play a critical role in building a sustainable OER ecosystem that can rapidly support demand with more supply, and ensure that for all involved there are clear incentives. For this initiative, this means working with global content producers and actors like the Global Digital Library and coordinating localization sprints for high-quality OER that is not in accessible formats or available in Swahili and indigenous languages. Creative Commons who have communities across the world and in Kenya could also be great partners. It also means building strong relationships with local content producers who are creating high-quality interactive content and tapping into the local/regional ed-tech community for information on new resources, technologies and opportunities for collaboration
  2. Decades of educational research has shown that ICT in Education initiatives often fail due to poor teacher training and low teacher adoption of technology. We learned through this process that teacher training can benefit from undergoing a full design process. This could include follow-up trainings to build on previous skills acquired, classroom observation paired with real-time feedback, establishing digital communities for teachers to share challenges and successes, etc.  I’ve written about this before, and recognize that government institutions sometimes don’t have the resources to make it a priority. How can we do better on this front?
  3. While it may not have been the focus of the teacher PD, incorporating basic digital literacy training for teachers is a must, especially when working with teachers from more marginalized parts of the country.  Teachers from certain counties in particular, struggled with basic digital literacy functions (ex: opening a new tab in a web browser, locating a file on the hard drive). With basic digital literacy skills, teachers will have more confidence in their ability to use the devices and it will also accelerate the speed of training to cover other important topics.


Last month I attended the first ever Africa Play conference in Pretoria, South Africa hosted by the Department of Basic Education, UNICEF South Africa, ADEA and the LEGO Foundation…it was playful to say the least. The conference organizers (I suspect LEGO in particular) went big and bold with the production. There were playgrounds with various hands-on activities (with and without LEGO’s), traditional cultural dances, oral storytelling about the history of Mathematics and an impromptu visit from Elmo!

It was fun to see government, civil society organizations, international organizations and others get down and dirty together in the lego pit.

4th Industrial Rev: Are we Killing and Commodifying Play?

A recurring theme of the conference was the Fourth Industrial Revolution and equipping children with the skills for the future. I’ve read some very valid and much needed critiques on the social construction of the Fourth IR that as usual, are being used to benefit the few. One silver lining has been the urgency to overhaul the detrimental and colonial education systems on the African continent with systems and pedagogies which promote creativity and critical thinking, but at what cost and for who? Should the priority be dismantling archaic systems because they don’t work and children aren’t learning or because the machines are coming? The discussion on how to assess and measure creativity at this stage was a bit alarming. If we’re already jumping to “how much are children producing” versus focusing on “how can we create the best learning experiences for children”, it seems that we will maintain the status quo and re-create old systems in new forms.

I remain hopeful…but concerned. I still had a blast building #thingamabobs!

My scribbling #contraption!

A few weekends ago I participated in a Wikipedia editathon at the Interference Archive, in support of their newest exhibit “Free Education! The Free University of New York, Alternate U, and Learning Liberation”. It closes January 27th and is one not to be missed.

The curation includes wonderful archival documents from various education projects primarily across the 1960’s and 1970’s which led to the formation of FUNY (Free University of New York) and also evolved from FUNY. Exposing past efforts to democratize Education is important, especially in light of today’s sky-rocketing student debt and the further commodification of what should clearly be a public good.

It was also fun to peruse some of the brochures and pamphlets from programs which emerged from the “unschooling” movement like Not Back to School Camp. Overall the exhibit asked many questions about how communities at different intersections (local and global) can build an Education ecosystem together which is affordable, representative, equity-focused and places the learner front and center.

The highlight of the exhibit (for me) was this map of student protest across the African continent from the 1960’s onward. Great inspiration for Nairobi Play and other projects to come in 2019.