Education / 2013

MyARC: A digital social network that solves educational challenges one project at a time.

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by arc

MyArc is a flexible, content-agnostic digital media platform developed explicitly for educational purposes. It presents a secure, closed ecosystem in which students can connect with other students, both at their own school and outside; engage with industry experts, community leaders and academics; create and share projects and ideas; receive project or assignment feedback from students, teachers, and other members of the community; earn, collect and award badges in recognition of a broad spectrum of activities and achievements otherwise unrecognized by standard educational reward systems. MyARC builds bridges between individuals, classrooms, and schools. It connects in-school and after-school curriculum and facilitates the involvement of the larger community in the education process. It does all this by adapting the capabilities of the Web 2.0 social networking platforms to reframe the way we approach education and consider its constraints. Current educational programs, problems, and solutions, are based around and limited by the physical structures and geographic locations of schools. Experiments in higher education and the digital humanities have shown ways to use the Internet for educational purposes, but the students who would most benefit from such innovation (i.e. those in LA’s public school system) do not yet benefit from these practices. Yes, our students have access to technological tools and, often, even training on how to use them. But they are not able to use the Internet as the social network towards curricular learning. Web 2.0 has shown that the Internet is not just a place to get information; it is also, and perhaps more powerfully, a means of making connections between human beings, a tool for building communities and producing knowledge collaboratively. Social networking sites such as Facebook are rightly banned from school computers in order to protect our children. But what if these networks could be safely put to use in the education of our children? What if we could build a safe, protected online social network that fostered such activity as learning and extended classroom curriculum by connecting teachers, students, and communities across geographic locations? What if we could use the Internet to do what it was intended to do: to connect geographic sites and share information in ways that strengthen community? We can. It is called MyARC. MyARC adapts the strengths of the Web to serve the needs of our public high schools and after-schools in a safe and manageable way. Students create their own profiles and participate in “activities,” “clubs,” and “challenges.” They elect to join “clubs” based on their interests and to participate in “activities” and “challenges.” They communicate with other students around a shared interest or project. They can also read, research, and review educational tools and resources related to their topic so that MyArc serves as a virtual meeting place, a workshop, a research hub, an exhibition space, and an archive of collaborative process. Let’s take an extended and easily implementable example: students participating in after-school robotics clubs across Los Angeles. Students login to the “Robotics Club” space of MyARC and ask questions, share ides, comment on each other’s projects, and even work collaboratively but remotely. Teachers can oversee this correspondence and craft curriculum around it, building in challenges and badges. Experts from the community can login to follow the progress of this student robotics group. Local engineers or science professors can provide advice and encouragement, suggesting links to related topics or articles for further study. Local technology companies can offer prizes or post internship opportunities to the robotics club. As a result, an after-school program in inner-city Los Angeles will have access to human capital, resources, and networking opportunities usually reserved for the privileged and few. We need funding to build MyARC. We have already designed the interface and most of its functionality. We need support to build and beta-test the prototype. Though our pilot is targeted towards high school students, we are designing the tool to be scalable and flexible so as to support diverse learning communities. The web-space will be secure and protected; content will be monitored for accuracy by experts residing both within the ARC team and on an extended Advisory Board (see partners). We are in a unique position of being able to easily implement the platform once it is built because MyARC will be supported and implemented by ARC: an after-school and experiential education provider (see section below). MyARC provides a central hub for learners, educational institutions, and other organizations to share, exhibit, and learn. MyARC is a digital social network, a safe space for project-based learning that solves educational challenges one project and one student at a time.


What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

ARC provides comprehensive, afterschool programming for over 23,000 student participants annually: 6 Elementary Schools, 6 Middle Schools, 21 High Schools and more than 80 other schools with LEAD Programming. ARC also collaborates with over 275 youth based, community, organizations—from unified school districts, charter schools, park and recreation departments to religious youth groups, independent schools, YMCA’s, Boys and Girls Clubs, sports clubs, and other youth development organizations.

In twelve years, we have grown from two staff members to over 170 whose individual diversity models the diversity of our LA-based student population. Our award-winning afterschool and Leadership, Experience, Adventure & Development (LEAD) programs have made a difference in the lives of thousands of students in low-income communities in Southern California, created authentic partnerships with schools and closed the opportunity gap for all our kids.

Some standout accolades are:

-ARC was selected for inclusion in the US Department of Education’s “Best Practices” resource book for older youth after school programs (2010). -ARC was awarded the “California After School Network Innovators Award for Collaboration” -LAUSD’s Beyond the Bell Branch nominated ARC for the Federal Doing What Works in OST website. -In 2009 the League of CA After School Partners highlighted ARC’s partnership with Beyond the Bell as a best practices team. -ARC was a runner up for the 2010 Loadstone National Collaboration Prize -A 2009 independent evaluation found that ARC students are 12% more likely to pass the CAHSEE exam then their non-ARC counterparts. -ARC developed the successful Take Action Leadership Campaign: a collaboration of Los Angeles School District - Beyond the Bell Branch, after school providers, and community organizations within Southern California united around a common desire to give students leadership skills, celebrate the arts, serve our communities, and empower students to mentor their peers. http://takeactionleadershipcampaign.org -ARC developed The Teen Adventure Challenge (now in its fifth year) http://www.teenadventurechallenge.com -ARC partnered with CORE and USC’s Writing Program to develop “SOS College,” a website that helps under-served students, grades 8-12, access information about college entrance applications. http://college.sosclassroom.org/ -In 2009, two of the four ARC After School Executive Managers were honored by the CA School Age Consortium for excellence in program design and site management. -ARC’s partnership with CORE Educational Services has brought significant private sector money to our ASSETS sites from companies such as Home Depot, State Farm, Bain Capital, Leichtag Foundation, Sound Body Sound Mind, Parsi Accounting, Whole Foods, and many more.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

ARC is a primary after school provider for the Green Dot Public Schools and LAUSD. These partnerships and others will serve MyARC, including EduCare Foundation, Impact People, Inner City Education Foundation, Youth Policy Institute, Woodcraft Rangers, Boys and Girls Club, Alliance Schools, and KYDS. The Learning in Afterschool and Summer Initiative and Youtopia are partners in the “Badge” development. Professor Mark Marino (USC), Professor Jessica Pressman (UCSD), Professor Jeremy Douglass (UCSB): Recipients of an American Council of Learned Societies “Collaborative Fellowship” (2012-2013) will connect MyARC with academia.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

Our metrics for measuring the success of this project will be, as they are in any pedagogical effort, both quantitative and qualitative. We will track numbers: the number of students, teachers and other stakeholder who sign on to participate in the pilot; and how much does that number grows over time; the amount of time individual users stay on the site; and more. We will also pursue interpretative evaluations to determine what types of activities are most engaging; which activities attract the most users and which demand the most involvement? We will also use user surveys to track attitudinal shifts about learning to see how students perceive the success of MyARC as it emerges. Finally, we will work with our partners—teachers, administrators, and educational foundations– to determine appropriate metrics for tracking connections between use of MyARC and student test scores, job applications and acceptances, college admission rates, etc. Success will be measured in datasheets and individual narratives, statistics and quotations.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

Make LA a better place by making connections between students across the city and remapping the LA’s educational network. Funding MyARC will sow the seeds for its continued development via and through LA’s youth. They will take over its development and operations, guided by the ARC staff, our partners, and, eventually, an emergent network located across LA and based around its public school system.

MyArc will make LA a better place by forging connections between students, schools, curricula, private enterprise and diverse neighborhoods within the city. The Web has been touted as having the power to connect, to democratize, and to bridge geographical locations into a global village. That potential has been largely withheld from LA’s neediest students in our public schools. But we need to confront and tackle the obstacles to employing digital social networking in education. MyARC does that by proceeding with deep knowledge of current trends in the digital humanities, education reform, and the actual operations of LAUSD, Green Dot, and other LEAs (see our partners).

We must refocus education on connections not constraints. MyARC will connect students across LAUSD; it will invite the private sector to support and fund education via MyARC’s online challenges and rewards; it will support the development of an LA-based youth workforce by providing practical, skill-based and project-based learning. Zooming out to larger impacts of this project on LA, we can foresee an investment in our digital-based program for alternative education as striking a match that illuminates LA as a creative destination for education reform-related industries.

By connecting these individual nodes into a larger LA-based network, MyARC reforms the social network that is Los Angeles. It connects and benefits individual students, teachers, classrooms, schools, after-school programs, and the community at large. Building a platform to harness the powers of the digital network for the good of LA’s public school students is good for LA. The students of today are, of course, the future of LA in 2050 and beyond.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

With a simple technological platform and a management staff to properly implement the site and ensure student safety, MyARC can facilitate a meaningful transformation in the educational landscape of LA. We can inject passion, play, and participation into education just by creatively utilizing the tools and social networking skills already in existence. We can build ways for students to want to share ideas, discover new subjects, and learn about different areas of expertise. We can facilitate ways for the larger Los Angeles community to participate in public education, by sharing expertise and supporting teachers and by rewarding project-based competitions. With MyARC, we take action to change the present state of education. By building a virtual network that will serve LA’s real network of students, schools, and communities, we seek to facilitate to improve the educational futures of LA youth and, along with them, LA’s future as well.