The Experiment Digital is based on many decades of Experiment programming that developed best practices in experiential learning. Activities center around bringing students together to navigate scenarios that test their abilities and reflect on lessons learned through collaborative dialogue.
One of the interactive activities students work on is the River of Life. The activity invites students to think about their own life as a river, a unique path that leads to who they are and where they are headed.
They reflect on the significant events, people, activities that have shaped the course of their life. Each student can view their peers' rivers and connect through comments to discuss their similarities and ask each other questions.
Caroline, a 2020 facilitator from the U.S., put it this way: “This whole summer has been an amazing opportunity to get to know teens from all over the world. I feel really inspired by their spirit and I feel like my mind has been opened by their perspectives and worldviews.” She adds, “I really can’t think of a better way to have spent this summer than meeting and working with these fantastic participants.”
Peer mentors also have the opportunity to lead country chats—spaces for participants from the same country to network and connect with each other about project ideas and country-specific issues. Both facilitators and the peer mentors send out weekly reminders to participants to make sure everyone is on track with their tasks. This year’s peer mentors were alumni of 2019 The Experiment Digital or 2017 DYLEP.
“I was really surprised by how youth are so creative,” says Ferial, a peer mentor from Algeria. “They are so ready to make a change and to be great, effective leaders and to make change in their communities and the world.”
Interactive technology is key to The Experiment Digital program. It primarily uses Canvas and Telegram for country group chats and neighborhood groups.
Canvas is a web-based software enabling digital management of the global exchange. Modules and discussions were integrated to foster collaborative learning, and group features ensured participants were able to interact with each other. Telegram, an app, was used for live chats among participants.
Through interactions with international peers, students practice intercultural communication, collaborative problem solving and digital skills—all of which are important in our increasingly globalized world.
The summer program is eight weeks and participants have about four hours of work a week, including asynchronous learning, which consists of independent online work and activities, and one hour of synchronous participation in online groups, discussions, and dialogue.
Students have the option of participating in a virtual homestay. This is an opportunity for them to be matched one-on-one with another participant from a different country to engage in culture-sharing activities together as “homestay siblings.”
Participants earn digital badges, along the way to underscore their achievement and competence in each module based on a number of criteria that align with learning objectives. Learning experts believe badges, which have gained momentum in online learning in the past couple of years, help engage students and document the skills they acquire.
In summer 2020, student projects covered a wide range of topics and issues, from the environment to human rights to education. They included reducing the amount of waste in grocery stores, creating virtual spaces for mental health discussions, improving the conditions of local orphanages, empowering youth to engage in new learning opportunities while in quarantine, and raising awareness of gender inequality.
“This summer in particular, it has been inspiring to witness the design of virtual projects in response to COVID-19,” says Mackenzie Territo, program associate for The Experiment Digital.
After completing the program, alumni are encouraged to begin implementing their projects. For additional support, alumni have the opportunity to join Project Advisory Circles (PACs). PACs are a tool for alumni from the same region or country to check in with each other and staff about the progress of the projects and brainstorm solutions to project and leadership challenges.
In addition, the second cohort of the Stevens Initiative Alumni Small Grants launched in October. These small grants aim to empower Experiment Digital alumni to serve their communities by providing grants of up to $1,000 (USD) to projects focused on creating positive social change.
A 2019 alumna, Ashley Lin from the state of Washington, was a Stevens Initiative small grant awardee and developed her own text-based virtual exchange program to promote cross-cultural learning experiences for high school students. Lin has gone on to win additional grant funding from National Geographic to develop a thematic virtual exchange based on the sustainable development goals.
In the final module, the students also learn to create a narrative about themselves that includes why they participated in The Experiment Digital, what they got out of it, and how they view their responsibilities are as Experiment Digital alumni.
“By linking these stories into one, participants discover their own public narrative that is unique to them and their community,” says Territo. “It empowers them to express themselves, particularly while implementing their projects in their communities,” she adds.