Solution Overview & Team Lead Details

Our Organization

Ke’yah Advanced Rural Manufacturing Alliance (KARMA)

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What is the name of your solution?

Indigenize Virtual Learning Environments

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Provide a one-line summary of your solution.

Indigenize VR technology to integrate cultural evironmnets with traditional playful pedagogy that increases engagement and learning.

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What specific problem are you solving?

Education in the United States is institutionalized to teach one method of learning that does not fit everyone, especially Navajo students. The lack to adopt different teaching methods leaves many Native students struggling in school. According to the case of Yazzie/Martines v. State of New Mexico, "the state has failed to comply with state and federal laws regarding the education of Native American and ELL students, including the New Mexico Indian Education Act, Bilingual Multicultural Education Act, and the Hispanic Education Act, which has resulted in an inadequate education system for New Mexican students". This is one of many cases that showcase the inability of schools to provide the most effective teaching methods. 

As research is still developing about the effectiveness of culturally relevant approaches there’s evidence that shows it works.  Students express joy in learning when their Prior Knowledge, Funds of Knowledge, and Experiential Knowledge are respected and integrated into daily instruction.

The Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools are the primary location for most Navajo students which is roughly 46,000 students. As BIE struggles to address the quality of education students are left to struggle. This has become more prominent since COVID. As the nation continues to battle access to basic necessities it found ways to adapt to the hybrid approach of learning.

As some schools choose to integrate culturally relevant material it enhances the students' experience to strengthen their relationship with an array of topics across all content areas.

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What is your solution?

Indigenizing virtual learning environments utilize the Place-Based Learning pedagogy to generate immersive virtual learning environments such as the hogan for Navajo students. By contextualizing digital spaces for Navajo students it helps to reclaim and define space for learning. Place is important because it’s a reflection of their identity and connection to culture. The purpose is to disrupt the traditional forms of learning as the advancements in technology it’s important to dedicate digital space for Navajo perspectives and teachings. 

Virtual reality has been developing and becoming more accessible recently. As it continues to develop and grow there is a lack of Native perspectives involved in these developments. With the unexpected shift in hybridized learning students are more capable now to learn through various technological forms of education. 

Virtual reality is a combination of interactive and visual learning that is essential to Native learners. This approach of smart learning is important to make available to students in the school environment. Some of the advantages of interactive learning is the increase in engagement and understanding of the provided lessons.

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Strong preference will be given to Native-led solutions that directly benefit and are located within the Indigenous communities. Which community(s) does your solution benefit? In what ways will your solution benefit this community?

KARMA is a 50(1) C3 non-profit organization that has established strong relationships with numerous Navajo schools across the Nation. Having these connections it has allowed us to understand the strengths of the educators, students, parents, and community. We’ve witnessed the adversity of the young students and their willingness to adapt to the rapidly changing landscape of education.

Most recently we’ve developed relationships with surrounding communities such as Second Mesa Hopi Day School and Zuni Pueblo. Our approach is to invoke innovative ways of thinking for all members from Native communities.

We have focused on Navajo middle and high school students by introducing 3D printing technology into the classroom. Our assessment shows that students are very receptive to advanced forms of learning. Their ability to adapt to forms of learning such as hybrid learning has shown their capabilities. 

A key component when working with the students is taking an interactive approach. We have learned from educators what works best for the students are culturally responsive lessons that connect with the students at a personal level. We have also learned a lot from connecting with parents and community members who are seeing their children engage with schools.

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How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

KARMA is currently working with numerous Navajo and Hopi school(s) that have been longtime partners in other projects centered on 3D printing, engineering, coding, and robotics. Virtual reality development has always been an extension of what KARMA wants to provide for these schools and most importantly the students. 

While the organization has recently been established as a 50(1) C3 it has garnered partnerships with Tufts University, NASA, Navajo Technical University, The Kellogg Foundation, and New Mexico State University. With these connections and relationships, we have the capacity to further develop the technical aspects of virtual reality environments. 

One crucial element we learned was the need for students to be co-creators in their own learning situations. This was an important finding that allowed us to better understand the needs for students to be immersed in a place that resonated with their identity.

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Where our solution team is headquartered or located:

Leupp, AZ, USA
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Our solution's stage of development:

Prototype
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How many people does your solution currently serve?

300 - (3 Schools)

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Why are you applying to Solve?

We are applying to gain support in the technical and financial aspects of development. With our established partners it would be tremendous benefit to have access to MIT’s resources to better develop our solution. One of struggles is a technical member on the KARMA team that is dedicated to fully understanding the technical aspects for development.

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In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Human Capital (e.g. sourcing talent, board development, etc.)
  • Business model (e.g. product-market fit, strategy & development)
  • Technology (e.g. software or hardware, web development/design, data analysis, etc.)
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Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Keanu Jones

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Please indicate the tribal affiliation of your Team Lead.

Navajo/Dine'

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Is the Team Lead a resident of the United States?

Yes

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Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Drive positive outcomes for Native learners of any or all ages while supporting culturally grounded educational opportunities on and/or off reservations.

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More About Your Solution

What makes your solution innovative?

This digital learning space is developed upon the foundations of Native thought in order to support Native youth in harnessing their strengths and cultural identity. Through the use of virtual reality technology, this project will engage Native students through the use of culturally relevant Place-Based Learning. 

As digital spaces continue to develop and expand there continues to be a lack of diverse content and perspectives to be accessed. This is prominent in education as it continues to focus on standardized testing. Many learners like Native students struggle to adapt to this standardized way of learning. Contextualizing these learning environments of our own surroundings it could accelerate engagement and learning. As a result, it impacts the Native learners to approach problem solving in a culturally relevant manner.

As for digital spaces, it could witness the impacts of diverse Native perspectives and methods of learning. A benefit of a digital environment is the lifetime of the space and accessibility. This solution helps to shed light on the need for culturally adaptive content for non-Native and Native users.

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What are your impact goals for the next year and the next five years, and how will you achieve them?

One year:

Impact goal 1: Form culture committee that is comprised of individuals ranging from students (5th-12th grade), educators, parents, and community members. This committee is focused on having dialouge that addresses cultural sensitivity. It’s vital to develop cultural awareness especially in tech.

Impact goal 2: Capture and document these learning environments with entry level tech to develop the first prototypes of the spaces. This will help to better understand the tech needed to capture and develop the learning environments. 

Impact goal 3: Expand capacity dedicated to fully developing the virtual environments and back-end of coding. These intricate pieces will help to polish the experience of the learning environments. This will happen with our current and future partnerships like Tufts University and New Mexico State University. 

Five years:

Impact goal 1: Establish presence on virtual reality platforms such as Metaverse, Oculus Rift store, etc.

Impact goal 2: Expansion to other neighboring Native communities in the southwest. As virtual reality technology becomes more available we would collaborate with other Native communities to help incubate cultural committees that share dialogue to identify culturally sensitive limits for the application.

Impact goal 3: Integration of more cultural modules that embed the Navajo language and can continue to teach more cultural lessons. This model could be used as a tactic to preserve culture and language.

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How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?

We will measure our progress with the help of evaluators and close observations of learners. We have constant communication with the educators that are working to structure material that can reflect the engagement, creativity, and how they obtain the information. These can be tested through a series of quizzes and tests that can identify if the learners are absorbing the information. Customer feedback is a huge priority as it's an indicator of what is working and what can be improved. 

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What is your theory of change?

We believe our solution has an impact by contextualizing space that should be accessible by others for a wider understanding of their backgrounds. Many educational methods are centered on preparing students to meet state standards of testing. According to the Postsecondary National Policy Institute, between 2000 and 2017, the percentage of Native Americans aged 25 to 29 who had attained at least an associate or bachelor’s degree dropped. 

Education for Native students is important and finding ways to increase and disrupt the traditional forms of education lies in the use of technology. When creating space that is relevant to the learner they have the ability to envision themselves as creators of that space. As a result, learners can identify innovative careers paths that allow for more Native perspectives.

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Describe the core technology that powers your solution.

Culturally relevant teaching methods existing in virtual reality. 

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Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new application of an existing technology

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Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Ancestral Technology & Practices
  • Audiovisual Media
  • Virtual Reality / Augmented Reality
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Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?

  • 4. Quality Education
  • 10. Reduced Inequalities
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In which states do you currently operate?

  • Arizona
  • New Mexico
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In which states will you be operating within the next year?

  • Arizona
  • New Mexico
  • Utah
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Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?

Nonprofit

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How many people work on your solution team?

1 full time staff and 4 contractor

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How long have you been working on your solution?

6 months

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What is your approach to incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusivity into your work?

KARMA is Native-led with diverse Navajo, Hopi, and non-Native representation. Although we work heavily with partners outside the reservation, our priority is young Native children and we center their needs and experiences in our work. In previous projects working with Navajo schools, KARMA brought technology to spaces that have traditionally faced barriers in accessing these forms of technology, such as 3D printers, robotics, and coding. Through this project, we hope to bring more diverse voices and perspectives into the world of virtual reality applications. By bringing this type of technology to tribal schools, not only do young students get access to a unique but necessary learning environment, they also are supported in their own career paths, eventually becoming creators, artists, and designers in a STEAM environment that has long been dominated by Western thought and non-Natives.  

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Your Business Model & Funding

What is your business model?

Indigenize Virtual Learning Environments will serve K-12 teachers, students, and community members. These are the targeted customers when creating these smart learning environments. The access to the learning environments would be downloadable for offline usage. The need for offline usage is critical for many Native users on the reservation. 

The virtual learning environments will be a series of modules and activities that the user can experience. Experience is a key element we want users to have when they use the learning environments. It’s a unique experience that we’re capable of providing. As we collaborate with other Native communities the growth of learning environments becomes more expansive in that users could have access to other Native learning environments.

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Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?

Individual consumers or stakeholders (B2C)
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What is your plan for becoming financially sustainable?

Our plan to become financially sustainable starts with grants, crowdfunding, and fellowships. For short-term efforts, we are focused on grant and or fellowship programs to establish our presence and then grow our networks through those programs. After establishing a financial foundation we would like to grow capacity in contractors and part-time employees to solely focus on technical backend development. This would be most possible with the backing of capital investments. Long-term sustainability comes from quality virtual learning modules that have a smooth experience and interface that can exist in classrooms and at home. As we continue to work with schools and students we are focused on streamlining the experience for classrooms and scaling to more Native schools in the southwest.

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Share some examples of how your plan to achieve financial sustainability has been successful so far.

KARMA is roughly a year-old non-profit that has found its financial footing by raising about 500K in the first year. This reflects the advantages a Native-led organization has in the STEAM-related fields for Native students. Education is an expansive industry that will always be a need and KARMA is positioned in the right place to be the bridge for innovative learning.

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Solution Team

 
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