University Partners

 UC Berkeley
(iSchool | GSE)



About Urban Griots

griot |grēˈō; ˈgrēō|, noun
a member of a class of traveling poets, musicians, and storytellers
who maintain a tradition of oral history in parts of West Africa.

The Urban Griot Collaborative was first formed in 2009 at the UC Berkeley School of Information and laid the foundation for the design of a culturally-grounded story exchange platform to support the social and peer contexts of emergent new media literacies. The work was extended through Pierre Tchetgen's doctoral research on the Drumball from 2011-2020.

The project aims to engage primary stakeholders in early childhood education (parents, teachers, researchers, policymakers, technology designers) to re-imagine and consider the possibilities afforded by culturally-responsive, play-based learning environments grounded in cultural systems of non–European or non-European-American ethnic groups.

As a research initiative of Word.Sound.Life., the Urban Griot Collaborative works in partnership with researchers at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Education and School of Information, the Comparative Media Studies/Writing department at MIT and the College of Arts, Media and Design at Northeastern University.

Urban Griots In the News

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2021 Goals & Outcomes

In partnership with the Center for Technology, Society and Policy, the Graduate School of Education and the Department of Music Technology at Northeastern University, Urban Griot is designing a rhythmic communication interface and application that leverages and is inspired by the principles and methods of communication using the talking drum to help children (under 7) build multimodal literacy and social-emotional skills. Our design will be intuitive to a wide age range, afford multiple interaction modes (real-time, asynchronous, collaborative), and be accessible at low cost. Our design will also be capable of forming a foundation for a dynamic repository of drum language information (proverbs, appellations, poems etc).

Through the Urban Griots Collaborative platform and Virtual Playground, our goals and objectives are to:
  • Survey and identify existing music-based early literacy and social-emotional learning (SEL) frameworks as well as showcase new early literacy apps
  • Complete a design sprint process and create a detailed storyboard of the most viable user journey
  • Complete an internal validation of the design with current and former participants of the Urban Griots Playground family workshop
  • Finalize the framework of the Drumball ecosystem including sample corpora, games and resources for parents and educators (such as video webinars, audio podcasts and activity materials)

Our Vision

  • to support the early literacy, social and emotional development of children
  • to understand what affordances the drum language communication modality can contribute to children’s development, especially when mediated via a digital embodied learning environment.
  • to prototype the design of culturally-grounded technologies that can facilitate the inclusion of relevant cultural knowledge and history to provide new gains for children across a variety of contexts

Four Pillars



"Wisdom Knot"
Intelligence, patience



"By God's Grace"
Hope, Faith



"Chain Links"
Unity, Human relations



"Return and get it"
Learn from the past

Parent Testimonials

Welcome Message
from the Core Team

Welcome to the Urban Griots Collaborative!

On behalf of our Advisory Circle and University Partners, we are pleased to welcome you to our research hub dedicated to leveraging the communicative, social and health benefits of drumming in early childhood. The purpose of this collaboration of the UC Berkeley School of Information and Graduate School of Education is to prototype an interactive and social learning platform that builds on the Drumball approach to Human-Computer Interaction to introduce core literacy concepts to children (ages 3-5) through a fun process of digital drum talk, body music and call-and-response.

We invite you to join the Playground and visit here often to explore new projects, innovative research, culturally-grounded curriculum resources and an expanding community of children, parents and educators around the world.