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A Digital Approach to Cultural Competency
Posted 04/17/2019 08:45AM


Seventh graders in World Cultures and Geography recently completed the Africa Infographic Project—a challenging assignment that combined their study of Africa with concepts such as user experience (UX) design and computational thinking. The students in this social studies class benefited from team-teaching led by Mary Schnitzler with lessons from Director of Equity and Inclusion Anna Warbelow and Director of Technology Matt DiGiulio.

Through this six-week-long project, these middle school students strengthened their research, writing, and critical thinking skills, built digital fluency, and expanded their cultural competence.

“Cultural competence was a focal point this year,” said faculty member Mary Schnitzler. “As students learn about cultures other than their own, we encourage them to consider how their own personal identities influence their point of view.”

For this project, students first selected five African countries they were interested in exploring. Their research included specific information regarding geography and the seven elements of culture: social organization, customs and traditions, language, arts and literature, religion, government and economic systems.

Director of Equity and Inclusion Dr. Anna Warbelow encouraged students to take their research beyond food and festivals to learn about the contemporary lives and histories of people by examining their traditions, values, practices, and conflicts, and more.

“Really diving into research to learn about other cultures, as our students do with the Africa Infographic Project, is one component of building cultural competence,” said Dr. Warbelow. “Another important component is having the self-awareness of how your own culture, values, and traditions influence the way you understand other cultures—that’s your cultural competence lens.”

Before beginning the visual portion of the project, students were asked to narrow their focus to a single country and select three elements of culture to explore in greater depth. Next, students researched the elements of culture in-depth and created detailed pieces of writing. Using Whitfield’s multiple draft writing approach, students received specific feedback regarding how to avoid plagiarism, organization of ideas, sentence structure, word choice, spelling, and grammar.

After the initial research and writing phase of the project, Mr. DiGiulio guided the students as they made decisions regarding the UX design process and the use of Microsoft Office tools to bring their concepts to life.

An infographic is a visual representation of information and data that combines elements of text, images, charts or diagrams to explain complex issues in a way that can quickly lead to insight and better understanding. Whether online or in print, infographics are effective tools that convey information in a compact and easily navigable format. In this case, students used conditional and computational thinking to design interactive infographics like those in transit terminals, large buildings, and modern museums.

“This project is a great example of our in-context approach to technology," said DiGiulio. "Students engage with a wide range of STEAM-forward skills in the context of their learning experiences around social studies and cultural competence. It's at these types of intersections that students develop the ability, the digital fluency, to apply technology in creative and innovative ways regardless of the problem or the product for which they are designing."

Ava Johnson ’24 enjoyed the challenges of the infographic design process. “I chose Uganda for my project where there is amazing biodiversity. My idea was to incorporate a rainforest theme into my infographic in a unique way, so I ended up drawing the design by hand. I had to problem-solve and figure out which tools I could use to make it work. I definitely learned a lot from this project!”

The final projects will be showcased later this spring in the Intellectual Commons.

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