5 Digital Tips for Infusing Cultural Responsiveness in Your Course 


First think, what does cultural responsiveness mean to you?   What is your definition?

Our own, personal, cultures are the essence of who we are and how we interact with others in community settings.  Our cultures, also, provide the foundations and preferences for how we learn, process information, utilize knowledge, communicate and relate to others.  The challenge for educators is developing the ability and creativity to include culturally responsive learning design and activities in our courses to foster more understanding of the ways in which each student approaches learning, relatedness, communication, and life.   Culturally mediated instruction creates an environment in which multicultural perspectives are the norm, and the learning is relevant to each student.  The learning is authentic.  When students are allowed to learn in different ways or to share viewpoints and perspectives in a given situation based on their own cultural and social experiences, students become active participants in their learning. (Nieto, 1996).  They develop self-determined, lifelong learning habits and take ownership of their learning experiences.

Culturally responsive design strategies allow students to realize they are important as participants in the class community and respected as unique individuals.  Infusing these design strategies into your online course creates a venue for the students to establish identity and create an organics learning community.  The University of Alaska Anchorage includes culturally mediated design as a major development strategy for their Robust Online Learning Program (Title III Grant) focused on General Education Requirement (GER) online courses.  The goal is to create online environments that nature and support cultural exchange and community.  One thing to remember, when designing cultural responsive activities, is that students learn best, collaboratively.  They learn effectively by discussing their ideas with one another and by participating in peer-to-peer learning activities and reviews.  Here are 5 digital tips for infusing cultural responsiveness in your course.

  1. Make the Learning Social and Safe.  Use Blogs and Microblogs.
    Create a culturally responsive learning community that organically expands as students establish their identity.  By creating a safe, engaging learning environment, students can develop mutual respect and trust for one another in a multicultural setting. The use of interactive discussion forums keeps the topics relative and current.  In this case, social media, such as blogs and microblogs is highly recommended.  Create active exchanges and presentations in VoiceThread.  Consider the tools the students use to communicate in their everyday lives.  The learning exchange and community continue long after course completion.
  2. Use ePortfolios
    Transformative reflection is the hub of integrative and culturally responsive learning and portfolios provide a rich venue for reflective practices.  The learning is authentic and develops culturally-responsive behaviors and mindfulness.  Portfolios also promote peer learning and cultural understanding.  An excellent example of a culturally responsive learning experience and reflection is VishwajaMuppa’s Writing 303 course portfolio with her personal essay and digital story.  Dr. Cynthia Davidson, Stony Brook University Writing and Rhetoric Program, includes culturally-responsive prompts with her multimodal assignments that students post as artifacts in their portfolios.
  3. Tell Us Your Story
    Digital storytelling provides an engaging way to build a culturally responsive learning environment. The creative storytelling process fortifies communication, presentation, creative and critical thinking skills.  Have students digitally tell a short, 3-minute story about themselves.  Allow them to select their own presentation technology (Buncee, Storyfy, iMovie, Flickr with ezvid, Prezi, StoryKit).   See Story Center for examples of culturally responsive digital stories at www.storycenter.org.  Darren Chase, Librarian, Stony Brook University, publishes an excellent guide for Digital Storytelling and Multimodal Literacy.
  4. Gamify.  Develop Games and Simulations.
    Games and simulations bring an experiential touch to the classroom and the learner takes an active part in the learning.  Research shows that games take the learning to a deeper, more authentic level.  In his article, “Simulations”: Are The Games?, author Marc Prensky, lists a host of definitions of “simulations”, ranging from:
    1.  any synthetic or counterfeit creation,
    2.  the creation of an artificial world which approximates the real one,
    3.  something that creates the reality of the workplace (or whatever place),
    4. a mathematical or algorithmic model, combines with a set of initial conditions, that allows prediction and visualization as time unfolds.

    Prensky quotes Elliott Masie, author of Learning Rants, Raves, and Reflections,
    “You can have a game that’s not a simulation and a simulation that’s not a game, but when yu get on that does both, it’s a real kick-ass situation”

    Students can apply the learning to other areas of their academic, professional, and personal lives.  Have students collaborate in groups within interactive digital venues and design their own games to lead the class in synchronous and/or asynchronous play (Metaphors and Analogies, Word Play, Lesson Review).  A possible culturally responsive simulation involves students interviewing and introducing a classmate from a different culture or with different life experiences to others in the class using a discussion forum, class blog or portfolio.  Students reflect on the experience and what they have discovered in the forums and their personal portfolios.  It is important to emphasize that these activities are student-controlled forms of interaction.  Provide prompts, but provided the students with opportunities to design and control a significant portion of these learning experiences and exchanges.  Autonomy is key.  Make the learning their own.  See 10 Tips To Create Learning Simulations For Non-Game Designers, eLearning Industry.  Try Articulate Storyline as a simple tool for creating games and simulations.  Join the E-Learning Heroes Community.

  1. Digital Badges
    Use digital badges to credential achievements, such as leadership, communication, critical thinking, creative thinking, and teamwork. Digital badges dig deeper to realize skills and abilities that are not recognized with graded assignments.  Use badges to encourage cultural respect and to reward self-determined learning behaviors (autonomy, self-efficacy, and relatedness) and professional achievements. Include students in the design of the course badge constellation.  Encourage the students to post their badges in their LinkedIn accounts and portfolios.  Unsure? Credly provides a good starting point.

Use Peer Review Learning Strategies
Bring students into the assessment process.  Peer reviews are a learning tool that facilitates communication between students and can help students drill deeper into the concepts of a course and learn from each other.

  • Develop a project rubric that will clearly set the criteria and expectations for the learning activity. Students will use the rubric to design, complete, and review their projects.  The rubric with serve as a checklist and discussion map for peer-to-peer reviews and discussions. Set specific policies to the review exchanges and include Netiquette Rules, constructive, positive, and respectful exchange.
  • Place the students in small, collaborative learning groups using interactive features in your LMS or other technologies such as VoiceThread, Google Drive, Google Hangouts, Wikispaces, Flickr, YouTube, even Facebook.  Consider building a course blog for the display and peer review of the projects. As an example, see the Media Literacy & Cyber Communications course blog for Dr.  Manny London’s and Nancy Wozniak’s Leadership course at Stony Brook University.
  • Schedule peer reviews throughout the project production process. This will make the final review comfortable and natural.  The students will be united in a community of learning.
  • Be visible. Leave positive comments in the group forums to let students know you are an active part of the exchange.
  • After the final review, have the students submit their reviews of their classmates’ projects. Format the rubric as a checklist.  Use the reviews to give added insight to your own reviews for grading purposes.

Peer reviews give depth to individual learning. The process elevates a course learning community to a community of practice and professional exchange.  These are soft skills students will use throughout their professional careers.

Using collaborative, social media tools to enhance culturally-responsive learning activities and projects fosters intrinsic, self-determined learning behaviors (autonomy, self-efficacy, and relatedness) and equips students with the professional skills necessary for transitioning into the workforce. The learning is authentic and creates an active community of practice that continues long after the course is completed.  Please share your thoughts and ideas on infusing culturally-responsive experiences in the classroom.  How do you create a culturally-responsive classroom?  What tools do you use?  We appreciate your input and contributions to this study.

Author:  Nancy Wozniak, Instructional Designer 111, AI&e, Robust Online Learning
August 1, 2016