Culturally Situated Design Tools

While solutions to the “digital divide” are often imagined as a one-way bridge, there are a variety of ways in which we can create a two-way bridge alternative. Culturally Situated Design Tools (CSDTs) use information technology to “translate” from local knowledge and low-tech practice, to high-tech domains such as math, computer graphics, architecture, etc. Culturally-situated design tools allow knowledge to move in both directions across the digital divide.

CSDTs are the result of research being carried out by professors, graduate students, and undergraduate students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). Funded by the National Science Foundation, this research is aimed at discovering ways to teach mathematics and computing to students by having them virtually replicate cultural artifacts. In using the software design tools developed by the researchers at RPI, students come to understand the mathematics that underly the creation of a cultural artifact.

Visit the Culturally Situated Design Tools site.

Pictured: Adinkra symbols (learn more)

A project brochure is presented below. Use the icons to navigate…
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The research…

Abstract: Ethnomathematics is the study of mathematical ideas and practices situated in their cultural context. Culturally Situated Design Tools (CSDTs) are web-based software applications that allow students to create simulations of cultural arts—Native American beadwork, African American cornrow hairstyles, urban graffiti, and so forth—using these underlying mathematical principles. This article is a review of the anthropological issues raised in the CSDT project: negotiating the representations of cultural knowledge during the design process with community members, negotiating pedagogical features with math teachers and their students, and reflecting on the software development itself as a cultural construction. The move from ethnomathematics to ethnocomputing results in an expressive computational medium that affords new opportunities to explore the relationships between youth identity and culture, the cultural construction of mathematics and computing, and the formation of cultural and technological hybridity.

The full paper is presented below. Use the icons to navigate…
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Ron Eglash: The fractals at the heart of African designs

If the idea of Culturally Situated Design Tools interests you, the following TED presentation by Ron Eglash (who leads the CSDT project), may also be of interest…

Note: I can’t believe how remiss I’ve been in not posting about Ron Eglash‘s work in ethnocomputing. When I was at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, I had the pleasure of a brief involvement with his Culturally Situated Design Tools project as web developer. Unfortunately, I left RPI before I was able to make a full contribution.