Culture, Community and Curriculum

All of the issues we have examined in the previous units eventually have bearing in one way or another on what happens on a day-to-day basis in school classrooms.  The Ongtooguk, Stephens and Barnhardt articles listed for this unit, the video, and the last four articles in the Lessons Taught/Lessons Learned book (Volume 1, Section III) each address issues associated with the interrelationship between curriculum, the culture it represents, and the community in which it is offered. Your task for this final unit is to prepare an essay comparable to those in “Lessons Taught/Lessons Learned” (5-8 pages in length), in which you apply your own creative ideas to some aspect of cross-cultural education in Alaska.  As in the book, you can focus on issues of schooling generally, or on applying your ideas to a specific curriculum unit that will be of use to you. Give the assignment some careful thought and where appropriate, make use of the ideas we have covered in this course.

In a perfect world everyone would have good bandwidth. And everyone would have reasonable access to a computer or mobile device and the internet. Let us pretend it is a perfect world and consider how one might empower traditional students through activities and tools that take advantage of technology to enhance learning. Based on some of the characteristics of an Indigenous World View as requoted by Barnhardt in “Teaching/Learning Across Cultures: Strategies for Success” (adapted from Knudtson and Suzuki, 1992), we’ll look at a few strategies that might enhance these characteristics in the classroom, mostly in an asynchronous environment.


In several of the articles we have read throughout the semester, and specifically outlined in Kawagley’s A Yupiaq Worldview (pg. 16), the idea that all things: human, nature, and spirit, are interconnected and that indigenous people view the Universe as a “holistic, integrative system life force” is a concept that may be best demonstrated through a presentation tool called Prezi. Prezi ( is an online presentation alternative to PowerPoint. Prezi is based on a zooming feature that allows the user to move back and forth between the big picture and the finer details. As you are building a Prezi presentation, you position your text blocks, images, videos, images, or graphics, anywhere on the presentation canvas. Then you create pathways to make connections between the various elements. As a viewer, you don’t have to follow the prescribed pathways that the author has outlined, and you can follow your own pathway based on your interest. Prezi is often used for live presentations, but its real benefit may be as a powerful learning object used asynchronously. Another characteristic from the Indigenous World View, “Referring to Time is circular with natural cycles that sustain all life” would be a concept that could be modeled using Prezi to help with its explanation, allowing students to explore different aspects of the cycle in a pathway that made sense to them. Or better yet, become a tool that students use to create their own explanation. Caution: in order to use Prezi in an asynchronous manner, enough detail has to be included in order to engage the student without leaving too many unanswered questions.


Prezi How to Demonstration: (retrieved 12/19/2013)

Prezi: Circular presentation: (retrieved 12/19/2013)

Kinship: (retrieved 12/19/2013) Note: I’m not sure this was finished before it was posted.

Brady Bunch

In an article called “Faculty Focus,” an online website for Higher Education Teaching Strategies, Karen Edifier introduces the idea of interconnectedness through a model she calls, “What Would the Brady Bunch Do?” Another characteristic of the Indigenous World View is the idea of relationships: “Human thought, feelings and words are inextricably bound to all other aspects of the universe” and the idea that there are consequences to our actions that might not directly affect us, but will have an impact on others, nature, or the spirit. When concepts are introduced in class, instead of delivering them in a dispersed manner, or what might appear to a novice as in a random order, if a conceptual framework can be delivered, students can being to see relationships between these concepts and can begin to make connections. Eifier says, “If students approach new concepts aware that they’re related and actively seek links between them, that makes the content easier to understand and retain.” In the article, Eifier says that she took time in the first class meeting to show the “Brady Bunch Theme Song” video to set the stage for her approach. (

Play it for yourself and notice that in a mere 71 seconds the lyrics give us all the relevant background information on Carol (and her three very lovely girls) and Mike (and his three boys of his own) who will one day become the Brady Bunch. While we hear the girls’ side, we observe that the characters are limited in their scope and only look at one another. But when we jump to “one day when this lady met this fellow,” suddenly whole new worlds open up to each person onscreen. No longer restricted to vertical looks, now Marcia can look diagonally to Bobby; Peter can look horizontally at Jan. Their expressions are friendly and knowing. The old connections are still there, but they are now linked in ways that make a whole new world of possible connections.

Here is an example that might be used a Desktop publishing class. Each of the nine items is a design element one must think about before creating a document. You cannot just concentrated on one of the elements without thinking about how it might affect the other eight in order to produce a nice looking product.

An example from a class taught on Desktop Publishing

The key to this approach is to introduce to students the concept that they should be continually learning about the content in each of the squares and be able to talk about the relationships that each square has to each other, not just the squares next to on another, but to all of the squares within the group.

Digital Storytelling

One of the characteristics of the Indigenous World View, “Respect for elders is based on their compassion and reconciliation of outer- and inner-directed knowledge” is very conducive to storytelling. Digital Storytelling can be a power medium, whether it is being created by the storyteller, or documenting someone else as the storyteller. Learning through stories and legends has been a tradition and way of being for indigenous people to help pass on traditions to the next generation. As Wallis says in the introduction to Two Old Women, “Stories are gifts given by an elder to a younger person…. Perhaps tomorrow’s generation also will yearn for stories such as this so that they may better understand their past, their people, and hopefully, themselves. “(Wallis, pg. xii) There are various tools and applications that might be used to create multimedia stories ranging in a variety of mediums: video, audio, or interaction, and through a variety of methods: motion, music, poetry, imagery, and in many combinations. Often letting students determine the medium and method will produce some unexpected success as students feel a strong connection to producing a quality artifact that has great meaning to them.

Another activity that might greatly benefit a class in building class community is an assignment that contains aspects of storytelling as a way of introducing students to each other in a class. This might help put into perspective what their peers’ lives are like and how it might be different or similar to one’s own life. A video shared on YouTube taken with a video camera on a mobile device might show the local geography where one lives, or a video description of what it means to “go to town” or pick up the mail. Another option might be requiring a student presentation using tools that capture your computer screen while you narrate, using a tool like Screencast-o-matic ( to capture a collection of images along with a story.

Example: ANTH F242 Introduction screencast

Creating community

Two final Indigenous World View characteristics that could be integrated into a class with technology, is the “Sense of empathy and kinship with other forms of life” and the “Need for reciprocity between human and natural worlds – resources are viewed as gifts” through the process of creating an open resource for collecting and sharing. As depicted in this video, Spirit of the Whale (, the importance of community and working together is reflected as a highly regarded characteristic of traditional life. If information is seen as a resource, then being able to share that resource with the greater community feeds nicely into the idea of participating in a community instead of being competitive and only doing something for oneself. Learning is not done in isolation, so providing a place for students to share and ask each other questions or have a conversation is important. Something as simple as having an open discussion forum in a course Learning Management System where students would pose questions of each other, whether or not the forum is moderated by the instructor, can eliminate some of the feelings of isolation. Assigning multiple group projects with low risk can be a good way to help students feel part of a group and increase the potential for learning at a deeper level by learning from each other and from being able to “teach” each other.

If an educator takes the time to think about the different cultural perspectives that his or her students might have, it doesn’t take a lot of extra work to implement strategies that might make a big difference in retaining indigenous students in education.


Barnhardt, Ray. (1998) “Teaching/Learning Across Cultures: Strategies for Success.” Retrieved Dec. 11, 2013

Brady Bunch Opening Theme – Version 4 (Feb 5, 2009) Retrieved August 21, 2013.

Eifier, Karen. (August 19, 2013) Retrieved August 21, 2013.

Kawagley, A. Oscar. (1995) A Yupiaq WorldView: A Pathway to Ecology and Spirit. Waveland Press, Inc: Prospect Heights, Illinois.

“Spirit of the Whale,” (2012). Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission: Rural Alaska First Retrieved November 29, 2013.

Wallis, Velma. (1993). Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival. Epicenter Press, Seattle, Washington.


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