Multiculturalism is a term that is everywhere these days in education. This is a way to promote educational achievement in students by using a set of strategies and materials that promote the contributions of different cultures to society, while encouraging inclusion, democracy, inquiry and critical thinking, skill acquisition and self-reflection. Since our society is becoming increasingly pluralistic, it behooves educational institutions to prepare their students for living in and contributing to that world.
This is a lot more than simply offering tacos in the cafeteria on Cinco de Mayo, or celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day. This is a new approach to the way students interact with the curricula and the school itself, and with each other. In the same way that the physical infrastructure of universities has been adapted to the needs of those with physical disabilities (hand rails, ramps, etc.), multiculturalism aims to do something similar on a more abstracted scale.
If you think about what the ultimate aims of shifting to a more inclusive focus are, you can then see ways to leverage your digital signage to supports your school’s multicultural program. As always when considering digital signage, you should think about what you want your audience to do, and then come up with ways to get them to take action.
Eastern University’s Caleb Rosado (Department of Urban Studies) identifies seven actions that come from a comprehensive multicultural educational system: recognizing, respecting, acknowledging, valuing, encouraging, enabling and empowering.
Dr. James A. Banks, author of the book Educating Citizens in a Multicultural Society, defines five dimensions of multicultural education:
This is where most people start thinking about multiculturalism in an educational context. In the early years of shifting to a more inclusive focus, it was about putting African Americans, Latinos, Asians and members of other minority groups into the curriculum. Even in an American History class, the contributions of these groups can and should be covered. It also became important to emphasize the roles women have played through the ages in all subjects.
This sort of thing can start simply – for example, putting up pictures and short bios of women who have contributed to Chemistry, or Athletics, in those departments and classrooms. Eventually, one hopes that these groups get integrated into the subjects themselves and studied in depth – not as outliers or exceptions, but as categories of people who have always been contributing to their fields.
On your digital signage screens, you can certainly draw attention to specific calendar days that are significant for groups on your campus. If you have a sizable population of people from a South Korean background, you might put up messages celebrating National Foundation Day on October 3. But it might be more useful to go a step further and mark Hangul Day a week later on October 9th – a day commemorating the invention and proclamation of the hangul alphabet used in Korea. Your messages can be paired with additional ones that teach common syllabic blocks (like “hello” and “nice to see you”, or “happy birthday”), and a brief explanation of how the written language is organized, and the history behind it. Or mark and educate the students about the Buddha’s Birthday, which is celebrated by many countries in Asia.
Coordinating some of your digital signage messages with what’s happening in different classes can also reinforce and expand what students learn there. When a physics class is delving into quantum theory, your screens can show how different people from many countries contributed to that field.
And this is not only about mentioning people who are not white males – Americans usually have ancestry from somewhere else, and highlighting the contributions of Austrians, Hungarians, Irish and other groups can help your students understand that even Caucasians come from diverse backgrounds and histories.
Teachers can also help students develop the tools they need to look at the overarching culture’s assumptions – determine the cultural frames of reference, and understand where the assumptions that form those frames come from.
Once they do that, students can start to analyze and critique the values their culture holds in high esteem. Instead of just consuming information from books and course materials, they become critical readers and thinkers, and can start participating in an ongoing dialogue about what their culture is and how it got there. This process of getting them to construct and examine knowledge also helps them remember it better.
Your digital signage messages can help reinforce these ideas. Show messages with:
- Tips on using Google and other search engines effectively
- How to determine the validity of a web or news source
- Short notes on the differences between emotional and neutral language in articles
- QR tags or short URLs to fact-checking websites like Snopes, PolitiFact and TruthOrFiction
- Similar links to online dictionaries, like Merriam-Webster, and databases, like WhoWhatWhen
- Quiz questions about commonly held misconceptions, urban legends, rumors and hoaxes
- Signs of bias in any writing, including textbooks and advertising
Students today come from a variety of racial backgrounds, including many of mixed races. Different groups learn things differently, and when teachers take these different styles into account, that’s pedagogical equity. For example, studies show that both African Americans and women of all races learn science better in groups than on their own, so a teacher might adapt how things are structured in the classroom to accommodate them better.
This is not about learning styles – this is expanding the teachers’ arsenal of techniques and teaching strategies. Cooperative learning, role-playing, guided discovery – these are just a few of the more modern techniques that can foster learning in a widely diverse student population. And everyone benefits – not just the groups that prefer one pedagogical technique over another. Teachers who are open-minded and flexible, who have lots of different ways to reach and engage their students, will have more success. This is as true in Social Studies classes as it is in Algebra.
Your teachers are busy people, and showing them digital signage messages in the staff room, or other places they frequent, to motivate them about different ways to conduct things in their classes might give them some inspiration and support.
Remind them to give their students time to think about things, and time to write good notes. Strategies and techniques like Think–Pair–Share, Whip Around, and asking open questions can create an atmosphere in which more people participate, and are more engaged.
Posting resources for tips on creating a more culturally equitable classroom, with QR tags or short URLs, can give teachers some serious food for thought – you can find many ideas here, here, here and here.
Chances are, your teachers are already doing this sort of thing on their own, but allowing them to contribute their own findings and experiences, to be shared on your screens with others, can help knit your entire teaching staff together and focus their efforts as a team. Your staff is your best resource.
Exposure to, and a deepening understanding of ,another culture invariably leads to less prejudice towards that culture. The more students know about each other’s backgrounds, the more open they are to different ways of looking at and doing things. When they can “walk in one another’s shoes”, they will be more inclined to see their fellow students as individuals – certainly with some different outlooks and experiences, but also with many of the same values and priorities as their own.