Culturally Situated, Game-Based Design Research


A symbol of the wisdom of learning from the past in building the future.

In Culturally Situated Design Tools: Ethnocomputing from Field Site to Classroom ethnomathematician Dr. Ron Eglash, et al researched “Culturally Situated Design Tools” (CSDTs) which 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 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.

African fractals

CSDT African fractal applet: Fulani wedding blanket simulation.

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.

Graffiti Grapher

Kelly Winn. Graffiti graphing project.

So, with “culturally situated design” in mind, my idea is to build on work generated by cool applets such as the CSDT Graffiti Grapher (see above) and I’m also inspired by real world site installations like this one:

Moda Hotel

Remi/Rough, Sueme, Joker & Kofie. "Moda Hotel Mural", 2011. Vancouver, BC.

Site installations, graffiti laser tag and Augmented Reality (AR) tools in real world spaces will allow users/creators to “build game layers on top of (their) world”:

Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality game prototype: imagine students creating their own AR and virtual CSDTs using real world environments.

This is what I want to do, only with AR and virtual 3D game-based content created in collaboration with high school teachers and students, and for design using mathematics and science (STEM).  From African fractals to graffiti or even skateboarding (CSDTs) we have an opportunity to develop, prototype, and deploy AR and virtual 3D game-based design for active learning.  In studies of African, Latino and Native American students’ poor math performance, researchers have suggested that computer-based teaching methods or the presentation of real-world math applications might encourage students to learn more.  As this population grows and, increasingly, makes use of digital media this makes culturally situated, AR/virtual 3D games-based design research a worthwhile pursuit.  Last week Ron (Eglash) sent me a link about Native American skateboarding after I told him about Odd Future (African American skateboarders and rappers).

A Native American skateboarder.

CSDT for skateboarding: skateboarding is on the rise in African, Latino and Native American communities.

In 2009, Christopher A. Le Dantec of Georgia Tech’s College of Computing published a paper that presented the “social and cultural aspects of cognition in design.”

The argument begins with a discussion of the parallels in design studies and cognitive science as each begun to consider the importance of environmental influences in how we design and how we think. By applying three situated frameworks to understand the situated nature of design meetings, the analysis shows that notions of social creation and cultural cognition are complimentary and necessary when trying to understand how the design process works.

This paper, as well as the ideas behind CSDTs and related ethnographic practices create a basis for further design research with a specific target audience of under-represented minority students and non-traditional learners.  When I think back on my experiences in public school where I thrived in language arts, social studies, science and art I could have benefitted from RPI’s CSDTs because I hated mathematics.  I was definitely a non-traditional learner.

Geometry in Second Life

Fractal geometry in Second Life by Aenea Nori: from AR and real life to virtual 3D worlds.

Regarding the notion of culture (in design) I return to the West African (Akan) concept of “sankofa” that teaches us that we must go back to our roots in order to move forward. That is, we should reach back and gather the best of what our past has to teach us, so that we can achieve our full potential as we move forward. Whatever we have lost, forgotten, forgone or been stripped of, can be reclaimed, revived, preserved and perpetuated.  Visually and symbolically “sankofa” is expressed as a mythic bird that flies forward while looking backward with an egg (symbolizing the future) in its mouth.

Rammellzee in SL detail

Detail of my Rammellzee Gothic Futurism tribute installation in Second Life.

I want to extend CSDTs into virtual 3D and Augmented Reality environments that are on the horizon, as this 2011 report indicates. Sankofa is an underlying principle of Afrofuturism which I have been researching and working on in Second Life (as art installations).  Creating structural forms in virtual space has allowed me to merge past, present and future from Black Atlantic art/culture(s).  Sankofa is my motivation for doing exploring new ideas that extend beyond multiculturalism.  Scholar/journalist Jeff Chang writes, “polyculturalism, as postmulticulturalism, moved from issues such as ‘diversity’ to exploring the way cultures influence each other.”  This has in a sense freed this work to be received on many levels of interpretation, ex. globalism, transnationalism and virtual 3D environments where culture can more easily be transcended, transformed, or exchanged.  In the age of accelerated technology, artists can move culture, capital, and ideas between worlds, identities, and realities.  This points to new, open, participatory techniques of picturing history, culture and identity as it relates to immigration, diaspora, and the evolving embodiment of the self.  From African fractals and iron smithing to African/Latino/Native American graffiti and skateboarding and so on there is a wide range of culturally situated design practices to research that connect to mathematics and science (aerodynamics/kinetics/physics and geometry).  Using AR/ARGs and virtual 3D tools students will be able to create “on-the-spot” CSDTs.

CSDTs on the spot: exploration and simulation of local wrought iron railing decorations using the graffiti CSDT

On the technology side the 2011 Horizon Report by the New Media Consortium (NMC) and EDUCAUSE  highlights both Augmented Reality environments and Game-Based Learning as trends with times-to-adoption in two to three years.

Continued experimentation in the development of AR simulations, games, texts, and situated information bode well for the expansion of AR in higher education learning in the coming year.

I think it’s equally important for K-12 programs to adopt these technologies for reasons stated above. Alternate Reality Gaming (ARG) bridges the real and virtual worlds and offer possibilities for exploration of Augmented Reality, virtual 3D game-based environments.

In the second direction, gaming related specifically to course content helps student gain a fresh perspective on material and can potentially engage them in that content in more complex and nuanced ways. Alternate reality games (ARGs), in which players find clues and solve puzzles in experiences that blur the boundary between the game and real life, offer a clear example in which course content and game play can overlap.

Alternate reality also connects with Afrofuturism, as I demonstrated in last summer’s IBM Second Life exhibition simulation (i.e. utopia vs. dystopia).  The possibilities are endless and I’m beginning to tie it all together to create the research that will eventually become my dissertation.

  1. #1 by Rex Heer on March 16, 2011 - 1:11 pm

    Wow, Nettrice — this is so exciting!

    • #2 by nettrice on March 16, 2011 - 1:19 pm

      Thanks Rex!

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