National Science Foundation
Cultural and Technological Curriculum Engages Native American Students in Computing
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This is a screen shot of the virtual environment created by students in an “Art and Computer Science” course. The course is collaborative with faculty from the University of New Mexico and Boston University. Visitors can enter the virtual world and interact with its objects as well as with other visitors.



Credit: Created by the University of New Mexico CS-390/NATV-255 students, Fall 2006
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Researchers from Boston University (BU) and the University of New Mexico (UNM) are jointly developing a novel introductory-level course that aims to attract Native American students to the field of computing. The course combines Native American pedagogy, culture, and visual aesthetics with an introduction to computational applications (digital media, virtual reality, and 3D animation), and computer science concepts. The course is listed in the computer science and Native American studies departments at the University of New Mexico.  The course employs a high-technology, computer-rich environment that includes virtual environment technologies, BU's stereoscopic Deep Vision Display (DVD) Wall, which allows for high resolution three dimensional displays, and the Access Grid, which provides advanced video conferencing facilities using large displays and multiple cameras.  Much of the technical content of the course is taught to the University of New Mexico students by researchers at Boston University using the video-conferencing facilities.

This year, students used the DVD Wall to create a virtual environment inspired by a field trip to Chaco Canyon National Historical Park in New Mexico, which was a major center of Pueblan culture between AD 850 and 1250.  Their virtual design reflects the geometry and symbolism of the artifacts they had seen.  Visitors can enter the virtual environment from remote locations, move around the environment, hear sounds, and manipulate its elements.  The environment is a shared space so multiple visitors can be present and can interact with each other through avatars or virtual online bodies.  Virtual environments like this are appealing to many students as they provide for cultural self-expression while conveying complex computing concepts.  Such an approach can be used in any cultural context and, thus, can easily be adapted to engage students from many underrepresented groups.

Partner: University of New Mexico

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