Multimedia and Cultural Diversity


In the next century, a large portion of the United States population will be primarily of Latino and Asian background. This is already the case in many Southern Californian communities. In this environment, responsible educators continue to search for teaching strategies and resources that promote acceptance of cultural diversity and reflect the learning styles of this student population.

New Strategies

At Azusa Pacific University, all education students must enroll in a course on cultural awareness &emdash; Diversity in the Classroom. In this course, students identify cultural barriers in terms of soci'economic status, ethnicity, language, religion and gender differences. They also examine societal issues that impact the classroom, such as racism, prejudice and discrimination. Through reflective thinking and problem solving, students begin to develop strategies for effective multicultural instruction in a pluralistic democracy.

In a similar course &emdash; Administration of Education in a Multicultural Environment &emdash; school administrators study ways of designing, implementing and evaluating effective multicultural programs in their school districts.

In courses like these, students often find it difficult to express their feelings and attitudes about those who are culturally different. One of the most effective ways of encouraging student involvement and participation is through experiential activities, such as role playing and simulation. Case studies are often used and become much more effective through interactive media's visual dramatization.

Interactive Media's Role

While searching for a methodology that encourages active learning, I discovered a convincing argument in favor of interactive media.[1]

"Interactive video can provide a medium for observation and, more importantly, it can provide an environment for reflection. Reflection, however, is an inherently social process. It implies a debate of different viewpoints, a challenge to currently held beliefs, and an emotional commitment to resulting conclusions. While all of this can be accomplished by an individual alone, it is more innovative and motivating when alternative viewpoints are provided by others, when others challenge one's current beliefs, and when the commitment to resulting conclusions is expressed in the presence of other people…"

This statement prompted my decision to create a multimedia project (videodisc and CD-ROM versions) that could be utilized by individuals in independent study, but also in a group setting where students could react openly to dramatized issues and then express personal views.

This collaborative project, involved many people: myself, as the faculty expert; a media producer/director and television crew; computer programmers; an instructional designer; graphics artists and student actors.

The videodisc we developed is called Intercultural Communication; the CD-ROM's title is Exploring Cultural Diversity. Both were done at, and copyrighted by, Ball State University.

A Courseware Project Is Born

The menu-driven computer program for the titles includes intercultural barriers, cultural variables, universals of culture, a chart of comparative cultural assumptions, a glossary of intercultural/multicultural terminology and other concepts. A prototype lesson plan and reflective questions were designed to engage participants in analysis and discussion after viewing filmclips and scenarios.

Filmclips provide several examples of intercultural interaction, as well as stereotypical portrayals of African-American, Asian, European and Hispanic/Latino cultures. These cultural groups were chosen because they are representative of cultural pluralism in the United States.

In one filmclip, for example, students are asked to identify stereotypes and to explain the historical antecedents of involuntary immigration of African-Americans. Another clip depicts ethnocentric attitudes when an Irishman resents that his daughter is in love with a Chinese man. European hierarchy and class structure are depicted in a scene from the film Grand Illusion.

Specific questions accompany these filmclips. The feature films on public domain were transferred from 16mm to video, then to a videodisc, and finally, to CD-ROM.

Ten videotaped scenarios dealing with intercultural incidents present examples of concepts, like kinesics or proxemics, as well as simulated intercultural conflict. In one, an Italian-American overwhelms his American friend by invading his spatial boundary; slowly, the American male is pushed out of the frame. One portraying two females, one Arab and one American, addresses the role of women in society, as perceived in two different cultures. In another, a Latino student is humiliated when his teacher forbids him from speaking Spanish in class.

How the Courseware Works

Specific questions for the scenarios present problematic situations for the user and offer alternative responses. Students are expected to give the most appropriate answer and to reflect upon the choice made. When the improper answer is given, learners are asked to try again by reviewing the clip or scenario and making another selection.

Using the interactive mode of instruction, students assume greater responsibility in the learning process. The instructor becomes more of a facilitator helping learners sort through the information given. Abstract concepts become more meaningful when learners can see realistic applications. Soon, students feel more comfortable in sharing their own intercultural experiences and reactions, thus making the classroom a democratic microcosm of the larger society.

During these experiential sessions, students become engaged in healthy debates regarding the incidents portrayed and the possible answers given. Participants "argue" or rationalize through the problem presented in an attempt to find an appropriate resolution. Regardless of whether or not a solution is achieved, the experience guides students through essential steps of critical thinking and metacognition &emdash; the ability to critique and evaluate one's own reflective processes.

Colleagues' Critique

While presenting this project at a conference on critical thinking at Sonoma State University in California, an audience of international educators engaged in an in-depth analysis of the case studies and critiqued the various answers/conclusions reached. The session was animated and elicited many personal experiences revealing similarities and contrasts in various cultures.

The group, therefore, related what they saw to their own personal experiences, which led to self-reflection and understanding of cross-cultural issues. This cooperative session also reinforced the fact that teaching and learning are more effective when using a multiple-perspective approach to problem solving.

The multimedia, computer-based pedagogical framework of this project on cultural diversity conforms to the educational needs of our technology-oriented society. It enhances interactive communication among students and instructor, as well as provides opportunities for discovery learning. Culturally different students are given a comfort zone in which to engage in cooperative learning, a road to self-discovery, acceptance of cultural pluralism, and reflective critical thinking. n

Maria A. Pacino, is an Associate Professor of Education at Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California. She teaches cultural diversity to pre-service teachers and practicing teachers and administrators.

J'e Pacino is an Instructional Media Producer at Rancho Santiago College in Santa Ana, California. He develops multimedia programs for higher education.

The project -- a laserdisc, "Intercultural Communication" and CD-ROM, "Exploring Cultural Diversity" -- was developed when the authors taught at Ball State University (which owns the copyright) in Muncie, Indiana. Maria provided the multicultural content, while J'e created and programmed the CD-ROM.


1. Hanson, Edmund (Sept. 1990), "The Role of Interactive Video in Education: Case Study and a Proposed Framework," Educational Technology, pp. 13-20.

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.