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RPI Prof Develops Culture-Based Web Teaching Tools

An associate professor of science and technology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has created a suite of culturally-attuned Web-based applets to help students from different cultures more easily absorb computing and math teaching.

Called "culturally situated design tools" (CSDTs), the programs help educate students about the mathematic principles used to design cornrow hairstyles, Mangbetu art, Navajo rugs, Yupik parka patterns, pre-Columbian pyramids, and Latin music. The National Science Foundation awarded the researcher, Prof. Ron Eglash, a $300,000 grant to extend his work to help underrepresented minority students in the subject of computing.

Eglash is now working with Mukkai Krishnamoorthy, associate professor of computer science at Rensselaer, and Hilmi Yildirim, a doctoral student in computer science, to create a new interface for the tools. By the end of the three-year grant, the researchers hope to offer a new collection of "programmable" CSDTs that will allow students anywhere in the world to invent new design tools of their own creation.

"Over the last six years we have received requests for design tools from places all over the world, including New Guinea, Argentina, and South Africa," said Eglash, principal investigator on the research. "At the end of this research project we'll be able to offer Web-based resources to allow anyone, anywhere to design their own culturally situated design tools."

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About the Author

Paul McCloskey is contributing editor of Syllabus.

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