Magazine article Technology & Learning

Exploring World Cultures

Magazine article Technology & Learning

Exploring World Cultures

Article excerpt

We live in a world separated by political borders, religious beliefs, and linguistic differences, our humanity shaped more by historical accident and cultural idiom than by biological design. To understand what makes us different from one another and to appreciate why we behave the way we do, it's important for students to spend time in other cultures. Since anthropological fieldwork is not an everyday option, technology's ability to let us travel the globe electronically for a close-up first-hand look at distant lands is more important than ever.

This month, we examine five titles which use voice, music, movie clips, and other multimedia elements to immerse viewers in the lives and cultures of people past and present. In these programs, simulations, interactive games, puzzle-solving activities, and tools for creating multimedia reports all help render the foreign more familiar and real. While technology is no substitute for actually being there, these interactive applications go a long way toward helping students develop the cultural and geographic literacy that will make them true citizens of today's world.

Africa Trail


The newest offering in MECC's Trail series, this interactive simulation invites students to re-create Dan Buettner's record-setting 12,000-mile bike trek across the continent of Africa. Firsthand adventures, vivid photographs, and riveting musical rhythms enhance the discovery process as users set out with a team of experienced cyclists to learn about the history, geography, people, and cultural diversity of the continent.

As with other Trail simulations, students shape their journey through active participation. They determine the route, choose other team members, purchase supplies, and lay in spare parts for the bikes. They also set the cycling pace, decide how much of each day will be spent in travel, and determine what kinds of meals to eat. The success of each journey depends upon how well they manage their resources.

During the expedition, students are in the cyclist's seat, where they're often challenged to navigate rough terrain, taking care not to run off the road or sustain any cycle damage. They must stop to consult maps, secure visas, visit market towns, make purchases, and "talk" to shopkeepers. They are also called upon to brave Sahara Desert sand storms and Zaire's malaria-infested jungles on the road to gaining some understanding of the hardships of life in the Third World.

Africa Trail offers an online guide book, entries from Buettner's actual trail journal, opportunities for kids to keep their own journals, and lots of other chances for learning beyond the engaging simulation. And the videos, though brief and few, do a good job of establishing a feel for the continent and its diversity. A clip of a car and camel sharing the roadway, for instance, presents a powerful image of modern-day Africa. Included with the software is a carefully developed packet of printed classroom materials that does an excellent job of addressing a range of topics related to the journey.

500 Nations


Visually rich and layered with information, this open-ended, exploratory title presents a sobering account of the North American Indians' loss of homeland, livelihood, and cultural heritage at the hands of the European invaders. Exquisite archival photographs, detailed maps, video interviews, animated recreations of ancient cities, and more combine to bring alive 1000 years of civilization from the native peoples' point of view.

Based on the television series of the same name, with video introductions by Kevin Costner, 500 Nations lets users begin with the magnificent Mayan city of Palenque in 700 A.D. Mexico, and move through the centuries to examine art, artifacts, advanced societies, and other achievements; a selection of critical moments in North American history; fascinating little-known facts; and much more. …

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