Critical engagement and intra-cultural knowing: A case for cross-cultural learning

Cross-cultural learning within the British curriculum has often been explored through international historical events, practices and rituals. Whilst this may be interesting to highlight concepts of diversity we believe there is need for curriculum to investigate intra-national cultures to dispel notions of cultural homogeneity within nation-states.


We worked with two schools in the Northeast of England, Highfield Middle School in Prudhoe, Northumberland and Gosforth Central Middle School (GCMS) in Gosforth, Newcastle. Prudhoe is predominantly a mono-cultural town with strong mining history and Newcastle has the most diverse cultural population living in the northeast. We wanted to capitalise on these two aspects and explore concepts of cross-cultural learning. We tasked the students from Highfield Middle School to research various aspects of migration within their community while students in GCMS researched within their community on mining history.

Students from GCMS visited the local colliery museums to know more on the life of a miner and their close-knit community. They also spoke to their family members who had experience going down the coal-pits and gathered information from the real world. Students at Highfield Middle conducted interviews with their family and community members to understand how, when and why their families moved to Prudhoe. Using this real-world information students produced physical artefacts like board games, model of a working coal-mine, art work depicting life of a miner including performance of scenes from mining related plays such as Billy Elliot and The Pitmen Painters. They then developed digital mysteries using the Thinking Kit platform, a multi-user, computer based learning application designed to promote collaboration and higher order thinking skills.

A key aspect of this research was to encourage students to identify nuances within their own culture through intra-cultural learning. Building on from our previous work with international linking of schools, we applied concepts of peer-expert in this research. Students from each school evaluated the digital mysteries developed by their peers in the other school, using their knowledge of their local culture to become peer-experts. As well as linking the two schools digitally, a physical link was established through an open day event where teachers and students from Highfield Middle School visited GCMS in Newcastle. Students from both schools presented their physical and digital artefacts to retell the stories gathered from their local community. The open day also provided opportunity for teachers from the two schools to come together and discuss the activity and its impact on their agency.

This activity has highlighted how real-world learning encourages students to make deep connections with their learning materials. We approached the research through project based learning (PBL) pedagogy which initiates and supports real-world learning. Engaging in a technology-mediated PBL method has highlighted gaps such as the absence of a student-focused project management system that students can collaborate from different geographical sites. Through our work, we also explored the critical role of brokerage; where intermediary actors facilitate exchanges between other actors that are otherwise unable to access each other, to embed cross-cultural learning within curriculum. We believe for effective cross-cultural learning to take place, students should be encouraged to learn the nuances within their own culture to help them appreciate its fluidity and in doing so students learn about international cultures without any preset stereotype or biases. We reckon digital technologies has a crucial role to scaffold student learning and offer experiences that will help them to critically engage and make deep connections with their learning materials.

For more information please contact Vidya Sarangapani.

Author: Vidya Sarangapani

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