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.

Feedback from peer-experts impacts cross-cultural learning

Today’s globalised world has sparked our interest to know more about the diverse cultures and heritages that voluntarily or involuntarily shape our everyday lives. Education can prepare students to adapt and live fulfilling lives in this globalised world, but often cultural learning through the curriculum is delivered in a rigid manner. We were keen to explore how the use of digital tools could harness the lived experiences of young people around the world to develop deeper cultural understanding and impact flexibility in the school curriculum.


We embarked on an international cross-cultural learning activity with two schools in India and the UK over a period of three months, exploring notions of culture prevalent in the two countries through the eyes of the students. 30 students from The Indian School in New Delhi connected with 30 students from Gosforth Central Middle School in Newcastle upon Tyne. Through a project-based learning approach, students created physical and digital artefacts to represent their learning about the other culture by engaging with real-world contacts on their chosen topic. Students in India had to develop artefacts relating to UK and students in UK developed artefacts relating to India.

Students worked collaboratively in groups to develop artefacts such as travelogues depicting an imagined journey, models of iconic tourist attractions, music history and other physical artefacts to showcase their learning. 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 project was to develop higher-order thinking in young people by encouraging them to provide feedback as peer-experts. Students from the two schools downloaded the digital mysteries created by their peers in the other school. They solved the digital mysteries and provided feedback on the content, context and aesthetics. Providing feedback to their peers encouraged students to harness their expertise and knowledge about the culture they were raised in; they became peer-experts.

Sharing feedback in both directions encouraged students to think deeply about both cultures and increased the impact of the feedback. After receiving the critique students highlighted how they would engage with the feedback and what they would do differently if they had to do the project again. This feedback led some of the students to re-visit their digital mystery, whilst others developed a completely new project plan.

Our international cross-cultural learning activity has highlighted that the presence of culture is not just in objects but also in practices and lived experiences of people. Harnessing the role of peer-experts, we were able develop a dialogic learning activity between the students to expand their understanding of how peer-feedback can shape and inform their learning.

We would like to thank the students and teachers at The Indian School, New Delhi and Gosforth Central Middle School, Newcastle for collaborating with us on this project. We also extend our thanks to IIIT-Delhi for helping us identify suitable collaborators alongside providing us on-the-ground logistical support in India.

For more information please contact Vidya Sarangapani.

Deep learning through classroom-community collaboration

The pluralist nature of our society has encouraged young people to explore and experience cultural diversity from a very young age. Schools are championing this approach by entwining curriculum topics with themes of cultural diversity but often this consists of exploring factual knowledge of rituals, practices, objects and historical events. We were keen to develop a learning approach that encouraged young people to explore real-world settings and tap into the knowledge assets present within their local communities.

We worked with 128 students from Gosforth Central Middle School, Newcastle upon Tyne over two terms on the topic of migration, incorporating elements of history, geography and religious education. Students worked in groups and collaborated with community members, parents, grandparents, relatives and friends to collect stories of migration and used these stories to further develop physical and digital artefacts.

Working in groups collaboratively, students interviewed young immigrants, explored immigration policies in political manifestos, created interactive board games and other artefacts to share the stories gathered from their community. Some students used the Thinking Kit platform, a multi-user, computer based learning application, designed to promote collaboration and higher order thinking skills, to develop interactive digital activities.

By talking to their community members over a sustained period of time, students could display empathic attitudes to learning. Using the experiences of others led to deep learning, a learning approach where students focus on understanding the meaning of the learning material, relate new ideas to previous knowledge and use concepts to make sense of their own everyday experiences in relation to others. This deep learning was possible due to the real-world conversations that children engaged in, outside their classrooms.

The use of the Thinking Kit digital application was important to amalgamate the personal learning of the students into the school curriculum and make it accessible to the wider student community. The digital artefacts are now a learning resource and are available as free downloads to anyone interested in student-led approaches to learning.

By encouraging students to link with the real-world, we want to create opportunities for students to question, reason and critically engage with the information available to them. In doing so we wish to support students to become active participants in an increasingly globalised world, bridging the gap between classrooms and communities.

For more information please contact Vidya Sarangapani.