University professors and Tribal leaders are using a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop narrative technology tools to address the lack of representation of Indigenous culture, history, and stories in K-12 classrooms.

Working on the project are two Utah State University (USU) professors, Melissa Tehee and Breanne Litts, Rogelio E. Cardona-Rivera, a professor at University of Utah, and Darren Parry, a Tribal Knowledge holder for the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation (NWBSN) in Utah.

Tehee, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, is a psychologist and an expert in narrative and storytelling as a healing process with Indigenous communities. Litts is a learning scientist and has been working with the NWBSN for four years. Cardona-Rivera is a computer scientist and has extensive expertise in narrative-based computational modeling techniques. Parry is on the Tribal Council for the NWBSN and works with K-12 teachers, integrating Indigenous perspectives and American Indian history into curricula. He visits hundreds of classrooms a year across Utah and Idaho to share knowledge.

The project is aimed at creating representations of Indigenous narratives that support an Indigenous knowledge system rather than a Western knowledge system.

In a press release from USU, Tehee explained that the histories people learn in school really impact their personal development, stating that “it is difficult to value things you can’t see.” Tehee explained that teachers often feel uncomfortable teaching a culture and history they don’t fully understand and that they themselves often weren’t taught.

However, through this project, researchers are hoping to address these concerns by making a sustainable emerging narrative technology for classrooms. In a blog post from NSF’s Center for Integrative Research in Computing and Learning Sciences inaugural spotlight, the researchers explained they are working to provide a virtual reality experience or game that can be used by K-12 teachers who are less familiar with Indigenous history so that they are well equipped to implement the curriculum in a way that’s respectful and appropriate.

Their goal is to ensure that Tribal Knowledge Holders feel confident the technology accurately and appropriately represents their knowledge. Researchers want teachers to feel comfortable using technology so that Tribal Knowledge Holders such as Parry don’t have the burden of visiting hundreds of classrooms each year in person.

In the NSF blog post, researchers also stressed the importance of the project taking a cross-disciplinary approach.

“This cross-disciplinary team has the potential to produce high-impact research that reduces bias in emerging technologies, expands representations of diverse knowledge, perspectives, and cultures in K-12 classrooms, and contributes to the field’s knowledge of community-driven design practices that promote equity,” researchers said.

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