The Intersection of Tech and the Humanities: XA Student Uses Skills to Encourage Diversity in Elementary Schools

Experience Architecture (XA) student Brock Delebreau hopes to use his design and writing skills to foster inclusivity, collaboration, and empathy in elementary school classrooms and beyond. Brock, a native of Denmark, Wisconsin, started out his freshman year as a computer science major, but changed paths after completing a couple of his introductory CS courses. While talking with a Career Services advisor, he learned about XA and became interested in the opportunity to be creative while still working with technology, which also attracted him to the major. XA is an interdisciplinary major that equips students with the skills to maneuver, design, and build apps, websites, and experiences for people in both digital and physical environments.

Brock Delebreau

For the past year, Brock has been working on a project called IDEAL (Inclusive Diversity Engagement Activity Learning), a proposed course for elementary school students focused on introducing them to important concepts such as inclusivity, diversity, and collaboration. In what began as an assignment for STA 303 [Design Thinking], Brock and his group members noticed that some of their fellow college students were often ill-equipped to engage and collaborate with peers from diverse backgrounds. The group speculated that helping elementary-age students address these issues might help them when they come to college. The group began planning a program that would expose young students to principles of inclusivity in hopes that they would then carry them into their academic careers and beyond, where, Brock notes, students “have to collaborate with other people, no matter who they are.”

While brainstorming, Brock and his group tossed around ideas for a series of books, an online game, and a set of classroom activities. “These all started as separate ideas that we could’ve built on,” Brock says, “and then we were like, ‘What if we smush them all together and make one larger thing?’” After some fine-tuning and research, the group designed an extended multi-platform program that would introduce young students to concepts of diversity. The goal was to gradually build upon students’ understanding and help them apply that understanding in classroom interactions throughout their elementary school years and beyond.

As Brock explains, IDEAL is designed to be a three-tiered program. It would begin with a book designed for K–3 students that introduces them to the concepts of inclusivity, collaboration, and empathy in classroom interaction. Next, an online game designed for students in grades 2–5 would teach them how to apply those concepts after they’ve come to understand them. The third element of the course, a set of classroom activities, would span across kindergarten through fifth grade.

According to Brock, his XA classes prepared him well for this ambitious, multifaceted undertaking. He said that the tenets of the major helped him in the design phase, especially the major’s overarching emphasis on accessibility. Before beginning work on IDEAL, Brock had no experience with book design; however, his XA training led him to think foremost about how to design the book so kids could interact with the material easily. If he didn’t have the principles of the XA major to guide him, says Brock, “I probably would have been slapping text and graphics on a page. That works for a lot of people, but we wanted something that works for everybody.” Additionally, Brock notes that empathy—a foundational concept in the XA curriculum—helped him and his team to develop a set of characters that could reach diverse groups of students. As he puts it, “Everybody can see themselves somewhere” in the course—an essential element in a project centered around teaching students about inclusivity.

“I feel like it would really help students to be more willing to work with anybody, because what happens a lot of the time is that students always work with the same people,” Brock says. “The goal of IDEAL is to say, ‘Let’s try to work with everybody’—or, maybe not everybody at once, but let’s be willing to work with anybody, no matter what they have going on, what their backgrounds are. Let’s be open to that.”

Written by Martha Spall

Photo provided by Brock Delebreau