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Multicultural Education

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 Multicultural Education

(Fall 2006: vol. 8, no. 2)
Theme: Multicultural Education in Higher Education

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JoAnn Phillion
Erik Malewski
Jennifer Richardson

Purdue University

U. S. A.

ABSTRACT: Preparing pre-service teachers to work with diverse students has become an important goal in teacher education. How to do this effectively is the substance of debate; however, field experiences demonstrate promise. The authors discuss an innovative long-term project that allows pre-service teachers in rural areas access to diverse classrooms through the use of interactive technologies, including two-way videoconferencing. The authors describe the project and outcomes.

 Introduction: The Multicultural Challenge
Rethinking What Constitutes a Field Experience

Developing and Sustaining Relationships
Pre-service Teachers’ Learning Related to

Diversity and Technology
Authors’  Biographical Sketch
Citing this Source in the APA Style


Introduction: The Multicultural Challenge 

As teacher educators working primarily with White, middle class pre-service teachers in a rural setting, we face challenges in preparing them for the shifting demographics and changing student populations they will work with in the future. Similar to many colleges of education, we have developed a stand-alone multicultural education course to raise awareness of these issues and to develop knowledge and skills in working with diverse students. Part of the challenge we face is our pre-service teachers’ resistance to multicultural education; many see no need for this subject as they feel they will not be teaching diverse students and that their future White students do not need to learn about multiculturalism. This and other forms of resistance are well documented in the literature (Carpenter-LaGattuta, 2002; Piper & Garratt, 2004; Yeo, 1999). In addition, even when there is recognition of changing demographics, educators in training may lack cross-cultural knowledge, have little awareness of discrimination, and feel unprepared to work with diverse students (Su, 1997).  

There is also a well-documented body of work that indicates that pre-service teachers need to experience working with culturally diverse students in order to have a shift in their attitudes (Sleeter, 2001). Field experiences, long recognized as a means of teacher preparation through hands-on experiences, demonstrate promise in the development of more positive attitudes to diverse students. Field experiences are neither a panacea nor a simple solution for addressing these issues; however, they do provide opportunities for overcoming resistance by making multicultural education issues visible to pre-service teachers.  They remove the abstract quality of multicultural theories and become a pragmatic part of their conceptions of teaching.  While we recognize the potential of field experiences, finding diverse classrooms for pre-service teachers in the Midwest is particularly challenging.  

The multicultural challenge is neither a personal one, nor one limited to this location. What is at stake is not something that can be defined as a simple objective or standard to be analyzed and then met; rather, what is at stake is our democracy and the future of those historically disadvantaged by race, ethnicity, class, and first language, the very populations that our pre-service teachers have had few opportunities, and in many cases little inclination, to interact with in their education to date.  

In this article we examine an innovative project that links learning about diversity with increasing technological skills, in particular, the use of Polycom cameras, the Internet, and various software applications.  Technology can be a vehicle for connecting communities different in race, class, ethnicity, and language and, hence, provides opportunities to learn about people very different from ourselves.  We discuss the various curricular elements of virtual field experiences, and analyze data obtained from journals, reflective writing, e-portfolios and surveys (see Phillion, 2003 for host teacher and student learning).  We illustrate that for pre-service teachers the cultivation of human connections is of primary importance and is enabled through technology (Malewski, Phillion, & Lehman, 2005). 

Rethinking What Constitutes a Field Experience

While there is on-going debate about what we can do to develop the capabilities of our teachers in terms of working with diverse students, there is also acknowledgment that field experiences demonstrate potential as a way to prepare future teachers for the diversity and complexity of tomorrow’s classrooms (Goodlad, 1990). Wallace (2000) found that field placements where pre-service teachers have the opportunity to experience diversity first-hand enhance the ability to work with and advocate for diverse student populations.  Sleeter (2001) reviewed a series of research genres in a search for what demonstrates promise in preparing teachers to work with historically underserved populations and found that field experiences that provide cross-cultural immersion “seem to transform pre-service students and ground them in contextually relevant knowledge” (p. 217).  Field experiences in diverse contexts provide opportunities for pre-service teachers to understand the importance of multicultural ideas for effective teaching.  

While more, early, and diverse field experiences are recognized as important in trying to meet the demand for more multiculturally competent teachers (Darling-Hammond, 1997), many colleges of education, particularly those in rural areas like the one in which we work, face challenges in placing students in schools that provide for interactions with diverse student populations.  At the same time, the need for multicultural competencies is becoming more urgent.  Many schools in states outside of Florida, Texas, and California that historically have been predominantly White are experiencing significant growth in Hispanic students, among other forms of diversity, and while these demographic shifts are becoming more common, many of our pre-service teachers do not have an opportunity to be placed in these diverse settings.  

In addition to the lack of experience in multiculturally affirming contexts, many pre-service teachers question the relevance of multicultural ideas; many have lacked opportunities to think critically about cultural difference and inequality (Britzman, 2003; Gresson, 1995; Kincheloe, 1991; Kincheloe & Steinberg, 1997; Takaki, 1993).  In particular, Yeo (1999) notes that many pre-service teachers feel there is no need to understand diverse populations as they expect to teach in their hometowns, predominantly White and rural areas, after graduation. The demographics of the areas they plan to teach in, however, are changing and diversifying at a rapidly increasing rate (Futrell, Gomez, & Bedden, 2003; Glazer, 1997).  Teacher educators are challenged to illustrate the immediate relevancy of multiculturalism in ways that help future teachers recognize that in many areas around the country the makeup of public schools is undergoing dramatic changes that call for the ability of teachers to work in a range of cultural contexts.   

One of the most common responses to the multicultural challenge has been to require a multicultural course within the teacher education program.  These courses, however, often focus on scholarship and literature from the field of multicultural education and fall short of providing opportunities for building personal relationships with students who are different in race, gender, nationality, and first language (Lowenstein, 2003; Malewski, Phillion, & Lehman, 2005).  In our work we have found that one way to make theory relevant, to make abstract ideas more concrete, is to utilize field experiences as opportunities to build affective bonds between pre-service teachers and students whom they are more increasingly likely to work within their careers as educators. 

In order to generate the type of bonds that get beyond racial, ethnic, and language classifications—that illustrate the nuances of the people behind labels such as Hispanics, ENL (English as a New Language), or refugees—we recognize that our pre-service teachers need experiences working with diverse students coupled with opportunities to reflect upon the significance of the interactions.  At the same time, programs such as our own have the limitations of not being located in geographical areas with significant diversity.  Non-traditional field experiences, using the power of interactive technologies, show some promise for ameliorating that dilemma (Phillion, 2003).  Below we discuss some limitations of ways technology has traditionally been used to prepare pre-service teachers.  We then describe a project in which we used technology in creative, imaginative ways to develop strong affective relationships between pre-service teachers and students in a diverse inner-city school, in an attempt to address issues of cultural difference and social and economic equality. 

Limitations of Traditional Uses of Technology in Teacher Education
Using technology to create experiences that focus on an understanding and appreciation of diversity is not a new approach in K-12 classrooms; much of this work, however, simply involves having students use the Internet as a resource (Clark & Gorski, 2001).  There is increasing recognition that technology plays an important part in teacher education (Office of Technology Assessment, 1995), and some work has explored the power of technology in multicultural teacher education (Sleeter & Tettegah, 2002). Researchers have documented problems related to instruction in technology that include limited use of technology in teacher education courses, an emphasis on teaching about technology rather than teaching with technology, lack of faculty modeling, insufficient funding and faculty professional development opportunities, and lack of emphasis on technology in students' field experiences (Lehman & Richardson, 2004). To address these problems, colleges of education have begun to change their practices to embrace effective use of technology. Recommended practices include institutional planning for integration of educational technology into teaching and learning, technology integration across the teacher preparation curriculum rather than limited to stand-alone courses, increased opportunities for student teachers to use technology during field experiences, and faculty development to bring about appropriate modeling of technology uses in their courses (Moursand & Bielfeldt, 1999). We have learned from the research that pre-service students need multiple examples and opportunities to work and experiment with technology in order to be prepared to integrate it in their own classrooms (Duhaney 2001; Laffey & Musser 1998).  Moursand & Bielfeldt (1999) caution that stand-alone coursework does not lead to integration of technology in the classroom; instead technology should be integrated into other courses and teacher education activities (p. 3).

At the present time, however, there is little teacher education literature available to provide practical, successful examples that link learning about diversity and learning about technology and little literature that addresses videoconferencing as a means of creating diverse field experiences for pre-service teachers (Edens, 2001; Phillion, 2003; Phillion, Johnson, & Lehman, 2004). The following sections of the article describe a project that links diversity and technology in a non-traditional field experience. 

Technology and Diversity Project
To develop this project we first had to let go of our assumptions about what constituted a field experience. We had to examine the notion of interaction, and imagine it being something different than face-to-face. We had to rethink the meaning of teaching and what it might look like through virtual connections. At the same time, there were vital elements we felt we could not put aside--we wanted our pre-service teachers to feel connected to the students and to feel part of a community. Stated simply, we wanted our pre-service teachers to care about the students in the school and develop a desire to work with diverse populations of students. How could this be done from a distance? 

To bridge the gap we used two-way videoconferencing to allow our pre-service teachers to observe inner-city classrooms and to interact with teachers and students in diverse classes they would not be exposed to in their local area. Technologically mediated observations of distant classrooms are not new; they have been in use since the 1950s to develop observation skills of pre-service teachers (Abel, 1960; Hoy & Merkley, 1989). The technologies, however, were expensive and difficult to maintain whereas videoconferencing technologies in use today are more flexible and cost-effective. More importantly, for the goals of our project, today’s technologies provide interactive, two-way communication that offers opportunities for pre-service teachers to lead lessons and work collaboratively with teachers, to tutor small groups using mini-cams at each site, and, of particular note, to provide pre-service teachers the opportunity to observe teachers knowledgeable in regards to the needs of urban communities and students from diverse backgrounds (Phillion, 2003).  

Developing and Sustaining Relationships 

This project has been conducted nine times over 5 years (and is on-going); it has grown from one section of 11 students to numerous sections involving up to 52 pre-service teachers. All of the pre-service teachers involved were enrolled in their first block of education courses. Each semester the project had different pre-service teachers who connected with a series of different classrooms, and incorporated a variety of different activities.  However, there were common elements that were integral to each: an initial community building activity, an on-site visit, a series of eight connections in which pre-service teachers developed activities that enriched or extended the curriculum (on which we later elaborate), reflection through dialogue and writing, and a final activity that came to be known as the “Social Justice Project.” In the sections below we draw from different semesters to illustrate key elements of the project.  

The Buddy System and Initial Community Building
We recognized that meaningful dialogic interaction was the key to sustaining high levels of investment over the course of virtual field experiences and developed “The Buddy System” in order to allow for increased personalized cross-cultural understanding and sense of social responsibility. Before engaging in site visits, pre-service teachers were paired with “buddy” students from the host school whom they were encouraged to get to know on a more personal level. They wrote letters to their buddies that included a photograph, information about their lives and interests in becoming teachers, and a question regarding the academic and personal likes of their student buddy. All letters were sent to the host school before a visit to the school took place. On arrival at the host school, pre-service teachers lined up outside the classroom while students retrieved their pictures and used them to identify their buddy. Once the matches were made, students introduced themselves and welcomed the visiting pre-service teachers in both English and Spanish, and discussions ensued as a continuation of the ideas initiated in the letters. Pre-service teachers later attempted to take their buddies’ interests into consideration when they created lessons. This personal connection was vital to maintaining the interest of all involved and thus vital to the success of the project. 

On-Site Visits
Pre-service teachers and faculty made an on-site visit to a class, an occasion that resembles a traditional field experience and provides an opportunity to work with and become familiar with students at the partner school. During the whole day, pre-service teachers were involved in a tour of the community and school, meeting staff, teachers, and students and interacting with the students and teachers from the host school. During this trip, in order to begin to examine their assumptions of the school and students, pre-service teachers were given a series of guiding questions that were part of a mini-ethnographic project. We consider the site visit to be indispensable to the development of relationships and to the success of the program. 

Virtual Connections to Enrich Curriculum
Using Polycom videoconferencing over the Internet, faculty and pre-service teachers at the university interacted with the same students and teachers they met through the site visit but did so through a virtual connection. They engaged in videoconferencing once a week for between one and two hours for a total of 8 weeks. During videoconferencing, pre-service teachers observed the classroom, interacted with the students and teacher, and taught a variety of enrichment activities that they prepared and then modified for use over videoconferencing. Prior to each interaction the teacher at the school posted curricular information and suggested activities on her web site or in emails for pre-service teachers. Lessons were prepared based on the teacher’s guidelines and in consultation with the faculty member who acted as a liaison and guide in both face-to-face and virtual settings. Typically each virtual field experience began with the classroom teacher leading a lesson. Pre-service teachers then took turns, either individually or in small groups, directing the remainder of the lesson for the students via videoconferencing. These activities reinforced what the teacher was teaching in the class and also acted as curricular enrichment.  

In the 5 years in which this project has been underway, pre-service teachers have had the opportunity to engage in a variety of activities. They have taught math lessons on graphing; used games to teach scientific principles; presented on inventors, such as Ben Franklin, using skits in English and Spanish; and even created a virtual reading center where pre-service teachers led a literacy lesson for students who rotated through the center (see Phillion, 2003; Malewski, Phillion, & Lehman, 2005 for additional information). Pre-service teachers also prepared interview questions for the teacher on her career and for the children in the class on the characteristics of a good teacher and a good student. All activities had the dual purpose of getting to know the students and their lives and enriching current curriculum being taught in the class. 

In the third year we aimed to use two-way videoconferencing to address pre-service teachers’ interests in working with individual, as well as small groups of students.  In a second computer lab on campus, we set up a separate camera and linked to a desktop Polycom camera in the host school and became a part of the subject area centers that students rotated through on daily basis.  While the majority of pre-service teachers observed the larger classroom dynamics or gave lessons to a larger group of students on a subject like reading or social studies, two or three pre-service teachers worked with a few host students on more detailed lessons that included meteorology, physics, and science.  These lessons were enhanced through application-sharing technology that allowed the transfer of control between sites.  Pre-service teachers would illustrate the effects of changing weather patterns via web-based applications and then turn control over to the host students who could then manipulate the weather patterns and observe the impact.   

To create appropriate lessons, pre-service teachers worked with the host teacher on the subject areas with which host students needed the most assistance.  One problem students were having involved spatial relationships, nation-states, and geographical boundaries.  To approach geography, pre-service teachers put together cultural information from different countries and geographic locations and relate it with specific contextual understandings. Control over the lesson was shared between pre-service teachers and host students as they explored the cultural styles and intellects, as well as the geographic locations of a number of countries.  Pre-service teachers learned they could use the geography lessons as a vehicle for developing lessons in other content areas and in future connections worked with host students on poetry, writing, and literature using themes that arose out of the different countries they had previously studied.   

One semester the cooperating elementary teacher was preparing to teach in Japan and decided to use the country as a year-long theme. Purdue pre-service teachers were invited to participate by preparing activities related to Japan. For the first lesson pre-service teachers participated in the class during a site visit and made drums with the students, learned about some famous landmarks in Japan, and did origami (Japanese paper making). In the first virtual experience the pre-service teachers, students, and the classroom teacher brainstormed questions about Japan they would like to examine. The teacher then organized these questions into topic areas, including geography, school life, food, daily activities, wildlife, and art/drama/literature. The pre-service teachers then worked in groups to prepare lessons about these topics over the remainder of the semester. For example, the “school life” group used books, articles, and the Internet as well as interviews with Japanese graduate students at the university to write a book entitled Momo Goes to School.  Other groups brought in objects from Japan, maps, music, and children’s literature and taught lessons to the students.  

As a culminating activity the “food” group did a lesson on preparing sushi via videoconferencing, while the teacher conducted food preparation with the students in their classroom. Thus, a variety of enrichment lessons were created, adding to the teacher's curriculum while giving the pre-service teachers a chance to learn about and work with diverse elementary students. The teacher and faculty member who had participated in videoconferencing over several semesters deemed the Japan project to be the most successful interaction. The key ingredient to the success of this part of the project was the joint development of the curriculum: the students in the school, their teacher, our pre-service teachers, and we ourselves, working together over the semester, “grew” a curriculum and in the process “grew” a community. While this process developed organically and without the articulation of community building as a goal, the project was designed to build affective bonds through primarily virtual interactions from the outset.   

Reflection on Experiences through Dialogue and Journal Writing
Pre-service teachers engaged in on-going dialogue throughout the semester with the faculty involved, host teacher, and students. Immediately following each interaction, pre-service teachers had extensive conversations on what had transpired during the session, how they felt about it and what they experienced in conjunction with readings on multicultural education.  Pre-service teachers commented that the significance of their experiences came to be understood through these conversations.  For example, one pre-service teacher noted that it was only after she talked with the rest of the group about her concerns over the inability of her buddy to concentrate on his school work that she realized it might be related to some problems in his home life.  This realization allowed her to relate better and consequently to be more effective in her work with him.   

Pre-service teachers wrote journals after all field experiences.  They also completed four projects: an educational autobiography, an educational philosophy paper, various web-based assignments, and a web portfolio.  Pre-service teachers were encouraged to focus on the life experiences of their buddy both in and out of school so that they might better understand how students are impacted by social contexts and economic, political, and educational issues that might at first seem unrelated. Of particular relevance, deeper understandings between buddies helped sustain virtual field experiences as pre-service teachers who were more invested in their relationships reported in journals being more excited about the two-way video connections.  

One of the greatest benefits of this type of interaction that surfaced in pre-service teachers’ writing was their realization that they had initially underestimated the abilities of the students.  One student commented, “I imagined students who really did not want to be at school.”  Another noted, “The students exceeded above and beyond my expectations.” One indicated surprise that “they (the grade-two students in the school) were so smart that I do not know how I will be able to keep up with them.”  By relating previous expectations to actual experiences, pre-service teachers began to question their own stereotypes about students from different backgrounds different from their own. 

The Social Justice Project
One semester, after talking with the teacher, the pre-service teachers discovered that over the summer students often lost the progress they made on reading skills, the result of a lack of age-appropriate books and magazines in their homes. In response, pre-service teachers organized an ongoing book drive for the entire school. This book drive exemplifies one of the ways in which they began linking the needs of students with their own actions as educators, tying ethical considerations to teacher practices.  In addition, pre-service teachers also learned about logistical concerns when in leadership roles. When pre-service teachers planned the book drive, they struggled to gain a sense of direction, as none of the pre-service teachers had experience organizing one. After conducting an informal inquiry into what a book drive entails, they engaged in outreach into the university community and their hometowns to collect books.  Pre-service teachers who lived near campus stored the books in their apartments and, as the project picked up momentum, they volunteered to meet before class to share progress reports.

As the semester continued, the pre-service teachers found ways to incorporate the book drive into the videoconferencing sessions as a method of fostering excitement about reading in the students. They brought in stacks of books, used them as a backdrop for video connections, and signed copies of books and sent them to the students. When the signed books arrived at the host school, pre-service teachers used the opportunity to provide interactive reading lessons on social studies, math, and science.  In particular, they designed the lessons to allow host students occasions to showcase their new book to the rest of the class while pre-service teachers conducted a lesson. Through actions developed out of virtual field experiences that encouraged altruism and empowerment, pre-service teachers had the opportunity to envision themselves as capable educators, that is, they worked to build community by helping students and their families gain self-direction and an understanding of the conditions under which they live. In other semesters, similar projects were developed by pre-service teachers; all focused on increasing affective bonds between pre-service teachers and students and ameliorating an existing problem in the classroom to which they were connected (such as a teacher lacking resources to engage in an activity that required multiple copies of a book or a teacher needing math manipulatives).  

Pre-service Teachers’ Learning Related to Diversity and Technology

 This project provided pre-service teachers opportunities to work with teachers who demonstrated that despite economic, racial, ethnic and linguistic differences, students could be challenged to think critically and work in student-centered environments as evidenced by self-reports, journals, and course papers. Pre-service teachers’ understanding of diversity issues and how to teach “other people’s children” (Delpit, 1995) grew during the project. In interaction with teachers and students and in interviews with teachers, pre-service teachers reported that the teachers they worked with did not “water down” the curriculum, retained high expectations, taught in an integrated style, and built on their students’ prior experiences (Phillion, 2003).   

In response to the dissonance between their assumptions and their findings, many pre-service teachers, through guided self-reflections, began to question their beliefs about teaching and learning with diverse groups of students. In journals and electronic portfolios they indicated they had expected badly behaved students and used terms like “surprise” to convey their reactions to the well-managed classroom. Pre-service teachers also learned to prepare materials aimed at communicating with students in both English and Spanish, and learned to work with students using videoconferencing equipment. Every semester some pre-service teachers expressed an interest in working with diverse groups of children when they became teachers.  

Journal entries indicated that pre-service teachers began to see technology as a tool that could be used for teaching as well as enhancing their own and others’ learning, personal productivity, and communication. The pre-service teachers quickly adjusted to the technology and learned how to manipulate the equipment. Perhaps the most important outcome from the use of two-way videoconferencing was how pre-service teachers established communities, making connections by forging strong personal relationships with the cooperating teacher, the students, and their peers. They maintained regular dialogue with the cooperating teacher in preparation for each session as well as in debriefing after each observation.  Regular dialogue also took place between the pre-service teachers and the students throughout the course of the field experience through “The Buddy System” and interactive nature of the curriculum and pedagogy. In addition, pre-service teachers learned to work together in groups and in partnership with the faculty member and classroom teacher in order to prepare and teach lessons to the students via the Polycom technology and to launch their “Social Justice Project.”  This project also connected the students to the outside community in order to complete the book drive. Most importantly, the connections made with the teachers and students in East Chicago opened the minds of pre-service students in predominantly White teacher education programs to critical perspectives and multicultural understanding. 

The development of communities became apparent through the rich and varied group discussions after each session, as well as the students’ regular journal entries.  It must be noted, however, that pre-service teachers also expressed concern over the insufficient opportunity to have real-time interactions with teachers and students at the partner school. The videoconferencing technology was also a concern for pre-service teachers. The Internet was sometimes unreliable and on occasion provided unclear video and audio between Purdue and the elementary school. Delays, disconnections, and pixilated images during more than one virtual connection made it difficult to observe lessons and interact with students. The opportunity to observe subtle facial expressions and the detailed aspects of instructional techniques utilized by the classroom teacher were often diminished by less than optimal video connections.  

Considering all factors, however, virtual field experiences help meet the multicultural challenge of educating White pre-service teachers in rural settings about diversity and equality in relation to the students they might someday teach.  We do not claim that virtual field experiences are a panacea but find that, if structured purposefully to engender affective bonding, they can provide meaningful, practical opportunities to inform future teachers on how to educate an increasingly diverse citizenry, one that will require teachers capable of attending to cultural differences and the complexity of issues impacting classroom learning (Sehr, 1997).  If we as teacher educators take multiculturalism seriously and understand its relationship to preparing future teachers, then we must heed Dewey’s (1916) call that the best way to understand democracy is to experience it; similarly, the best way for pre-service teachers to understand issues of diversity and equality is to have practical experiences in classrooms that make multicultural literature relevant.  It is our belief that the innovative use of technology to provide practical teaching experiences in diverse classrooms has promise for educating pre-service teachers on how to respect, care for, and affirm the abilities of “other people’s children.”


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JoAnn Phillion, Associate Professor, Department of Curriculum & Instruction at Purdue University.  Dr. Phillion is an editor of Curriculum Inquiry, and her research interests are in narrative approaches to multiculturalism, teacher knowledge, and teacher education.  She teaches graduate courses in curriculum theory and multicultural education, and an undergraduate course in pre-service teacher development. Contact this author at 

Erik Malewski, Assistant Professor, Department of Curriculum & Instruction at Purdue University. Dr. Malewski serves as the coordinator for the multicultural education component of Purdue's Teacher Education program. His teaching ties in closely with his research on critical theory, cultural studies, and curriculum studies. Contact this author at 

Jennifer Richardson, Assistant Professor, Department of Curriculum & Instruction at Purdue University. Dr. Richardson's research focuses on integration of technology into education, specifically teacher education programs and distance education environments, as a means to enhance and improve learning and motivation. Contact this author at 

Recommended Citation in the APA Style:

Phillion, J,  Malewski, E., & Richardson, J. (2006). Personalizing technology to interrupt the resistance of pre-service teachers to multicultural education.  Electronic Magazine of Multicultural Education, 8(2), 1-14. Retrieved your access month date, year, from

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