A Project to Integrate Technology and Social Studies

There seem to be two main ways in which educators view the use of technology, and computers in particular, in the classroom. The first is the system to which I was exposed as a student.

This view of computers in school is the perspective that computers, and the use of computers, are a subject to be studied in their own right. Programming, graphics, and robotics may be included in this type of classroom.

Another view sees computers as a tool to assist traditional subject area teachers. From my own experiences, it seems that math and science teachers were leaders in using computers in an integrated fashion in the classroom. Graphs for parabolas in precalculus class or a simulator device for a lab are some familiar examples. The growing accessibility of the world wide web and the so-called information superhighway is currently revolutionizing my own field, social studies.

Archives on-line, up-to-the-minute updates in current events and news stories, and newsgroups that allow world experts in specific fields to exchange ideas interactively with students, an increasing number of "amateur" experts coming from an infinite number of perspectives and regions of the world, and each other.

While this is extremely exciting, caution is required. Like any other medium websites and newsgroups are filled with biases, misfacts, and other types of dilemmas that interfere with a students' search for an ultimate truth through research.

As my own students are well aware, newspapers, magazines, and television often present unfair biases. However, in the United States at least, a filter of editing, publishing liabilities to back claims made in public, and a few hazy but standard ethical guidelines prevent an all out inundation of fallacy. On the internet, there is little to stop the spread of misinformation, along with the abundance of solid research and well thought-out opinions found on a variety of web pages.

A project that requires students to use good judgment regarding web-based material to determine what is valid research and what ought to be viewed more cautiously will help prepare them for the realities of the cyber-world that they will inevitably face in the future. By comparing information on the web posted by governments, universities, church groups, businesses, individuals, political organizations, and public interest groups one could have a large degree of disparate information they could find regarding one specific subject. Coming to accurate and valid conclusions is both a challenge and an exercise in judgment, writing, and research.

One may ask why the project could not be done with other, more traditional materials like the tabloid press, talk radio, or cable television news shows to name a few. Of course these forms of media could be the focus for a similar project. However, by using the web the students will hone skills destined to be important assets for employment in the next decades. Being able to conduct an efficient web search that utilizes valuable information and is able to bypass the less than helpful will be the "cyber" version of the age old expression "time is money". An understanding of the breadth of the world wide web can be both an intimidating prospect and an epiphany of the power of computers as research tools. An integrated project between social studies and computing can make each subject a tool for learning about the other.

An Example of this technology project has been provided, along with explanations and further descriptions. A teacher's guide, with an Intro and Model, is also provided.