Promoting, Social Science Inquiry, with Database Technology. (Advancing Technology)

Article excerpt

When we begin our social studies methods classes each semester, we ask our students what they remember of elementary or middle school social studies. We have them stand up and take their places in a line symbolizing a continuum of recollections-from great memories in which students were engaged in inspiring, educative experiences to negative memories, in which students described their early social studies experiences as meaningless. In every class, only a few students have wonderful memories. Some have negative memories, but many have no memories of learning social studies at all, especially during their K-5 years. The common experience was that they were told to read a chapter in their textbook and answer the questions at the end. Students with powerful memories recall participating in projects: making things, acting events out, or going into their communities to research, draw, or attend or speak at meetings.

As teacher educators, we are searching for ways for students to be historians, and do history, rather than merely study history. When we were faced with the task of infusing technology skills into our methods classes, we knew we had to find a way of using the technology to help students become "active discoverers" rather than "passive recipients" of knowledge.

A Mandate for Technology Infusion

In 1999 and again in 2000, (1) California State University at Dominguez Hills received Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to Use Technology grants from the U.S. Department of Education. The purpose of both grants was to facilitate the migration of technology instruction from a stand-alone course to full infusion into preservice methods classes, as mandated by the California State Legislature. Previously, students took a course in a well-equipped computer lab with a technology-savvy instructor showing dazzling applications. They then took their methods classes, and in many cases, never saw technology applied again. The message that "real teaching methods have little use for technology" was clear.

Although we could see that technology infusion was a good idea, we faced several challenges in our efforts to incorporate technology applications into our social studies methods classes. First, how could we integrate technology into the class syllabus without displacing other essential topics, skills, and elements of effective instruction? Second, how could we use technology to support our goal of bringing history to life? And third, how could we facilitate transfer of the technology from the social studies methods course to the public school classroom?

Fitting Technology into the Methods Class Syllabus

We began by examining research pertaining to technology infusion into classroom instruction. In a review of studies that analyze the effects of media on learning, Diem reports that "if technology is to effectively impact the classroom it must be related to the overall intent of learning" In this way, "technology becomes tied to both content and process skills as it is sublimated within broader learning goals," and thereby "gives direction for a variety of activities" within the instructional system. (2) If technology is infused in this way, it supports, rather than displaces, key elements of the curriculum. Unfortunately, in the past, technology has not served this role in the typical social studies classroom. Diem cites Berson, who reports, "Computers have served the primary function of facilitating students' access to content and have been relegated to being an appendage to traditional classroom materials." (3)

Diem's ideas about technology infusion are reflected in a set of guidelines for teacher preparation programs developed by The College and University Faculty Assembly of National Council for the Social Studies. (4) Our project was guided by two of these principles:

1. Extend learning beyond what could be done without technology, and

2. Introduce technology in context. …