Curriculum Enrichment with Computer Software: Adventures in the Trade

By Wassermann, Selma | Phi Delta Kappan, April 2001 | Go to article overview

Curriculum Enrichment with Computer Software: Adventures in the Trade


Wassermann, Selma, Phi Delta Kappan


Taking on the creation of a CD-ROM to enrich the grade-11 social studies curriculum was a challenge. Ms. Wassermann describes both the process and the outcomes.

SOME 25 YEARS ago, when computers were the size of dragons and the Internet was a figment of someone's far-out fantasy, the director of Simon Fraser University's Centre for Educational Technology advised me to step away from my lectern and "put a little media" in my teaching. Neither he nor I could even have begun to imagine that, in fewer than two dozen years, advances in the use of electronic media would have the potential to reshape educational practice as we know it.

Beyond entertainment, business, and information processing, software in the form of CD-ROMs now offers basic instruction in a wide range of areas, including beginning reading, geometry, anatomy, introductory physics, foreign languages, geography, history, English, science, and career and personal planning - to name a few. Reference materials - almanacs, encyclopedias, the complete collection of National Geographic since 1888 - are available for the school and home market at modest cost. The range of choices is staggering - and it's only the tip of the iceberg.

While the reluctance of many teachers to use "machines" has been thoughtfully documented by Larry Cuban in Teachers and Machines,1 technological advances in the 14 years since that book's publication have shattered the notion that teachers any longer have a choice. Without access to and knowledge of sophisticated high-tech tools, students will be in danger of being left behind as the world proffers ever more rapidly expanding technological possibilities. The suggestion to "put a little media" in my teaching may be the most prophetic advice ever given. (Pardon me, while I spell check this paragraph.)

Curriculum Enrichment With CD-ROMs

I am in that group of teachers for whom the use of high-tech tools does not come naturally. Computer geeks dazzle me with their dancing-on-the- ceiling technological skills, and I do not fully understand the lingo of acronyms that is common parlance among sophisticated programmers. And so, taking on the creation of a CD-ROM to enrich the grade-11 social studies curriculum was a particular challenge. Yet it offered the seductive possibility of creating a comprehensive resource for secondary social studies teachers that weighed half an ounce, took up less space than a curriculum guide, and would place a wealth of information into a teacher's hand. While never intended to be a substitute for other reference material such as texts, journal articles, films, and primary resource documents, the resource materials that could be contained on a CD-ROM could make teachers' lives easier by making readily available much of what they might have to search out and gather on their own initiative.

A grant from the Vancouver Foundation2 provided the funding that made it possible for me to test the hypothesis that intelligently created educational software could enrich the curriculum, extend students' thinking about issues of consequence, engage students' interest in the content, and give teachers a valuable teaching resource. A group of secondary teachers with whom I had been involved in an earlier study using case-method teaching3 urged me to consider developing a CD dealing with the internment of ethnic Japanese Canadians and Japanese Americans during World War II, which is part of the junior-year high school social studies curriculum in Canada and of many similar courses in the United States. If successful, the CD could provide supplementary resource material for teachers who wanted their students to go beyond the few paragraphs in the required text and to dig more deeply into the issues surrounding the internment. The CD would also have the potential of serving as follow-up material to "A Case of Injustice in Our Time," a teaching case about the internment written by two secondary teachers and now widely used in British Columbia.

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