ERIC Identifier: ED296950
Publication Date: 1988-06-00
Author: White, Charles S.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.
Computers in Social Studies Classrooms. ERIC Digest.
A dozen years have passed since the entry of the microcomputer into the
schools, extending to students computing power that once was available only in
research laboratories. Computer applications in social studies education have
lagged behind other content areas during this time. However, social studies
educators have shown more and more interest in computers during the last five
years. The purpose of this ERIC Digest is to present a snapshot of current
computer use in social studies classrooms and to identify trends that may point
to the future of computer applications in the field. This ERIC Digest addresses
(1) how computers are currently being used in social studies, (2) what is known
about the effects of computer use on teaching and learning in social studies,
and (3) what trends are likely to develop in the use of computers in social
HOW ARE COMPUTERS USED IN THE SOCIAL STUDIES
While computer use in schools has grown dramatically over the
last few years, the level of use in social studies continues to be low compared
to other subject areas. According to Becker (1986), only 1 percent of computer
use in grades K-3 was for social studies, 4 percent in grades 4-8, and 1 percent
in grades 9-12.
Social studies teachers tend to use software tutorials and drills to deliver
or reinforce factual knowledge. In this respect, they are not much different
from teachers in other subject areas. Much of the available drill and tutorial
software for social studies are "stand-alone" programs, not part of a larger
curriculum package. However, publishing companies are increasingly producing
software that correlate with the content of their textbook series.
Computer-based simulations may also be found in some social studies
classrooms. The sophistication of social studies simulations has increased
markedly since the original OREGON TRAIL (MECC), with such programs as WHERE IN
THE WORLD IS CARMEN SANDIEGO (Broderbund) and THE OTHER SIDE (Tom Snyder
Productions). The notion that students can step into a social system or
historical setting, make decisions, and witness consequences makes the potential
of simulations as learning tools very appealing to social studies teachers. Even
more appealing to some educators is involvement of students in the construction
of a simulation, on the assumption that one learns most about a system by having
to build a model to represent it. (Roessler 1987; Roberts and Barclay 1988).
Finally, as social studies educators have become more experienced in
integrating computer technology into the curriculum, they have recognized the
potential of computer-based learning tools for students. For example, databases
are powerful tools for processing information more efficiently and effectively
in pursuit of problem solutions. General-purpose database tools, such as
PFS:FILE and the AppleWorks database, allow students to build and update their
own collections of data. Several software companies have produced already-built
databases and curriculum materials for student exploration, such as Scholastic's
CURRICULUM DATABASES and Newsweek's NewsWorks. Following the pattern established
for drills and tutorials, one textbook publisher has developed databases that
correlate with its elementary level social studies series.
Once students have collected or retrieved data, a data analysis tool may be
helpful. For survey data, programs like POLLS AND POLITICS (MECC) and TELOFACTS
(dilithium) help students make sense of their data, providing item analyses and
displaying histograms to visually summarize results. Graphing tools also serve
to summarize data and support social studies objectives relating to the
interpretation of charts and graphs (DATA PLOT from Muse and DEMOGRAPHICS from
CONDUIT are two examples). These kinds of data analysis tools reflect what
Budin, Taylor, and Kendall (1987) view as a trend toward more graphics and more
data manipulation in social studies computer applications.
WHAT IS KNOWN ABOUT THE EFFECTS OF COMPUTER USE ON TEACHING AND LEARNING IN SOCIAL STUDIES?
Ehman and Glenn (1987) provide a most useful
and timely review of the research literature concerning the effects of computer
use in K-12 social studies. In general, research that focuses explicitly on
computers in social studies has proceeded very slowly. In fact, Ehman and Glenn
note that much of what they report is highly impressionistic, based on limited
or non-existent empirical evidence.
Effects of Drills and Tutorials. Across curriculum areas, researchers have
found drill and tutorial programs to be moderately effective in producing
cognitive gains at all grade levels, but especially at the elementary level of
schooling (Niemiec and Walberg 1987; Bangert-Drowns, Kulik, and Kulik 1985).
With respect to drills and tutorials in social studies, the picture is
sketchy at best. Ehman and Glenn (1987) characterized the available research
findings as "scattered and mixed" with respect to drill programs, tending
somewhat to show a small impact on affective and lower-level cognitive outcomes.
Studies involving tutorial programs linked to videodisc (Glenn, Kozen, and
Pollak 1984) revealed positive effects on knowledge acquisition and application.
Overall, much more research is needed to obtain a clearer picture of drill and
tutorial effects in social studies.
Effects of Simulations. Early research appeared to confirm the instructional
effectiveness of computer-based simulations across all subject areas. Later
meta-analyses of simulation research contradicted this view (Bangert-Drowns et
al. 1985), finding little support for cognitive gains attributable to simulation
For social studies simulations, the Ehman and Glenn (1987) review of the
literature pointed to positive affective outcomes and gains in cooperative
learning capabilities of students. Little evidence derived from rigorous studies
supports the kinds of intellectual outcomes often associated with simulation
use, but anecdotal reports of such outcomes (Roessler 1987) suggest that further
research is warranted.
Effects of Databases. As a tool to pursue inquiry, social studies educators
claim great potential for database use in the classroom. The research to date
lends support to these claims, showing positive effects of database use on
skills relating to information processing (White 1987), data classification
(Underwood 1985), and question asking (Ennals 1985). Ehman and Glenn (1987) note
that databases do not in themselves teach inquiry. Indeed, the studies thus far
underscore the centrality of teachers trained in inquiry and of structure in
instructional materials (White 1987).
Clearly, much research remains to be done to assess the instructional
effectiveness and cost effectiveness (Ehman and Glenn 1987) of computer use in
social studies. The terrain is still largely unmapped, so more exploration is
WHAT TRENDS ARE LIKELY TO DEVELOP IN THE USE OF COMPUTERS IN SOCIAL STUDIES EDUCATION?
Predictions are always perilous, especially in
connection with technology in schools. New, more powerful computer tools are
constantly emerging, a fact that has undone more than one prognosticator.
Nonetheless, five trends seem likely to develop.
If computers become standard fixtures in schools, it will be because they
have proven to be useful tools for teachers. Few studies have examined how
social studies teachers use computers to carry out their own work (Ehman and
Glenn 1987). Assuming computer use in social studies will grow, it is likely
that teachers in the field will make increasing use of general tool software,
including word processors, databases, and spreadsheets. Moreover, new tools with
special relevance to social studies are being developed, such as TimeLiner (Tom
Snyder Productions), which allows teachers and students to generate historical
timelines. Software companies will continue to develop a wide range of new data
analysis and data representation tools that fit the content of social studies
There will be more focus on development of thinking skills. The national
movement toward the teaching of thinking is coincident with the emergence of
computer tools, such as databases that support development of thinking skills.
Dede (1987) expects that more powerful "cognition enhancers" will be developed,
which will increasingly shift students' foci toward higher-level thinking tasks
required for solving ill-structured problems. Use of these computer tools will
require a substantial shift in the instructional process, a shift not yet
evidenced in social studies classrooms generally (Ehman and Glenn 1987).
The already-apparent trend toward greater integration of computer software
into the social studies curriculum will likely continue and deepen. That
deepening will take software developers beyond simply targeting discrete social
studies topics and facts and will result in more sophisticated computer
environments in which students can learn and apply concepts and skills. This may
include intelligent coaching systems, which monitor and advise students as they
move through simulated social "microworlds" (Dede 1987).
Gradual expansion of interactive video will develop. Some of Dede's
"microworlds" will likely be provided via interactive video, a technology that
has been too expensive to be widely used in schools. The cost of interactive
video has been declining, however, and social studies teachers may eventually
take their students on "surrogate field trips" supported by interactive video.
Access to data will expand dramatically. Students will use telephones and
modems to dial up information services like NEXIS (for indexed newspaper
stories), Global Perspectives in Education's SCAN (global and international
education materials), and ABC-CLIO's KALEIDOSCOPE (statistics, news, and
historical background on countries in the world), to name three examples (Cohen
1987; Davidson 1987; Ehman and Glenn 1987).
A considerable amount of data will also be electronically placed on CD-ROM
discs and made available in the school library. For example, a single 4.72 inch
CD-ROM disc holds Grolier's 20-volume ACADEMIC AMERICAN ENCYCLOPEDIA with room
to spare. We can expect more of these products in the future.
Finally, hypermedia systems (Dede 1987) are emerging that provide a framework
for storing, linking, cross-referencing, and annotating data spanning diverse
information media (text, graphics, audio, still and full-motion video, and
computer software). Such systems allow educators to represent the complex
networks of data, and allow students to explore those networks.
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES
Following is a list of
resources, including references used to prepare this Digest. Those items
followed by an ED number are in the ERIC system and are available in microfiche
and/or paper copies from the ERIC Document Reproduction Service (EDRS). For
information about prices, write EDRS, 3900 Wheeler Avenue, Alexandria, Virginia
22304 or call 1-800-227-3742. Entries followed by an EJ number are annotated
monthly in CIJE (CURRENT INDEX TO JOURNALS IN EDUCATION) which is available in
libraries containing ERIC collections. EJ documents are not available through
EDRS; however, they can be located in the journal section of most libraries
using the bibliographic information provided below.
Bangert-Drowns, Robert W.,
James A. Kulik, and Chen-Lin C. Kulik. "Effectiveness of Computer-Based Education in Secondary Schools." JOURNAL OF COMPUTER-BASED INSTRUCTION 12 (Summer 1985): 59-68.
EJ 322 472. Becker, Henry Jay. INSTRUCTIONAL USE OF SCHOOL
COMPUTERS: REPORTS FROM THE 1985 NATIONAL SURVEY. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 1986, Issue 2.
Budin, Howard, Robert Taylor, and Diane
Kendall. "Computers and Social Studies: Trends and Directions." THE SOCIAL STUDIES 78 (January/February 1987): 7-12. EJ 353 107.
Cohen, Mollie L. "Doing
Research Electronically in Social Studies Classrooms." THE SOCIAL STUDIES 78 (January/February 1987): 26-29. EJ 353 111.
Davidson, Betsy. "SCAN: Setting Up a National Database in Global/International Education." THE SOCIAL STUDIES 78 (January/February 1987): 42-43. EJ 353 114.
Dede, Christopher J. "Empowering
Environments, Hypermedia, and Microworlds." THE COMPUTING TEACHER 15 (November 1987): 20-24. EJ 362 652.
Ehman, Lee H. and Allen D. Glenn. COMPUTER-BASED EDUCATION IN THE SOCIAL STUDIES. Bloomington, IN: Social Studies Development Center and ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education, 1987. ED 284 825.
Ennals, Richard. "Micro-PROLOG and Classroom Historical Research." Chapter in Ivan Reid and James Rushton, eds. TEACHERS, COMPUTERS, AND THE CLASSROOM. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1985, 130-137.
Glenn, Allen D., Nancy A
Kozen, and Richard A. Pollak. "Teaching Economics: Research Findings from a Microcomputer Videodisc Project." EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGY 24 (March 1984): 30-32. EJ 298 444.
Niemiec, Richard and Herbert J. Walberg. "Comparative Effects of Computer-Assisted Instruction: A Synthesis of Reviews." JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL COMPUTING RESEARCH 3 (1987): 19-37. EJ 349 632.
Roberts, Nancy and Tim Barclay. "Teaching Model Building to High School Students: Theory and Reality." Unpublished paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, April 1988.
Roessler, Michael. "Students
Design a Depression Simulation." SOCIAL EDUCATION 51 (January 1987): 48-51. EJ 344 579.
Underwood, Jean D. M. "Cognitive Demand and CAL." Chapter in Ivan Reid and James Rushton, eds. TEACHERS, COMPUTERS, AND THE CLASSROOM. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1985, 25-57.
White, Charles S. "Developing Information-Processing
Skills Through Structured Activities with a Computerized File Management Program." JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL COMPUTING RESEARCH 3 (1987): 355-375. EJ 358 373.