Leveraging Digital Technology in Social Studies Education

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Lundy, Sarah Elizabeth
Portland State University Library
Social sciences -- Study and teaching (Secondary) -- Oregon -- Portland Metropolitan Area -- Computer-assisted instruction; Social sciences -- Study and teaching (Secondary) -- Oregon -- Portland Metropolitan Area -- Textbooks; Educational technology; Educational equalization; Educational Methods; Instructional Media Design
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Today's K-12 classrooms are increasingly comprised of students who accomplish much of their informal learning through digital media and technology. In response, a growing number of educators are considering how they might draw upon these informal learning experiences to support student engagement and learning in the classroom through technology. The purpose of this study is for social studies educators, school administrators, teacher educators and curriculum developers to understand more about the potentials and limitations of integrating technology such as a digital text. This research focuses on the differences in experiences using a digital text and a printed text from the perspective of four high school social studies classes. The curriculum for the printed and digital texts was developed in collaboration with the Choices Program for the Twenty-First Century at Brown University.This research was based on the assumption that the thoughtful integration of a digital text in the classroom can support student engagement and differentiation while facilitating learning that students can readily transfer to multiple political, economic and social contexts beyond the classroom. Critically, students of poverty and students of color have the most to gain from increased access to digital technology in the public education system. People of color and people of poverty in the United States have significantly less access to technology at home than their white and middle class counterparts. Therefore, the classroom presents an opportunity for students who lack access to digital learning opportunities in their home environments to develop the technological fluency and digital literacy that are increasingly necessary to engage in multiple political and economic spheres in the United States.The current literature on digital technology in education lacks sufficient empirical evidence of the potential benefits and challenges that digital technologies may offer secondary social studies education from the perspective of the classroom. Therefore, the classroom field test that was undertaken for this research offers a more empirical understanding of digital texts from the important perspectives of students and teachers in the classroom learning community. This research was conducted in a large, suburban high school in the Portland Metropolitan area and compared the experiences of tenth-grade World History classes working with a print text to the experiences of tenth-grade World History classes working digitally. The mixed-methods multiple-case study design addresses the following research questions: a) In what ways, if at all, does a digital text provide high school social studies' students different affordances and academic skills than a printed text? and b) How, if at all, do high school social studies students interact differently with a digital text from a printed text?The analysis of data offered evidence that the use of the digital text supported technological fluency, the creation of more sophisticated learning products, differentiation for multiple learning styles and a more supportive reading experience due to its multimodal features. These unique academic affordances were not equivalently supported by the use of the print text. However, the type of text did not demonstrably influence students' ability to communicate their thinking in analytical writing. The analysis of data also suggested that students were somewhat more cognitively and behaviorally engaged in the digital case studies. Importantly, the digital text did not create a negatively discrepant learning experience for students of color but, rather, supported increased student engagement for both white students and students of color.The data also suggested that the digital text posed significant challenges for both students and teachers. The digital experience required students to learn new and challenging technology skills. The digital text also required more class time and created more classroom management challenges for teachers than the print experience. Despite these additional challenges, both students and teachers expressed a preference for the digital experience. Thus, the digital text seemed to provide both a more challenging and a more rewarding experience for students. This study has implications for educators that are interested in thoughtfully integrating a digital text or, a similar digital technology, in comparable classroom contexts.