Finding and Contextualizing Resources: A Digital Literacy Tool's Impact in Ninth-Grade World History

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Louisville]On: 22 December 2014, At: 00:11Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies,Issues and IdeasPublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:

    Finding and Contextualizing Resources: A Digital LiteracyTool's Impact in Ninth-Grade World HistoryAdam M. Friedman a & Tina L. Heafner ba Department of Education, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NCb Department of Middle, University of North Carolina at CharlottePublished online: 07 Aug 2010.

    To cite this article: Adam M. Friedman & Tina L. Heafner (2008) Finding and Contextualizing Resources: A Digital Literacy Tool's Impactin Ninth-Grade World History, The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 82:2, 82-86

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    s the Internet has expanded into mainstream society and schools, teachers and educators have

    praised it for providing instantaneous access to primary and secondary sources that were previously unavailable or difficult and time-consuming to procure (Cohen and Rosenzweig 2006). As students encounter a variety of evidence and multiple perspectives, scholars have encouraged them to engage in inquiry learning, which is the process of asking meaningful questions, find-ing information, drawing conclusions, and reflecting on possible solutions (Levstik and Barton 2001, 13). This type of instruction is the pedagogical approach the National Council for the Social Studies (2008) ideal-

    izes in its vision of powerful teaching and learning in the social studies (Web site); various academics also advocate it (Grant 2003; Levstik and Barton; VanSled-right 2004).

    Despite its potential for transforming social studies instruction and learning, the Internet has not had the impact many envisioned. Rather, social studies research-ers recently argued that a lack of evidence exists in terms of technologys impact on student learning and com-mented on the need to seek to develop the meaningful and powerful studies that will move the field forward (Friedman and Hicks 2006, 252). This call was cor-roborated by the argument that researchers undertake a sustained focus on specific technologies used in social studies classrooms (Lee and Hicks 2006, 414).

    To address both issues, we embarked on a series of three studies (two previous; the present study is the third) to measure technologys effect on short- and long-term student learning (Friedman and Heafner 2007; Heafner and Friedman in press). In the first two studies, we worked with three teachers in two schools to conduct quasiexperimental design studies in which the same teacher taught one period (e.g., fifth period) of the same social studies class as the control and one period (e.g., sixth period) as the test. The teacher taught the control group as he or she normally would, whereas students in the test group developed their own histori-cal exhibitions on the Internet by creating Web sites to demonstrate their understanding of a specific topic (Tally and Goldenburg 2005, 17). In so doing, the test group spent the entire unit in the computer lab using

    Finding and Contextualizing Resources: A Digital Literacy Tools Impact in Ninth-Grade

    World History


    Adam M. Friedman, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Education at Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC. Tina L. Heafner, PhD, is an associate

    professor in the Department of Middle, Secondary, and K12 Education at the Univer-sity of North Carolina at Charlotte. Copyright 2008 Heldref Publications


    Abstract: Although the Internet has been touted as a boon to social studies education, little research exists that documents the impact of using it as a contextual-izing tool for analyzing primary sources and develop-ing Web sites on high school students achievement. In this article, the authors address both issues by using a quasi-experimental design to measure impact on stu-dent achievement. However, there was no appreciable difference in student achievement, and the provided assignment and amount of content that students were expected to learn in the unit of study may have hin-dered higher-order thinking. The authors discuss the implications of these findings.

    Keywords: Internet, online resources, social studies education, student achievement, Web site development



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  • Vol. 82, No. 2 Contextualizing Resources 83

    primary and secondary source documents to answer open-ended, guiding questions to develop Web sites in which they described, explained, and interpreted study unit events. Teachers gave students access to a collection of Internet-based primary sources on various topics in a unit (e.g., the World War II unit had collec-tions for the War in the Pacific, in Europe, and on the home front), all displayed on a single Web page. At the culmination of the unit, teachers gave students in both groups the same unit test to gauge the effect of Web-site development on achievement. The teachers also gave us access to student performance on quizzes, assign-ments, and tests.

    In one section of Study 2, although short-term, stu-dent Web-site development negatively impacted test scores; however, when the same test-group students were interviewed eight months later, they retained more knowledge (Heafner and Friedman in press). In addition, the majority of students in the test group viewed this as a positive experience and stated that they would like to undertake another project of this type in the future. One student stated, Some of the pictures were awesome, while another enjoyed finding cool propaganda posters (Friedman and Heafner 2007, 205). However, at times, a lack of content understand-ing dampened student enthusiasm for the project. In a section of Study 1, although students enjoyed the project, teachers found numerous errors on their Web sites: in one of the most glaring errors, a student had written, Diaries and memories defeated them at the First Battle of the Marne (Friedman and Heafner 2006, 4107). One teacher had serious doubts as to the level of content understanding his students attained as a result of this project, stating that they read the book and take notes, but they copy word for word from the text (Friedman and Heafner 2006, 4107).

    Furthermore, students found the process of locat-ing Internet-based images time consuming and had difficulty contextualizing information. These effects are detrimental to student understanding and ulti-mately to achievement. These findings demonstrate the importance of scaffolding students learning expe-riences because they demonstrate that the analysis and interpretation of primary-source images and text is a difficult process for students, reflecting previous research on the use of the Internet in the social stud-ies classroom (Lee and Clarke 2003; Lipscomb 2002; Milson 2002; Saye and Brush 2006).

    Positive results notwithstanding, student and teacher interviews made it clear that there was room for improve-ment. Therefore, with the goal of slowing down students interaction with primary-source images and text, we developed a Digital Literacy Tool (DLT) for student and teacher use (Tally and Goldenburg 2005, 17). Our data demonstrated that it was necessary to scaffold students learning experiences and provide

    easy and quick access to primary sources. Therefore, the DLT included more than 150 sources and contextual information for each, such as the specific topic, when the source was created, the author or photographer and his or her possible perspective, and at least two other events that occurred in the same time period. In addi-tion, we provided structured analysis questions to help students interpret the primary source. See appendix A for an entry example.

    The goal of Study 2 remained the same: to examine the impact of student-created social studies Web sites on achievement. Using a DLT that was designed on the basis of on our previous research, we hoped to facili-tate student understanding of the unit.

    Study 3: MethodIn Study 3 (the current study), two teachers taught

    two sections each of a standard-level ninth-grade world history course during the Great Wars unit. On the basis of results and feedback from Study 1 and in collabora-tion with the teachers, students were given a detailed list of questions and terms that they should address on each page of their Web site. They were also given direc-tions for the types of primary sources that would be useful in supporting student explanations of important events, people, and resources needed to understand the Great Wars. See appendix B for a sample page from the assignment. We included eight such pages, and teach-ers strongly encouraged students to complete one page per day. We were participant-observers, teaching both test classes technology skills and helping students with content-related questions; in so doing, we collected field notes (Marshall and Rossman 1999).

    ResultsDespite a vivid description of the DLT, examples

    presented at the beginning of the unit, and continual reminders, students did not use the DLT. On the first day of the unit, we taught the class the technical components of developing a Web site (using a wiki), and in so doing, specifically addressed content to be included by using the DLT as well as how to search the DLT. However, this portion of the study can only be characterized as unsuccessful, as the students actions demonstrated an unwillingness to use it.

    On the surface, it appeared that students were work-ing diligently, as we could hear a pin drop in the class-room. Although the students were working on their projects, they were not using the DLT. For example, during the second day of the unit, when it was appar-ent that students were not using the DLT to answer their assigned questions but were instead using Google and Wikipedia, we asked the class to stop working for a few minutes so that we could review how the DLT could be used in their project and subsequently walked around to ask students individually if they needed help




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  • 84 The Clearing House November/December 2008

    using the DLT. Although each of the students appeared to listen and none spoke of the DLT disparagingly to us, it was clear that it was not the students preferred method of obtaining information as they continued to use other Web sites as sources. Unfortunately, this was a recurring pattern throughout the unit. When, on the fourth day of the unit, we asked students why they were not using the DLT, many responded that they were used to certain online sources (wikipedia and answers .com) and were wary of using a different source.

    Implications and RecommendationsAs noted earlier, we asked students to develop a Web

    site to demonstrate their understanding of World War I and II and provided them with an exhaustive list of terms, people, and dates they needed to include on each page. However, it was this meticulous list of items that caused the assignment to become unpopular among students. If the teacher could accelerate student learning by introducing a few terms before the unit was taught or at the beginning of instruction, students would then be more familiar with the terms, people, and dates of which they were going to develop a deeper understanding in the unit. One student said of the DLT, you have to jump around a lot between the informa-tion to find something . . . I dont like that.

    We should also note that Study 3 included the con-tent of two curriculum units (World War I and World War II) combined into a single unit of study in a similar time frame as the first two studies. The assignment and the overwhelming amount of content were problematic in that the majority of students were unable to digest the information covered. Instead, each class session in which students worked on the project, despite almost every student being on task, was an egregious example of glorified information gathering in which students undertook low-level tasks to find the answers to the provided questions (VanFossen 1999/2000, 104).

    The main finding from Study 3 is that a detailed assignment in which students are responsible for a variety of names and dates does not produce higher-order thinking, despite that being the goal we hoped to reach by requiring them to analyze images and docu-ments to create an understanding of World War I and II. Instead, the students became caught up in what they needed to complete to receive a good grade (the list), rather than engaging in higher-order thinking. How-ever, this is a difficult proposition, because students need to be familiar with basic facts to develop a deeper understanding; it was further complicated by taking place in a survey course such as world history, because there is a good deal of content to cover in a short time period. Therefore, we recommend that a future study be completed during a concentrated historical unit of study and that the corresponding assignment be modi-fied, so that rather than identifying people, dates, and

    battles, students are given questions that encourage them to think about events and extrapolate from them. Decreasing the amount of content wo...