Term Paper: Technology in History Classes

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[. . .] Students then divided into the two groups of Loyalists and Rebels and engaged in real-time electronic conferences to debate the issue "Should the colonies go to war with the British?" Students used the transcript of this electronic debate as a source for writing argumentative essays for or against the war. The papers went through an electronically mediated collaborative process where students copied their drafts to e-mail, offered revision feedback to one another, and then made revisions. Other units during Phase 2 included the Constitution, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the westward expansion (ibid).

In Phase 3, the peer tutors joined the ongoing electronic conversations about American history. Five to seven high school students were assigned to each peer tutor. Following a lecture on W.WI, each student researched a particular historical character from the period, used a word processor to write a piece to address a historical issue from a historical figure's point-of-view, and then emailed the papers to university tutors and classmates for a critique. This was followed by online role-playing where students logged onto a real-time electronic conference as their historical figures. During the next class meeting, the electronic transcript of the conference was viewed online while students wrote synthesis statements that were again shared with the tutors.

Surveys conducted at the beginning, middle, and end of the school year indicated that students' learning and attitudes toward writing and the study of history all improved during their participation. On an incoming attitude survey, 56% of students claimed to "hate" writing. After the first semester, students completed a survey similar to the first one except that it consisted of items about the technology. Although 18% of the students still "hated" writing activities, 50% claimed to be good at writing essays and had come to believe that writing was a useful learning tool. They also felt they learned more about writing and about history than in other classes. Many also found the class more interesting and fun, partly because it involved more active learning and "encourage[d] us to come up with our own ideas." Warren concludes, "We were not attempting merely to create an effective technique for teaching American history to basic skills students but rather to transform an educational culture that was traditionally hierarchical, with the teacher as dispenser of objective knowledge and students as the passive receptacles of that knowledge, into an electronic discourse culture that invited students to take more authority for their knowledge and placed literacy at the center of the educational process" (ibid).

Time and time again, it is shown that students can learn a great deal from others their age who have additional expertise. These high school students no doubt looked up to the college tutors and gained from their interest and feedback.

Another way to enhance interest in history is through entertainment, especially the type which high school students will appreciate most -- computer games (Allen, 1998). For example, one teacher used computer simulation when covering the topic of U.S.-Cuban relations. At the beginning of the grading period, the instructor told students that they had to earn enough money to purchase bricks to build an imaginary bridge between two countries. To earn money, pupils had to explore and drill for three different types of oil, worth $5, $10 and $25. The problem was that not all three kinds of fuel were always available in any country and must be obtained from "the other side." Before taking a turn at the computer, each student had to plan a series of actions and messages to the other side. Participants were told how the simulations would work, but not given any strategies.

The simulation could be played with one classroom computer or two or more computers linked with a cable. It was not long before the eight teams on four computers had lost control, bombs were launched and the game ended. During each of the following weeks, the teacher brought in additional materials including informational videos, maps, textbooks and other references. The students began using different approaches such as isolationism, imperialism, guerilla warfare and conflict resolution.

Similarly, another class used a database and different computer operations to follow the events of the Donner Party (Norton, 1998, p129). Pupils had to assume characters of different ages and sexes to determine how they would have reacted in the situation. Afterwards, students had to write up their conclusions and present papers in written and oral form as part of a conference and debate. They challenged and validated each others' findings and then had to compare and contrast their findings with those of historical researchers.

As everyone knows, technology like everything else has its tradeoffs. No one wants youths to sit around and play video and computer games all day. However, the right type of "game" can entertain, involve and instruct students. They learn without even realizing it.

The changes in the way that history is taught, and the specific information being taught, still has a considerable way to go, say educators such as James W. Loewen (1995). In his Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, he noted, "Students typically think of history as not only the most boring but also the most irrelevant subject they take in school. This perception is again directly related to the pedagogical emphasis of many high school history instructors: textbook reading combined with rehearsal and regurgitation of factual material. Students are not exposed to the interpretive dimensions of the discipline when this type of pedagogy dominates. They also miss out on the potential for interest created by examining the "mysteries" posed by actual historical documents.

Technology can help "spice up" a lesson by allowing students to learn in other ways than the traditional read-and-memorize-and-take-test approach. Today's students have been bombarded their whole lives with multimedia, so require more stimulation than a written textbook. However, bells and whistles alone are not enough. It takes the excitement and involvement of the teacher to entice students to want to learn about their heritage. I believe that a teacher who gets up in front of the class and displays his/her deep interest in what is being said through gestures, enthusiastic voice, acting, storytelling etc., can still enthrall students without the added computers and audiovisuals. Most students will remember teachers who made learning contagious through their personal interest. Similarly, a teacher who is bored with instructing and no longer motivated by the topics covered will not excite students regardless of the technology involved. This is especially the case if the electronics are not a critical element of the curricula, but just something thrown in to take up time. The dynamic twosome, therefore, is a teacher who offers both: An interesting lecture style as well as technology that has a purposeful reason for being used. This, as Gardner noted, will open many more windows of learning.


Allen, R. (2001) "Recovering History." The Journal of the New England League of Middle and High Schools. Winter.

Butler, W. (2003) "Writing to learn history online." ERIC Clearinghouse. September.

Cantu, A. (2000). "An Internet-based multiple intelligences model for teaching high school history." Journal of the Ontario History and Social

Science Teachers' Association, Vol. 3, No 2.

Gardner, H. (1999). Intelligence reframed. New York: Basic Books.

Loewen, J. (1995) Lies My Teacher Told Me. New York: New Press.

Norton, P. (1999) Teaching with Technology. New York: Hartcourt Brace.

Warren, W. (1999) "Using the World Wide Web for primary source… [END OF PREVIEW]

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