Marri, A. R. (2005). Educational technology as a tool for multicultural democratic education:c
The case of one US history teacher in an underresourced high school. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education [Online serial], 4(4). Available: http://www.citejournal.org/vol4/iss4/socialstudies/article1.cfm
Addressing current issues in social studies education, this paper illustrates
the ways in which educational technology may promote active and effective citizenship
among racially and ethnically diverse students in underresourced schools. Applying
the multicultural democratic education framework developed earlier (Marri, in
press; Marri, 2003a; Marri, 2003b), this study examined one high school US history
teacher’s pedagogy and incorporation of educational technology in a public
high school with significant technological resource restraints. (For the purposes
of this paper, educational technology is being defined as the Internet,
multimedia such as film, and word-processing applications such as PowerPoint).
This paper suggests that educational technology can, in fact, facilitate two
of the three elements in the multicultural democratic education framework: critical
pedagogy and thorough disciplinary content. The author also posits that the
potential exists for educational technology to assist in building of community
(the third element of the multicultural democratic education framework) in the
classroom, provided that sufficient and quality resources are available.
Two rationales undergird the study. First, social studies education’s
mission of preparing active and effective citizens (National Council for the
Social Studies, 1994) may be aided through an incorporation of educational technology
in multicultural democratic education. Second, there has been a lack of social
studies education scholarship on effective uses of educational technology in
underresourced schools, and this study aims to shed light in this area. Social
studies educators have been traditionally charged with educating students for
active and effective citizenship (National Council of the Social Studies [NCSS],
1994). This charge has become more important as United States citizenry becomes
increasingly politically disengaged and more racially/ethnically diverse. Data
on voting rates and polls in the United States clearly shows that political
disengagement continues to increase to unprecedented levels, especially among
youth (18 to 24 year olds). Concurrently, the number of racial/ethnic minorities1
is rising, and unfortunately, members of these racial/ethnic minorities tend
to be more politically disengaged than the general US population, as evidenced
by lower voting rates.
Several social studies educators have argued for a reconceptualization of democratic
education to transform this racially/ethnically diverse politically disengaged
population into an active and effective citizenry (Banks, 2001; Marri, 2003b;
Parker, 1996). Similarly, an increasing number of scholars have also held that
educational technology is necessary in social studies classrooms to teach students
the skills of active and effective citizenship (Berson, 2000; Crocco, 2001;
Glenn, 1990; Martorella, 1997). Thus, this study addresses these two trends
by examining how educational technology may aid multicultural democratic education
in its mission of educating for active and effective citizenry.
Further, this study considers the increased focus on using educational technology
by social studies educators (Crocco & Cramer, 2004; Whitworth & Berson,
2003). The growth in the number of articles on this subject between 1996 and
2001 in publications affiliated with the National Council of the Social Studies
(NCSS) and the US Department of Education serves as evidence. This trend is
hardly surprising in light of the national priority of technology instruction
in the schools over the last decade (Crocco & Cramer, 2004). However, even
with increased educational technology implementation in schools, there remains
a dearth of studies examining effective uses of educational technology in underresourced
classrooms, particularly in social studies. Because of this lack of research,
this study attempts to document teaching practices and technology use in an
underresourced high school US history classroom.
This paper begins with the research question and an explication of the study’s
theoretical framework. A description of the methodology follows. Next, the findings
for the study are discussed: (a) the teacher’s use of the Internet and
film as primary informational resources as he created lessons that emphasized
critical and multiple perspectives and (b) educational technology serves as
a tool to promote critical thinking skills and the skills to effectively attain
and manage information. Educational implications are then examined before concluding
The research question for this paper asks, “How did a skilled high school
US history teacher use educational technology as a tool for multicultural
democratic education?” In answering this question through a case study
(as described in Stake, 1995), this paper aims to generate pedagogical examples
for implementation in other high school social studies classrooms.
Data on this teacher was collected as part of a larger study on three skilled
social studies teachers and Classroom-Based Multicultural Democratic Education
(CMDE; Marri, in press). The theoretical framework used was also developed from
this larger study. For the purposes of this paper, the data are analyzed specifically
to examine his incorporation of educational technology in his multicultural
democratic education pedagogy.
Multicultural democratic education, simply put, is a combination of democratic
and multicultural education. It aims
to improve race relations and to help all students acquire the knowledge,
attitudes, and skills needed to participate in cross-cultural interactions
and in personal, social, and civic action that will help make our
nation more democratic and [italics added] just. (Banks, 2003, p.
Multicultural democratic education begins in the classroom because, as Cuban
(1984) stated, true long-lasting educational reform must start in the classroom.
It consists of three elements – critical pedagogy, building of community,
and thorough disciplinary content – each of which is explained in the
Critical pedagogy engages students in social problem solving by enabling them
to think about which problems are worth solving, according to whom, to what
ends, and in whose favor (Ball, 2000; Freire, 1990; Parker, 2001). Critical
pedagogy works on a continuum and encourages students to move toward action
and human agency (Ball, 2000; Freire, 1990) by applying agency through critical
thinking in the classroom, then through individual social action, and finally
through group social action.
At the first stage of this continuum, teachers encourage students to exercise
agency within the classroom. Teachers may, for example, use inquiry
lessons or discussions with the goal of fostering critical thinkers. Several
studies provide evidence that an emphasis on critical thinking may encourage
democratic values among students. Torney, Oppenheim, and Faren (1975) found
that students in nine countries who engaged in critical thinking activities
such as discussion of contemporary issues were politically knowledgeable and
held less authoritarian attitudes than did their peers who did not engage in
critical thinking activities. Hahn (2001) also found that practice in decision-making
after exposure to various viewpoints is essential to develop the knowledge,
abilities, and values needed for democratic life. Moreover, civic action, if
it does not grow out of critical thinking, may reinforce political naiveté
or apathy (Hahn, 2001). Civic action based on critical thinking, however, has
the potential to engage citizens working to improve society.
At the next stage, moving to a larger domain, students may be encouraged to
exercise agency outside the classroom (Ball, 2000), such as the school itself.
Students may, for example, work to have the school send newsletters and flyers
in multiple languages to help parents/guardians who may not understand English.
During the final stage, where group action is enabled (Ball, 2000), students
may be encouraged to work with others to address community problems. Teachers,
students, and parents, for instance, can organize to have a mobile satellite
library to serve neglected sections of the community.
Building of Community
Building of community means teachers create a climate of mutual respect to
help students build positive relationships, resolve conflicts, and develop group
problem-solving skills (Browing, Davis, & Retsa, 2000; Nelsen, Lott, &
Glenn, 2000). Through this element students are encouraged to engage in discussion
and interact socially with other students from different racial, ethnic, cultural,
and language groups to build understanding. Teachers can structure cooperative
groups that enable students from different racial and ethnic groups to become
acquainted as individuals (Banks, 2000). This is important because, as Dewey
(1916) stated, it is by associating and resolving issues with people whose views
are different from one’s own that democracy is learned. Even in homogenous
classrooms, based either on race, class, or gender, teachers can create cooperative
groups that allow students to be seen as individuals, instead of representatives
of a specific grouping.
Thorough Disciplinary Content
The principle of thorough disciplinary content contains two complementary elements.
First, this principle emphasizes teaching the mainstream academic knowledge,
behaviors, and values that reflect views accepted by the subject area or discipline.
“Most of the knowledge that constitutes the established canon in the nation’s
schools, colleges, and universities is mainstream academic knowledge”
(Banks, 1995, p. 393). Simply put, mainstream academic knowledge provides students
with the “codes of power” (Delpit, 1988) that students need to thrive
in schools, colleges, and universities.
In addition to mainstream academic knowledge, thorough disciplinary content
also incorporates transformative academic knowledge. “Transformative academic
knowledge consists of concepts, paradigms, themes, and explanations that challenge
mainstream academic knowledge and that expand the historical and literary canon”
(Banks, 1995, p. 394). Students are exposed to multiple perspectives and multiple
cases on a given subject matter. Content is presented that challenges the notion
that traditional interpretations are “universalistic and unrelated to
human interests” (Collins, 1990). Teachers provide students with the content
that illustrates more than the traditional viewpoint. Transformative academic
knowledge emphasizes the content that questions and critiques the standard views
accepted by the dominant society.
Educational Technology as a Tool
The study used this multicultural democratic education framework to analyze
one teacher’s pedagogy. To examine the incorporation of educational technology
into his pedagogy, this study conceptualized educational technology as a tool
in the context of larger societal structures (Berson, Lee, & Stuckart, 2001).
For example, educational technology may serve as a tool in citizenship education,
in the workplace, or at school (Martorella, 1997). In particular, educational
technology in schools can provide information, aid in the development of knowledge
and skills, and link different locations (Knapp & Glenn, 1996). This conceptualization
of education technology as a collection of tools fits with the most common notions
of technology in social studies education (Berson, et al., 2001).
The public high school US history teacher selected for this study fulfilled
the following criteria:
- He provided equitable opportunities for all students to learn through integrating
multiple sources of information.
- He used multiple perspectives in his teaching.
- He encouraged students to expand learning beyond the classroom.
- He was involved in professional development activities.
These four criteria were viewed as a proxy for “good” teaching
(Lightfoot, 1983). Good teachers, in this sense, are teachers whose work “might
tell us about the myriad definitions of educational success and how it is achieved”
(Lightfoot, 1983, p. 11). It was determined that the teacher met the criteria
based on preliminary observations of his teaching, recommendations of the district
social studies curriculum director, recommendations from other teachers and
administrators, and involvement in professional development activities. Because
he met these criteria, he was classified as a skilled teacher.
Data Generation and Analysis
Observations of his teaching took place for twenty-nine 50-minute class periods
during the course of a unit of study. He was also interviewed three times: at
the start of the unit, midway though the unit, and after the completion of observations.
Finally, teacher-generated materials such as handouts, quizzes, exams, and projects
were collected and analyzed. Students were not interviewed nor was any student-generated
material collected, as the study did not focus on students. The present study
analyzed the data to create codes and categories of data through line-by-line
inductive coding (as in Miles & Huberman, 1984).
This section contextualizes the study with a description of Homestead School
District, the teacher, Will Sinclair, and description of the Seventh Avenue
School where he teaches (all pseudonyms). These descriptions aid in the understanding
of the teacher’s characteristics and the environment in which he teaches.
A description of a snapshot lesson, which best captures his curriculum and pedagogy,
The Homestead School District is the second largest in a Midwestern state,
serving approximately 25,000 students. Its 54 schools include 32 elementary
(K-5) schools, 13 middle (6-8) schools, four comprehensive high schools, and
five alternative high schools. The district also has early childhood programs
and secondary (6-12) alternative programs located at its 54 schools. The district
covers approximately 65 square miles, including all or part of 11 towns, villages,
Will Sinclair is a White seventh-year social studies teacher in his mid-30s.
After working in a local bookstore for several years, Mr. Sinclair decided to
enroll in a teaching certificate program in social studies education. He was
inspired by Jonathan Kozol’s (1991) Savage Inequalities. He stated,
How we could have an area where kids obviously are getting a better deal,
and simply because of where they lived? I mean, they were getting better resources
and they were getting, for the most part, better teaching in these schools.
It really took something special to get across the importance of school to
kids and how school can be a wonderful place. I thought, “Well this
is one way I can affect the world, one way I can make a difference.”
Mr. Sinclair started teaching at Seventh Avenue School as a student teacher
and became a full-time teacher there upon completion of his program.
Seventh Avenue School
The Seventh Avenue School (SAS), an alternative school, provides a four-semester
sequence of academic courses and related work experiences that emphasize a core
academic curriculum for each semester. The school’s mission is to provide
a program for academically struggling students that focuses on completion of
requirements for a high school diploma while learning skills needed for independent
adult living, citizenship, and work. Academic courses are scheduled for the
first half of the day at the school. Students spend the other half of each day
working at different work sites away from the school building.
SAS is an underresourced alternative public high school, especially in terms
of educational technology. Neither Mr. Sinclair nor his students had access
to computers in their classroom. Instead, these students shared a computer lab
of 10 computers with the 45 other students who attended SAS. Because there were
only 10 computers for 15 students in his class, students were forced to share.
At times, because of malfunctioning computers, student access to these computers
was additionally restricted during class time. Further, since most students
did not own personal computers, SAS provided the only regular access to computers
for these students.
Mr. Sinclair’s fourth semester class consisted of 15 students who started
as a cohort at the SAS together as first semester students, meaning that these
students have had the same classes for the last year and a half. There were
10 females (6 White, 1 African-American, 1 Native American/African-American,
1 Hispanic, and 1 Asian-American) and 5 males (4 White and 1 Hispanic) in this
class. They all arrived at SAS with zero to five credits (a very low number)
after 2 years at a comprehensive high school. His students also had experienced
situations atypical for high school students. For example, five students were
parents, and several lived on their own. According to Mr. Sinclair, virtually
all of the students were on the low end of the socioeconomic scale.
Mr. Sinclair taught a 1-month-long unit on the Civil Rights Movement. This
snapshot lesson, which occurred over 3 days, captures his typical pedagogy during
the course of the unit. The lesson focused on the reasons for Martin Luther
King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” beginning with a PowerPoint
presentation of eight pictures of the events following the 1964 disappearance
and murder of three civil right workers (James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael
Schwerner) in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Every student was expected to verbally
answer “W” questions (who? what? why? where? and when?) about each
picture. Mr. Sinclair recorded these verbal answers using the speaker notes
box in PowerPoint and projected these answers on a screen. Based on the answers
provided by the class, students were expected to hypothesize about what the
pictures have in common. Mr. Sinclair led a discussion about their answers and
After this discussion, Mr. Sinclair posted an Internet Web page on the projector
showing the chronology of events from the trial of those involved in the murder
of the three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Through these
exercises, Mr. Sinclair pointed out the major events and activists involved,
along with highlighting the historical tension between African-Americans and
Whites in the southern US. These exercises enabled students to synthesize their
own hypotheses and understanding in light of actual events.
The next day, Mr. Sinclair projected a PowerPoint slide of a famous picture
of Elizabeth Eckford (a 15-year-old African-American girl and one of the "Little
Rock Nine,” the nine African-American students who integrated Central
High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957) with books in her hands, being
yelled at by several White men and women as she walked to school. Students individually
examined this picture by providing their verbal interpretation of the picture:
“They don’t like her,” “She’s going to school,”
and “She could get beat up.” Similar to the previous day’s
lesson, Mr. Sinclair posted students’ answers on the screen before further
reviewing the history of the Little Rock Nine and desegregation at Little Rock’s
Central High School. During this review, one of the students pointed out that
the White woman heckling Elizabeth Eckford, Hazel Bryan Massery, later publicly
apologized for her actions. Mr. Sinclair added, “Elizabeth Eckford now
questions whether it [the fight for desegregation] was worth it because of rising
segregation today.” To illuminate his point and to connect the past with
the present, he created an inquiry lesson on Homestead’s current housing
and school segregation, which the students investigated using figures found
on Web sites of local newspapers, the city government, and the school district.
To end the second day, Mr. Sinclair told students that they would study Martin
Luther King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail” the following
day. Further contextualizing the historical letter, Mr. Sinclair showed a part
of Spike Lee’s documentary, Four Little Girls. This film focused
on the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama,
an attack that left four African-American girls dead. Following the showing,
Mr. Sinclair highlighted several facts evident from the documentary: Spike Lee
juxtaposed white and black viewpoints, Birmingham was commonly referred to as
“Bombingham,” and the citizens shared the sentiment that even Birmingham’s
streets, sewers, and water were segregated.
On the third day, Mr. Sinclair led a seminar in which the students examined
the text of “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” Three questions served
as the basis for this seminar: How did Dr. King respond to being called an “outside
agitator” in Birmingham? How did Dr. King respond to charges that his
followers were breaking the law? How did Dr. King feel about being labeled an
“extremist” by his critics? Raising these questions, Mr. Sinclair
pointed out,“No one knows for certain ‘The Answers.’ That’s
why we need this discussion.”
Students prepared for the seminar during class in two ways. First, they wrote
individual responses to quotes in the letter that they found interesting or
that helped clarify Dr. King’s ideas. Second, the students, in teacher-selected
groups of four, discussed the letter through an examination of whether Dr. King
justified breaking laws and whether a law-breaker expresses respect for law
by breaking it. After these preparations, Mr. Sinclair led a seminar discussion
of the text.
Seeking to further understand how technology can be used in social studies
classrooms, this paper examines the ways in which a skilled high social studies
teacher used educational technology as a tool for multicultural democratic education.
This section maps the multicultural democratic education lens onto Mr. Sinclair’s
teaching described earlier, along with additional data obtained from interviews
and other artifacts. Even with significant technology resource restraints, Mr.
Sinclair was able to incorporate technology into two of the three elements of
multicultural democratic education (critical pedagogy and thorough disciplinary
content). Further exploring these practices, this section discusses his attempts
to incorporate educational technology into his pedagogical efforts at multicultural
As discussed previously, critical pedagogy encourages students to move toward
human agency (Ball, 2000; Freire, 1990) by exercising agency through critical
thinking, through individual social action, and through group social action.
Using the Internet as a vehicle for information enabled Mr. Sinclair to promote
critical thinking, which is the beginning stage of the critical pedagogy continuum.
Mr. Sinclair’s pedagogy did not promote individual social action or group
social action. A discussion of why individual or group social action was not
promoted is beyond the scope of this paper (for a more extensive discussion
on the lack of promotion of social action, see Marri, 2003b). This section analyzes
Mr. Sinclair’s pedagogical aims to advance critical thinking and the ways
educational technology facilitated this process.
Critical thinking may be defined as a process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing,
applying, analyzing, synthesizing, or evaluating information gathered from,
or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication
(Scriven & Paul, 1996). The NCSS (1994) endorsed critical thinking as an
essential skill “that should be promoted in an excellent social studies
program” (p. 7).
Mr. Sinclair utilized educational technology as a tool in several ways to promote
critical thinking. First, because critical thought requires information, Mr.
Sinclair used the Internet as an information-gathering tool to create lessons
because he wanted to provide multiple perspectives and he lacked text resources.
He presented viewpoints from both Whites and African-Americans while studying
both the events surrounding the 1964 murder of civil rights workers in Philadelphia,
Mississippi, and desegregation. This approach contrasts with most textbooks
that provide only one viewpoint. During the interviews, Mr. Sinclair suggested
that the availability of sources on the Internet enabled him to incorporate
this information into his pedagogy. The Internet as an information-gathering
tool also proved especially important to Mr. Sinclair because he taught at SAS,
an underresourced public school. SAS often did not provide Mr. Sinclair regular
access to curricular resources (textbooks, supplemental readings, etc.) otherwise
available to better-resourced schools. As a result, the Internet became his
primary informational source as he created lessons for his students. Although
the school could not provide textbooks, Mr. Sinclair was still able to access
information necessary to practice critical pedagogy through the Internet.
Next, Mr. Sinclair used the Internet as a data instrument to promote critical
thinking with his students. As mentioned earlier, when a student mentioned that
Elizabeth Eckford now questioned whether the fight for integration was worth
the effort, Mr. Sinclair directed the students to investigate segregation in
the city of Homestead. He created an inquiry lesson in which teams of students
using shared computers gathered and analyzed data from various Web sites of
local newspapers, the city government, school districts, and nongovernmental
organizations to examine Homestead’s population demographics. Students
were not expected to find the “right” answers according to Mr. Sinclair.
Instead, they interpreted data available from the Internet to draw their own
conclusions, both essential critical thinking skills (Berson, et al., 2001).
Access to the Internet enabled Mr. Sinclair to encourage the development of
such higher order skills in his students and, by way of that, individual agency
in the classroom.
Building of Community
Unfortunately, the “digital divide” (Compaine, 2001) prevented
Mr. Sinclair from incorporating educational technology to facilitate the building
of community. However, educational technology was not necessary for him to build
community. Ideally, Mr. Sinclair could have used Internet discussion platforms
and email exchanges to aid the building of community with his students. For
example, asynchronous electronic threaded discussions can potentially make discourse
more egalitarian and less focused on the status, power, or culture of students
(Larson, 2003). Such discussions could have also allowed typically unheard students
to have a “voice” (Larson, 2003; Merryfield, 2000; Sproull &
Kiesler, 1991). His students, for the most part, did not have regular access
to a computer and the Internet outside of school. As mentioned earlier, SAS
represented the only venue of access for these students. As a result, students
could not regularly participate in these Internet-based activities. Even during
class time, the lack of educational technology resources at SAS served as an
obstacle for such discussions because there simply were not enough computers
for all of the students to use. Recognizing these realities, Mr. Sinclair relied
on the Internet to gather information for curriculum that drew on students’
experiences and lives in the building of community.
Even without the aid of educational technology, Mr. Sinclair created a comfortable
classroom environment that had a strong sense of community. To build community,
he used activities and discussions that helped students see each other as individuals,
rather than representatives of larger groups, with the goal of understanding
each other. For example, during the seminar discussion, he frequently referred
to where the students lived and attempted to tie in the curriculum to their
family, friends, or work life. This was important because these students lived
in many different neighborhoods in the city of Homestead. They came from various
cultural, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds and, for the most part, did
not socialize with others outside of this class because of work and family obligations.
According to Mr. Sinclair, despite their differences, he wanted to stress the
importance of this class as “a public space where they get together with
others to learn.” Because of his methods, students were exposed to a variety
of perspectives that moved beyond stereotypes and allowed them to see each other’s
personal stake in the issue at hand. For example, students asked vocal students
to be quiet to make sure all of their peers had a chance to speak, even if an
opposing viewpoint was expressed.
Unlike in the other two elements of multicultural democratic education, educational
technology was not a factor in the building of community in Mr. Sinclair’s
classroom, illustrating that the building of community can occur in classrooms
without the aid of such technology. This example points to the need for further
research that examines ways in which educational technology either fosters or
inhibits the development of classroom community.
Thorough Disciplinary Content
Mr. Sinclair used educational technology in three ways to promote thorough
disciplinary content: emphasis on critical perspectives, infusion of multiple
perspectives, and acquisition of a “code of power.” These three
examples demonstrate the ways in which educational technology can be used to
accomplish multiple goals. First, Mr. Sinclair’s strength lay in incorporating
critical perspectives that question and critique the standard views accepted
by the dominant society. Mr. Sinclair stressed critical perspectives by, for
example, looking at the fight for desegregation. In his teaching about the Little
Rock Nine, Mr. Sinclair pointed out that segregation in the United States was
not just a historical event as it is commonly referred to in most US history
textbooks. To overcome this misconception, he included Homestead’s housing
statistics highlighting race/ethnicity. As mentioned earlier, Mr. Sinclair’s
students, using the Internet, also investigated the current state of segregation
in Homestead. He aimed to show how segregation continues to be a current issue
facing citizens today and did not end with the victories of the Civil Rights
Second, Mr. Sinclair emphasized multiple perspectives (based on race/ethnicity,
class, and gender) and interjected stories from different groups to make the
content more complete. For example, when discussing Dr. King’s letter,
he provided comments from a variety of groups, such as African-Americans who
lived in Birmingham, other African-American community leaders, Whites from Birmingham,
and the Ku Klux Klan. In addition, showing Spike Lee’s documentary, Four
Little Girls, allowed many voices to be heard and exposed students to the
idea that the movement did not have a single unified idea behind it. Instead,
students learned that a variety of perspectives played a role. Through the incorporation
of educational technology, film in this case, Mr. Sinclair aimed to go beyond
the “well, this happened and that happened” method of teaching history
because his students found this approach boring and not worthwhile. Further,
because his students had not been successful in traditional school settings,
Mr. Sinclair sought to move away from the “facts and dates” method
of teaching history. Using film and other Internet sources enabled him to craft
his pedagogy to meet this multiple perspectives goal.
Third, while Mr. Sinclair stressed transformative academic knowledge, he limited
the emphasis on mainstream or traditional academic knowledge. Because Mr. Sinclair
did not stress traditional academic knowledge, his students were not completely
prepared with established canons found in most textbooks and US history classrooms.
Instead, he stressed “codes of power” that students needed to succeed
in traditional academic settings. According to Delpit (1995), codes of power,
such as ways of talking, ways of writing, ways of dressing, and ways of interacting,
serve as rules for participating in power. Thus, success in institutions –
such as school and the workplace – requires the acquisition of these norms
of power. By explicitly teaching the codes of power, teachers aid students in
gaining the knowledge and skills to succeed in the larger society.
Mr. Sinclair placed importance on students’ gaining the skills to work
with written texts, pictures, audio recordings, music, and film clips. For him,
working with educational technology was a code of power that students needed.
According to the NCSS (1994), acquiring and manipulating data means that teachers
aim to “increase the student’s ability to read, study, search for
information, use social science technical vocabulary and methods, and use computers
and other electronic media” (p. 8). He expected students to engage with
information in order to understand it and incorporate other evidence from their
own research. For example, Mr. Sinclair’s students relied on Internet-based
research for their investigations. For this to occur, he taught students, even
with limited access to computers and the Internet, how to conduct effective
and efficient research on the Internet. Such a skill becomes especially important
given the proliferation of low-quality Internet sites with little education
value. Teaching this skill was meant to help students effectively navigate various
data sources both in and out of school. For instance, knowledge of navigating
the Internet is a critical skill that enables a person to have more access to
gainful employment (Peck, Cuban, & Kirkpatrick, 2002).
As such, Mr. Sinclair provided his students with the skills for economic empowerment,
Using as its framework a conception of multicultural democratic education,
overall this study aims to help social studies educators foster active and effective
citizens. Further application of that framework analyzes the ways in which Mr.
Sinclair used educational technology to facilitate multicultural democratic
education. It found that Mr. Sinclair used educational technology in several
specific ways. Mr. Sinclair used the Internet and film as primary informational
resources as he created lessons emphasizing critical and multiple perspectives.
In addition, educational technology served as a tool for him to teach critical
thinking skills and the skills to attain and manage information effectively.
Even though Mr. Sinclair’s use of educational technology may seem simplistic,
these findings are important in several ways.
To begin with, this study highlights some of the obstacles faced by teachers
who aim to incorporate educational technology in underresourced schools. Rather
than reporting on the increasing numbers of models of pedagogy incorporating
educational technology in resource-rich schools, this paper presents such models
in less than optimal conditions. In addition, this study provides educational
technology-based pedagogical examples that emphasize higher order skills rather
than drill and practice programs, which are so common in underresourced schools
(MacGillis, 2004). For example, Mr. Sinclair’s practice stressed critical
thinking and data manipulation skills that may enable his students’ abilities
to work with information both in and out of school. His practice provides illustrations
of how educational technology may be used to promote such skills in schools
with significant resource constraints.
Some scholars have questioned whether computers can promote collaboration (Oppenheimer,
1997; Tiene, 2000; Warschauer, 1997). This study also raises questions about
educational technology’s ability to develop communities in underresourced
classrooms. Mr. Sinclair illustrated that community can be effectively developed
without the aid of educational technology. However, the digital divide, like
the one found in Mr. Sinclair’s classroom, calls attention to potential
problems occurring when not enough exists for all students to use computers
regularly. Such situations may lead to increased competition among students,
as well as potential disputes over access (Berson et al., 2001), which may undermine
the building of community in classrooms with limited educational technology.
Teacher educators may want to share this study with preservice teachers to
help them think about possible interactions between teachers’ rationale,
educational technology, instructional plans and strategies, practice, and contexts.
By doing so, teacher educators would be working to help preservice teachers
think about the purpose of teaching for active and effective citizenship in
complex ways. For example, Mr. Sinclair’s building of community emphasized
activities that helped students see each other as individuals with the goal
of understanding across racial/ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic boundaries.
Such pedagogical examples may help preservice teachers grasp the reality that
teaching students to become active and effective citizens in these diverse United
States is a challenging enterprise that requires intense preparation and focus.
Finally, this study may help teacher educators make the link between critical
pedagogy and implementation in actual classrooms for practitioners. Advocates
of critical pedagogy press teachers to help students become critical thinkers,
decision makers, and transformers of their current life situations (Giroux
& McLaren, 1994). However, several scholars have criticized critical
pedagogy for its lack of applicability to classrooms. The inaccessible language
of critical pedagogy made it difficult for practitioners to make links between
the rhetoric of critical pedagogy and its implementation within actual classrooms
(Ball, 2000). Ellsworth (1989) also criticized
the literature on critical pedagogy because of its lack of usefulness in assisting
educators to think through and plan improvements in actual classroom practice.
The classroom practices described in this study can aid teacher educators to
operationalize such a philosophy for their own students. For example, Mr. Sinclair’s
emphasis on critical perspectives, infusion of multiple perspectives, and acquisition
of a code of power illustrate how critical pedagogy might be actually implemented
in racially, ethnically, culturally, and socioeconomically diverse classrooms.
Will Sinclair, a skilled United States history teacher, taught at an underresourced
alternative high school that served academically struggling students. Mr. Sinclair
created interdisciplinary curricular units, combining psychology, English, and
US history, that closely mirrored his conceptions of the knowledge and skills
his students needed for active and effective citizenship. During one such unit,
entitled Civil Rights Movement, Mr. Sinclair used educational technology as
a tool for multicultural democratic education. His practice illuminated how
to implement multicultural democratic education with educational technology,
especially in underresourced schools. In addition, his pedagogy provides classroom
examples for teacher educators and both preservice and in-service teachers.
Additional studies that critically examine multicultural democratic education
are needed because the US continues to foster a racially/ethnically diverse
politically disengaged population. Education technology may aid educators in
this mission. However, given the continual existence of the digital divide and
underresourced schools, educators must proceed with caution to explore these
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I would like to acknowledge Maria Scott Cormier, Jonathan Davis, Jeff Walker,
and the editors of CITE Journal for their thoughtful feedback on this paper.
Teachers College, Columbia University
- I use the definition by the US Census Bureau in
the 2000 Census for defining racial/ethnic minorities. Racial/ethnic minorities
are persons of Hispanic origin, Blacks, American Indians, Eskimos, Aleuts,
Asians, and Pacific Islanders.