Swan, K., & Locascio, D. (2008). Alignment of technology and primary source use
within a history classroom<. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 8(2). Retrieved from http://www.citejournal.org/vol8/iss2/currentpractice/article1.cfm
Evaluating Alignment of Technology and Primary Source Use
Within a History Classroom
University of Kentucky
Many researchers in the social studies have supported the
use of primary sources in history classrooms as a support for historical
inquiry. Although primary sources have become accessible via the Internet,
simply using digital primary sources, does not automatically translate into
historical thinking or technology best practice. Consequently, an evaluation
matrix was constructed for one study to gauge the fidelity of primary source
use according to three domains, curriculum content, instructional
processes, and student products or outcomes. In this article, the researchers
provide background information on the development of the evaluation matrix,
present the instrument, and evaluate its effectiveness in categorizing both
primary source and technology usage.
The chief value of technology lies, therefore, in providing
the leverage so urgently needed for moving social studies instruction away from
passive, teacher-dominated approaches emphasizing recall and regurgitation
toward active student centered forms of learning demanding critical and
conceptual thinking from all students at all levels. (Crocco, 2001, p. 2)
Researchers in the teaching and learning of history advocate
instructional approaches that engage students in the process of “doing”
history, including building historical knowledge through the use of primary
sources, conducting historical inquiry, and encouraging students to think
historically (Kobrin, 1996; Levstik & Barton, 2001; van Hover & Yeager,
2002; Wineburg, 1991). This approach encourages students to raise questions and
to marshal solid evidence in support of their answers; to go beyond the facts
presented in their textbooks and examine the historical record for themselves;
to consult documents, journals, diaries, artifacts, historic sites, works of
art, quantitative data, and other evidence from the past, and to do so
account the historical context in which these records were created and
comparing the multiple points of view of those on the scene at the time to
build understandings of historical significance (Levstik, 1996; Seixas, 1996;
Wineburg, 1991; Yeager & Davis, 1996).
For history teachers wanting to embrace historical thinking
processes in the social studies classroom, there is much promise. In response
to the greater demand for primary and secondary resources, Web sites or
archives of historic documents created by libraries, universities, and
government agencies have proliferated. These sites allow teachers to access and
download documents free of charge for use in the social studies classroom. By
allowing students to explore the raw materials of the past, digital history
sites, as well as the use of complementary technologies, have the potential to
engage students actively in the construction and interpretation of history
(Ayers, 1999; Braun & Rissinger, 1999; Tally,
However, using primary sources does not
automatically translate into historical thinking (Swan & Hicks, 2007).
Rather, it is the teacher who juxtaposes documents against one another, who
asks critical thinking questions of a document, or who elicits the bias or
perspective of the author of the document that allows students to practice
historical inquiry skills. As the quote in beginning of this article suggests,
technology has the potential for facilitating these processes, but it is the
teacher who leverages the technology to conduct historical inquiry in the
To date, little research has been done within this framework
of intersection between historical thinking and technology in the history
classroom (Swan & Hofer, 2008). As researchers wanting to explore this
relationship, we constructed an evaluation matrix that would aid in
categorizing observational data for one qualitative study of three secondary American
history teachers and their uses of primary sources. In this article, we provide
background information on the development of the evaluation matrix, present the
instrument, and evaluate its effectiveness in categorizing both primary source
and technology usage.
Developing the Tool
Miles and Huberman (1994) stated, “A conceptual framework
explains, either graphically or in narrative form, the main things to be
studied – the key factors, constructs or variables – and the presumed
relationships among them” (p. 18). The development of the conceptual framework
for the study, grounded in the literature on the efforts to bring technology
and primary sources into history education, helped to provide a focus for the
inquiry and means to display the data for analysis. Embedded within the
framework are foundational premises about the relationship between technology
and the teaching of history.
Students’ technology skills need to be more than a distinct
and often disconnected goal of the curriculum (International Society for
Technology in Education, 2007; Mason et al., 2000), but also an embedded
support for instructional designs that move beyond teacher-centered,
textbook-driven approaches and toward models in which students are more
actively involved in their learning (Doolittle & Hicks, 2003; Harris, 1995;
Mason et al., 2000; van Hover, Berson, Bolick, & Swan, 2004). Ideally, the
technology is employed not only to invite student engagement, but to broaden
and deepen student understandings through the purposeful acquisition and
assembly of materials to guide students’ learning and encourage independent
According to Crocco (2001), technology-infused pedagogy is evident in
“classrooms that foster questioning, challenging, and reflecting by all students”
(p. 388). Incorporating the technology without framing it in sound pedagogy
runs the risk of “investing a great deal of time, attention, and money to
educationally marginal means” (Crocco, 2001, p. 387). More recently, Crocco’s
argument has been echoed in the development of Technological Pedagogical
Content Knowledge (TPCK; Mishra & Koehler, 2006).
In the area of history instruction, the interpretive student
stance advocated by Crocco is wholly consistent with the broader orientation
toward disciplined inquiry and historical thinking advanced by Levstik and
Barton (2001) and others (Kobrin 1996; van Hover & Yeager, 2002, Wineburg,
1991). The second premise holds that an orientation toward historical thinking
is valid and desirable and can be uniquely supported by technology at several
pedagogical stages (Brush & Saye, 2000; Hicks, Doolittle, & Lee, 2004;
Hofer & Swan, 2006; Lee & Calandra, 2004; Saye & Brush, 1999; Swan
& Hicks, 2007). The National Standards for History (National Center
for History in Schools, NCHIS, 1996) characterized a set of five core skills
under the broad concept of historical thinking; these include chronological
thinking, historical comprehension, historical analysis and interpretation,
historical research capabilities and historical issues-analysis and
decisionmaking. From these historical habits of mind historiography, the
writing of history, proceeds (Holt, 1995; Levstik & Barton, 2001; Van
Students are exposed to the ways historians use text-based
and nontext primary sources, relics, and artifacts as building blocks in the
historiographic process. The goals of the history curriculum encompass
the narrative explanation of historical events, as well as the consideration of
broader structures and themes and the inclusion of historiographic processes
referred to by Leinhardt (1993) as metasystems.
When such metasystemic
processes are appropriately scaled and applied to the classroom use of
historical sources, students are expected to frame historical questions, look
for and evaluate evidence, identify viewpoints, make connections across
sources, assess relevance, draw inferences from text and nontext resources, and
develop plausible historical narrative of their own (Barton, 2001). Technology
can play several roles in this multistep process, serving as a repository from
which sources can be acquired, a platform through which the sources can be
delivered and evaluated, and a tool through which student understandings can be
demonstrated and assessed.
These premises were incorporated into developing our
evaluative instrument in several ways. First, historical
thinking can clearly be taught well without using electronic means of
access, delivery, and product demonstration. Consequently, the evaluation of
the overall fidelity of the instructional design must be separate
from, and must effectively outweigh, the evaluation of technology use per se.
Similarly, primary sources are a necessary but not sufficient condition for the
practice of historical thinking in the history classroom. For example, a teacher
might use a primary source so that students could uncover author bias or to
juxtapose it against another document of the same event to understand more
fully multiple perspectives in history. In doing so, teachers are building
students’ understanding of historical comprehension as laid out by the National
Standards for History (NCHS, 1996).
Conversely, teachers could use
primary sources as they would a textbook, not asking any questions of the
authenticity or reliability of the document, but rather using primary
sources as a content delivery mechanism. Although primary sources provide an
entry point into historical scholarship, simply using primary sources does not
translate into historical thinking (Barton, 2005). For those reasons, the
evaluation matrix (see Appendix A [PDF]) was constructed to gauge the fidelity of
primary source use according to three domains, curriculum content,
instructional processes, and student products or outcomes (Tomlinson, 1995).
The first domain, “Content,”
consists of the ideas, concepts, descriptive information, and facts, rules, and
principles presented to the learner (Tomlinson, 1995). Since we were concerned with measuring the content specific to historical
thinking processes, we viewed primary sources as the foundation
for the teaching of history. In the evaluation matrix, primary
sources used in the classroom were evaluated for their complexity, variety, and
The second domain, “Instructional Process,” incorporated the presentation of content, including the design of
learning activities for students, the framing of analytical questions, as well
as the teaching methods and thinking skills used in the classroom (Tomlinson,
1995). Because the study was confined to measuring methods
of historical thinking, instructional process was limited to the way in which
primary sources were used in exercises promoting historical interpretation,
teaching historical methodology, and assembling historical narratives. This
component of the matrix was informed, in part, by the continuum of historical
teaching purposes framed by Leinhardt (1993).
Finally, “Products” are
the outcomes of instruction that consolidate learning and communicate ideas
(Tomlinson, 1995). The last domain of the evaluation matrix gauged the use of
primary sources in assessment, looking at the autonomy given to students in
constructing historical narratives. Specifically, assessments were dissected
to examine the level of independence given to students in historical inquiry,
the degree to which students were supplied primary sources within the
assessment, and the extent to which students documented the historical
processes used within the assessment.
domains (content, process, and product) were broken into four components, which
assumed greater degrees of fidelity. Because no similar evaluation tool
existed at the time of this study, we called upon our own experiences as
former high school history teachers and current teacher educators, as well as
the amalgam of theoretical frameworks that presume levels of sophistication in the various components of
instructional design, including content, process, and product, as well as
technology integration (Crocco, 2001; Harris, 1997; International Society for Technology in Education, 2007;
Kobrin, 1996; Levstik & Barton, 2001; Mishra & Koehler, 2006; Shulman,
Although the first three components of each domain related
to use of primary sources, the fourth component addressed the use of technology
within the three instructional domains. For the technology component, the
evaluation matrix confined the use of technology to a mechanism for teachers to
acquire primary sources, for students or teachers to deliver primary sources for
instruction, and finally, for students to construct a historical narrative
using various software (e.g., Microsoft Powerpoint, or iMovie) and hardware
(e.g., laptops, projectors, etc.).
Special attention has been given to the
relationship between the use of primary sources and technology, noting these
two facets of instruction are potentially mutually exclusive. For example, a
teacher may promote historical thinking in the classroom using a multitude of
nondigitally acquired primary sources as a means of reconstructing a particular
event. The teacher could have students write historical narratives taking into
account author bias and historical perspective, meanwhile documenting the
metacognitive skills necessary in historical research. Because we aimed to
elucidate the role technology played in facilitating historical thinking, it
was necessary to provide a mechanism for excluding technology as a factor in
historical thinking. The evaluation matrix was constructed with this in mind
and provided a lens for examining the data collected. A summary of the
evaluation matrix is provided in Table 1.
An Evaluation Matrix (Abridged) for the Use of Primary Sources and
Technology in the Secondary Classroom
to what extent the primary source(s) is appropriate for the student
the degree to which various types of primary sources are employed within the
the degree to which the primary source(s) encompasses divergent perspectives.
mechanisms through which the primary source(s) acquired.
the level of interpretation required of students in the reading the primary
the degree to which primary sources are used to teach students about
the degree of student participation in constructing historical accounts using
Delivery extent to which technology is used by the instructor and students to present
or manipulate the primary sources.
the level of independence given to students as they analyze the primary
source(s) in the assessment.
the degree to which primary sources are supplied for use within the
the degree to which students are expected to document and defend the
historical processes used within the assessment.
the extent to which technology is incorporated within the assessment.
Using the Evaluation Matrix
The study entailed following three 11th-grade American
history teachers during the 2003-2004 academic year. These teachers attended a
sequence of professional development workshops sponsored by the historians at a
digital history center at a large Southern public university. These
University faculty members had begun developing resources to address the issues
of access and implementation of primary sources that teachers face. In 2002,
the digital history center developed professional development workshops
intended to train American history teachers in the use of digitized primary
sources and the online multimedia guide. Initial surveys of these three
teachers indicated instructional practices that included the frequent use of
primary sources within their American history curriculum and a varied response
in the use of technology in supporting historical thinking practices.
evaluation matrix was used in observations to validate the teachers’ self-reports,
as well as to describe qualitatively the teaching methods used by each
participant. Of particular interest were the ways in which these secondary
history teachers used primary sources, whether their use constituted historical
thinking (as defined by the study’s conceptual framework), and finally, the
contextual factors influencing use of primary sources. Additionally, this
study sought to explicate the role of technology in supporting historical
thinking practices, as well as the intrinsic and extrinsic influences that
inhibited or prohibited the effective use of technology as it related to
Observations were conducted 12 to 15 times per participant
using the evaluation matrix. Although all three participants consistently
used primary sources in their American history classrooms, the three varied
notably in the role primary sources played in the overall curricular design, as
well as in the degree of instructional sophistication with which the sources
were employed. Their use was characterized by degrees of sophistication,
prevalence within the curriculum, and level of student centeredness within each
lesson. Using the evaluation matrix, Table 2 offers both a characterization
and summary of use in terms of historical content, instructional processes, and
classroom assessment for each participant.
Characterization of Primary Source Use in Supporting Historical Thinking
Characterization of Primary Sources Use
Use of Primary Sources in Teaching Historical Content
Use of Primary Sources in Facilitating Instructional Process
Use of Primary Sources as Components of Student Assessment
Sophisticated and systematic.
The primary sources were exclusively teacher selected and
varied in complexity, type, and orientation.
Reading strategies required sourcing, or looking
critically at the credibility of a source, as well as inductive analysis for
drawing on larger historical themes.
Assessment included some forms of historical thinking that
incorporated verified sources into a plausible historical narrative.
Inconsistent and rudimentary
The primary sources used were exclusively teacher selected
and were of inappropriate complexity and of a singular orientation.
No reading or interpretation strategies were employed for
either nonprint or print sources.
Assessment did not include the use of primary sources or
historical thinking skills.
Frequent and moderately sophisticated.
The primary sources were mostly teacher selected and
varied in type, but not orientation and complexity.
Reading strategies included a basic evidential focus with
some corroboration attempts. Sources were specific to a particular time and
place and did not contribute to an ongoing narrative or structure.
Assessment included the occasional demonstration of
discrete historical thinking skills, allowing students to acquire their own
documents surrounding a historical issue/event.
In almost all cases, the participants self-selected the
primary sources used within the curriculum; however, there was a disparity in
the types of documents the teachers chose, the way in which the teachers
approached document analysis with their students, and the role of primary
sources in the classroom assessment. For example, Larry (pseudonym)
consistently assembled text-based documents that featured male authors who
influenced American political history. The variety of documents was minimal, but
the sources he selected were complex and allowed students to engage with
multiple perspectives of a historical event. During many of the observations, we
marked 1s or 2s for Variety on the Content evaluation matrix, but 3s
and 4s for Complexity and Orientation.
In contrast, Jamie and Jason (pseudonyms) used a myriad of
nondiscursive documents (e.g. , photographs, political cartoons, maps, diary
entries, and video) that were easily read and interpreted by their students. Although
they often presented several primary sources per lesson, the sources did not
contradict one another or the history textbook. During these classroom
observations, we marked the Content evaluation matrix with 1s and 2s for Complexity
and Orientation, but 3s and 4s for Variety.
Jamie and Jason had similar approaches to the types of
primary sources they selected, yet they varied greatly in the ways they instructed
their students to approach document analysis. Jamie trained her students to
use a four-step method to unpack sources. This method began with determining
the message of the source, the bias of the author, the purpose of the document,
and the document’s effectiveness in achieving its purpose. Often, the
intention of this strategy outweighed its effectiveness in the classroom, but
elements of scaffolding were evident within her instruction.
Students in Larry’s class effectively used the document
reading strategy he called “APPARTS” to analyze the documents. APPARTS stands
for author, place, prior knowledge, audience, reason, the main idea, and
significance. In addition to utilizing the acronym as an analytical framework
for his classes, Larry incorporated a more nonlinear trajectory to his
instruction, developing tentative assertions about sources, then setting them
aside in order to revisit them after other sources had been examined. The
degree to which Larry’s students modeled their analyses after the competencies
of professional historians led to these observations being generally coded
higher under the Purpose criterion.
Jason, on the other hand, lacked any formal or informal
strategy for document analysis, instead relying on an open ended, “What do you
guys think?” We were able to use the Process evaluation matrix to characterize
differences between the three teachers in terms of Fidelity, Purpose, and Activity.
The participants also varied in their use of primary sources
in classroom assessment. All three participants relied to varying degrees on
traditional assessment, including multiple choice tests, objective quizzes, and
chapter summaries. However, Jason used only traditional assessment, while Jamie
and Larry included document analysis in their assessments. This use varied,
and the Product evaluation matrix was used to uncover these
differences. Students in Larry’s AP American History course were regularly
given Document Based Questions as a way of preparing for the end-of-year exam
but, more importantly, as a good teaching tool for historical inquiry. Jamie
often used project-based assessment that required the inclusion of primary
sources as a way of measuring historical understanding. Additionally, using
primary sources, Jamie created her own multiple-choice questions to prepare her
students for the state history exam. We often marked 0s for Jason, 1s and 2s
for Jamie, and 3s and 4s on the Product evaluation matrix.
Participants’ use of technology in instruction did not include
attention to all of the components of effective technology use, as defined by
the study’s conceptual framework. All of the teachers used technology to
acquire and display artifacts, but use of technology in instruction varied
according to frequency and level of student centeredness. For example, Larry
rarely used technology to display primary sources, whereas Jason and Jamie used
technology almost exclusively. It is important to again note that Larry’s
approach to teaching through these sources was less linear, with students
returning to prior sources more frequently than in the other classroom
settings, an instructional design that encouraged the use of hardcopy
sources. In terms of assessment, Jason and Larry rarely used technology, but
Jamie regularly had students create Web pages, PowerPoint’s, etc., that
required the use of primary sources. Using the aggregated observations, the
evaluation matrix (see Table 3) offers both a characterization and summary of
technology use in supporting historical thinking practices.
Technology Use in Supporting Historical Thinking Practices
of Technology Use to Support Historical Thinking Practices
Use in Acquiring Primary Sources
in Primary Source Delivery and Demonstration
instructional and assessment use.
digital primary sources through self-directed research using search engines
and other established Internet sources.
assistance of student teachers, occasionally leveraged technology in
instruction and assessment as a means for creating interactive presentations
and as a mechanism for viewing historical narratives.
in document acquisition and instruction.
digital primary sources through self-directed research using search engines
and other established Internet sources.
used presentation tools instructionally to view nondiscursive primary sources,
but there was no evidence of technology in student assessment.
in document acquisition, instruction, and assessment.
digital primary sources through self-directed research using search engines
and other established Internet sources.
used presentation software instructionally to view nondiscursive primary
sources. Assessment was often constructed with a technology
emphasis—students were expected to use the Internet to generate their own
digital resources and to employ presentations software to display primary
The evaluation matrix allowed us to parse the observations
consistently across participants. From the aggregated descriptors, we were
able to make comparisons between participants and, ultimately, pursue
contextual factors that might have influenced these characterizations. More
importantly, we were able to disaggregate the data in important ways. All
three participants used primary sources within their history classroom; however,
we were able to show clearly that the teachers did not use the sources with the
same degree of fidelity. Moreover, we argued that, although primary sources
can represent an important platform for historical thinking, the sources
themselves are insufficient without sound pedagogical design. Additionally, we
also posited that digital acquisition of primary sources could be a first step
in building technology enhanced curriculum, but it was far from the inquiry-based
history instruction touted in the social studies literature.
Last, embedded within the conceptual framework for this
study is the assumption that technology in history classrooms should not be
used solely to build technology facility in students but rather as a mechanism
to facilitate document-based instruction. As demonstrated in Table 3, although
all three participants used technology, they were able to leverage technology
to support historical thinking practices to varying degrees—a subtle but
important point emphasized within the instrument.
In a recent article by Mishra and Koehler (2006), the
authors borrowed from Shulman (1986) to argue that effective technology
integration requires developing sensitivity to the “dynamic, transactional
relationship” between pedagogy, content, and technology (p. 1030). The instrument described here was crafted before the framework of technological
pedagogical content knowledge (TPCK). Yet, it certainly imbeds the spirit of Mishra
and Koehler’s argument that in order to integrate technology and then to assess
its effectiveness educators must take into account the complexity and
contextuality of teaching. As a result, a checklist that
measured technological infusion outside of the context of the pedagogical
objectives supported by the technology was clearly insufficient. Instead, the best of a priori evaluative
instruments would contain a broad framework of
instructional approach, embedded with applicable pedagogical sophistication and
set alongside descriptions of how the technology is being employed.
Evaluation Matrix described in this article, while at times unwieldy, allowed us
to capture the rich, thick description called for in qualitative research
(Geertz, 1973) but, more importantly, to capture the nuances of teaching
practice. Our hope is that other researchers, program evaluators, or
school administrators could use this matrix in their own attempts to develop
more integrated, or cohesive, protocols for assessing the efficacy of history
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Kathleen Owings Swan
University of Kentucky
343 Dickey Hall
Lexington, KY 40506-017
201 High Street; Hull Room 215
Farmville, VA 23909