Technology’s Impact on One Teacher’s Philosophy of Teaching U. S. History
Timothy D. Slekar
University of Maryland College Park
March 25th, 1997
The purpose of this study was to describe the relationship between a U. S. History teacher's philosophy of teaching history and a large data bank of resources (the internet). The research I conducted, focused particularly on a history teacher's cho ice of instructional materials from the internet when making curriculum and instruction decisions. The objective of the research was an investigation of two reciprocal influences: (a) the teacher's philosophy of teaching history on choosing resources from the internet, and (b) the influence that the internet has on this teacher's philosophy of teaching history.
U. S. History teachers have been described as teaching history via an objectivist, "parade-of-facts" approach (Wilson, 1991). During the past two decades however, a shift in the philosophical importance of historical interpretation questions the possibility of an objective fact-based history (Novick, 1988). According to Novick, historians can be broadly classified as objectivists or relativists in their interpretation of history. An objectivist interpretation centers around a positi on of objectivity. This position of objectivity will in turn lead to a fact-oriented interpretation of an historical event. Conversely, relativism acknowledges the influence of a range of different perspectives has on the interpretation of a historical ev ent. Recently historians have tended to move to a more relativistic position.
History teachers also make choices about historical content that reflect their philosophical viewpoint. Although a philosophical stance is often not explicitly articulated by teachers, its influence on the curriculum and instruction of history teachers has been documented by VanSledright (1996) and Evans (1989). As teachers face an increasingly diverse student population, the need for a diverse history curriculum becomes important. A relativistic position on history may allow for divers ity in American history curricula. Seixas (1994) noted the importance that history teachers remain abreast of influential changes in their discipline. Although the change from an objective to a relative interpretation of history is present in the discipli ne, teachers of U. S. History have not embraced this change with any rapidity. One reason may be the lack of resources some U. S. history teachers have at their disposal.
A history teacher's choice of resources is also influenced by their philosophical stance regarding history's role. A crucial factor that may contribute to a teacher's philosophical development of history teaching is the availability of resources when t he teacher is making curriculum decisions (Loewen, 1995). Slekar (1996) interviewed two preservice teachers of elementary history and found that although past experience contributes to pedagogical philosophy, the resources available often dictated the for mat and content of a teacher's instruction. If a teacher exhibits a relative or objective interpretation of history, can a large resource bank influence change in their philosophy? And conversely, how does the teacher's current philosophy influence the ch oice of resources?
Importance of Study
Understanding a teacher's philosophy of history teaching and the affect the internet's resource bank of teaching materials has on this pedagogy, begins to map the effectiveness of implementing technology into the classroom. Knowing that the internet and technology are becoming large influences on classroom instruction, the documented choices a teacher makes when using this technology will provide for a greater understanding of the assets and pitfalls technology will play when teache rs make curriculum and teaching decisions.
Population/Site of Research
The history teacher involved in this research project has at his finger tips a large resource bank (the internet). Using the above framework, one teacher was identified as a subject to be used in this study. The participant in the s tudy has been teaching in the city district for three years as an 8th grade U. S. history teacher. His student population is 95% African-American and 5% Latino- American. His philosophy of teaching history was determined through 3 personal interviews in w hich he expressed his fact-based, slightly objectivist interpretation of history, and his need for his students to value historical knowledge.
A project involving a large East-coast university, an urban school district, Apple Computer, the National Archives and the Discovery Channel Inc., has begun to address this issue. Providing teachers with the technology needed to harness the educational potential of instant access to a large resource bank (the internet), the project plans to empower teachers when making curriculum and instruction decisions. Prior to participating in this project, teachers implemented instruction with lim ited resources and outdated textbooks. The project includes 3 middle schools from the city district. Each of the schools' science and social studies teachers have been provided with 5 classroom computers wired directly to the internet. Teachers have freed om to use the internet when planning and implementing instruction
The teacher who participated in the study was interviewed once a week during the first year. The interviews consisted of questions regarding curriculum choices from the internet and their implementation into classroom instruction. T hese interviews were recorded on audio tape and then transcribed verbatim for future analysis. Classroom observations were conducted once every two weeks to record teacher student interaction with the internet during instruction. The teacher's internet lo g books (sites visited and used during instruction) were used to provide an interpretive map and to critique the content provided by the web. The data collected was then triangulated to establish patterns across the data sources. Also, using the member-ch ecking technique, the findings were presented to the teacher for his analysis and assessment. Using the above techniques helped in establishing the validity of the research findings.
Although this study presents its findings through the use of a single teacher, the results present the importance of individual analysis when interpreting affects on teaching pedagogy. Pedagogy in and of itself is an individual trait th at is affected in unique outcomes. Using the findings of this study to relate similar circumstances may help develop an understanding of a similar situation. This study demonstrates the complexity of history teaching pedagogy. A study with an N=1 allows o ne to explore this change close-up and in all its subtlety and nuance.
Upon the completion of the data analysis, the participant teacher demonstrated changes in relation to content choices. A relationship between his philosophy of teaching history and a large resource data bank (the internet)was establ ished. Although the teacher in this study identified himself as slightly objectivist in his interpretations of history, the exposure to additional resources on the internet, created a curiosity which led to experimentation with his curricular and instruct ional decisions. The teacher began to demonstrate a shift in philosophy of teaching history. Although, slightly firm in his position regarding the teaching a fact-based objectivist history, the teacher came to express the idea that he had neglected the im portance of the interpretive nature of history. A possible contributing factor, as indicated by the teacher, was the availability of new resources on the internet with their variety of points of view and differing interpretations of events.
Evans R. (1989). Teacher conceptions of history. Theory and Research in Social Education, (17),210-240.
Loewen, J. W. (1995). Lies my teacher told me. New York, NY: The New Press.
Novick, P. (1988). That noble dream: The "objectivity question" and the American historical profession. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Seixas (1994). Students understanding of historical significance. Theory and Research in Social Education, (22), 281-304.
Slekar, T. D. (1996). The apprenticeship of observation and its affect on instructional choices of preservice elementary social studies teachers. Manuscript in preparation.
VanSledright, B. A. (in press). Closing the gap between school and disciplinary history? Historian as high school history teacher. In J. Brophy (Ed.), Advances in Research on Teaching (Vol. 6).
Wilson, S. (1991). Parades of facts, stories of the past: What do novice history teachers need to know? In M. Kennedy (ED.), Teaching academic subjects to diverse learners (pp. 273-289). New York: Macmillan.