Integration of Computer Technology in the Social Studies Classroom : An Argument for a Focus on Teaching Methods

Lorraine Beaudin Lance Grigg
University of Calgary University of Lethbridge



This paper explores the assumption that successful computer integration into classroom teaching is less associated with computer literacy than it is with exposure to various methods of instruction which use computers. The paper makes such a case by studying the correlation between teachers' levels of computer self-efficacy (one's belief in one's ability to use computers) and classroom practice. It challenges the position that as a teacher's confidence in their ability to use computers increases so will their use of computers in a teaching context. The paper concludes by offering a number of recommendations for pre-service teacher education and professional development for experienced teachers.

The current focus on technology in social studies education is mandating that teachers become computer-literate for a number of reasons. It is believed that student involvement in learning is enhanced with computers (Budin, 1991). Students are considered to be more productive when using computers (Dwyer, 1994) and when involved in distant learning situations students feel their needs are met with computers, (Everett, 2000). Some argue that computers allow students to access information through their preferred learning styles (Wade, 1995).

Teachers, therefore, are encouraged to develop a personal approach to computer technology, (Held, 1991), to become familiar with a variety of forms of electronic communication, web-authoring and hypercard programs, presentation software, marks programs and databases (Mitchell-Powell, 1995; Gibson, 1997; Goss, 2000) and by extension, to periodically update themselves on the upgraded versions of these software packages. Inspired by this line of thinking, administrators and governments continue to pour money into traditional professional development activities: after-school seminars for teachers, weekend workshops and computer retreats; all of which are designed to train teachers in how to use the latest educational software.

But is this traditional approach to professional development the best way of facilitating the integration of computer technology (CT) into the social studies classroom or any classroom for that matter? Does such an approach assume that the in-servicing of teachers in the latest software will result in the integration of computers into classroom teaching? Underpinning this approach to professional development is the notion that increasing comfort levels with technology among teachers through training sessions on new software will eventually translate into effective computer integration in the classroom. In-servicing teachers on new software may expand their comfort levels with that technology. But does this mean those same teachers will use that technology in their teaching? Obviously, the current approach to professional development in CT believes they will. But will they? Is the assumption that computer literacy is positively linked to the successful integration of computers into classroom teaching, warranted? If not, current approaches to the training of both pre-service and experienced teachers may be in need of reform.


Professional development in CT which focuses exclusively on the training of teachers in the latest software is grounded in the belief that as teachers' confidence in their ability to use computers increases, so will their use of computers in a teaching context. Undoubtedly, research shows that self-efficacy can influence behavior ( Bandura, 1992; Delcourt & Kinzie, 1993 and Maitland, 1996). Miura (1987) showed that a person's self-efficacy towards a task will influence the decision to take on that task, the amount of effort used on the task and the persistence in accomplishing that task. Applied to computer self-efficacy, this would suggest that one's choice, effort and persistence in using computer technology is influenced by one's level of computer self-efficacy. Miura's work which analyzed findings drawn from a two-page questionnaire completed by 368 students in a variety of disciplines, showed that students' computer self-efficacy scores have an impact on their behavior (e.g., plans to take further computer courses).

Many contend that computer self-efficacy can be used to explain and predict teachers' and students' behaviors (Delcourt and Kinzie, 1993; Overbaugh & Reed, 1992). While computer self-efficacy scales are good measurements for predicting behavior, the literature seems to be unclear about what behavior computer self-efficacy scales actually predict. This is a significant line of inquiry for those wanting to influence a teacher's behavior regarding her integration of computers in the social studies classroom.

Addressing the need for this clarification, in a study involving 87 teachers in a broad range of subject areas, Beaudin (1998) results suggested that even with a high computer self-efficacy score, teachers may not necessarily be inclined to implement computers into their teaching. Beaudin (1998) highlighted the difference between using computers to for instructional purposes and using computers for classroom teaching. For example, teachers who may be more likely to use computers for personal or instructional use, but their classroom practice remained unchanged. Importantly, Beaudin (1998) found a weak correlation between computer expertise and use of computers for classroom teaching. (r = 0.41) The study did find a moderate to high correlation (0.62) between computer expertise and instructional use of computers (using the computer to prepare instructional materials, record grades or communicate with co-workers). This is relevant because if levels of computer expertise do not have a significant impact on the implementation of computers into classroom teaching, why do we focus on in-servicing teachers in software packages that will not find their way into classrooms?

Although teachers may need to have some experience with a software program, they do not necessarily need moderate-to-high levels of computer self-efficacy to implement that technology into their teaching. For example, a social studies teacher can tell all of her grade seven students they must word-process their position papers using pagination, appropriate line spacing and page margins. Within such an environment, the assigning teacher may not have to be literate in the computer technology if such information is being taught by another teacher or being learned in another context. Similarly, a grade three teacher who uses skill and drill software to aid students' understanding of geography concepts need not be computer literate. This teacher needs to understand how to use the software programs as a teaching tool not how to use the computer itself. Many educational programs are simple enough for a young student. It would follow, therefore, that the complexity of the software should not inhibit a teacher's decision to use the program in her teaching.

Such a notion may sound counterintuitive. But it is not a new one. Miller and Olsen (1995) asked a closely related question: "What do we learn from studying capable teachers who are not technologically minded?" (74). In one part of their study they found that teachers' prior practices are more influential in determining how technology will be used than the technology itself:

For example, after observing a grade 1 teacher using a database in a sophisticated manner, we thought a sound case could be made for technology leading the way to her teaching higher-level thinking skills. Upon examining the teacher's prior practice, however, we discovered her frequent use of matrix charts, where children categorized and sorted information in a complex fashion. The type of thinking, fostered routinely by this teacher, turned out to be similar to that required to build and use a computer database (Miller and Olsen, 1995, 75).

Miller and Olsen's primary finding here is the significance of prior practice. Their work, however, is also consistent with the findings of others who claim that it is the teachers' involvement with the technology that makes the technology valuable or not (Galligan, 1995; Mann, 1995; McKenna, 1995). Thus they confirm the notion that teachers need in-servicing on teaching methods associated with the integration of computers in the classroom and not just the software alone.

Several authors argue that for computer technology to become an effective teaching tool, attention must be focused on teaching methods, and that changes to traditional teaching methods are needed since many established methods no longer fit in with the emerging technologies (Chisholm, 1995; Cradler, 1994; Forcheri and Molfino,1994; McKenna and Kearsley, 1996). If this is so, teachers cannot practically or physically be expected to keep pace with the latest software or hardware. It must be through the use of more effective teaching practices that the educational benefits of certain types of software can be made available to students. For example, the Internet can be an excellent resource for doing research on a great number of topics. Practicing teachers can use web pages that have appropriate links to government websites, on-line newspapers, historical maps, etc. These teachers, however, do not need to know how to create a web page. They become facilitators of technology in the social studies classroom. They do not become computer teachers in the social studies classroom.

Based on this example, what do these teachers need to know about web design? They need to know that a web page can be created, and that a firsthand experience of the Internet is necessary in order to firmly grasp its implications for the classroom. Web authoring, software and publishing electronically, however, do not have to be in their repertoire of skills. The ability to see what resources may be useful to their students, to have a vision of how to group the resources effectively and choose when to integrate these into their classroom teaching, are more useful skills than being able to create a web page without those other skills being present.

Several authors agree that technology alone will not change education: (Fullan et al., 1992; McKenna, 1995; Galligan, 1995). Maybe it should be added that neither technology nor technically-skilled teachers alone will change education. Technology itself has little value for education without the teacher. A technology rich school is not one wherein there is simply a number of teachers who know how to run various software packages. It is a site where there are creative pedagogues exploring new methods the best utilize the technology in question.

As a major school reform, the integration of technology in education, and more specifically into classroom teaching, is an area which merits the attention of teachers, administrators and educational policy-makers. Undoubtedly, teachers need to become computer literate. But, as this paper argues, computer literacy is not a sufficient condition for the possibility of computer integration into classroom teaching. Possibly, the integration of computers into classroom practice needs to be viewed from a wider perspective--one that encourages teachers to be creative pedagogues; liberating them from the pressure of always being computer literate in a rapidly changing technical environment.

Implications for Professional Development

There are a number of implications for professional development. First, educators attendance at computer courses is only one very small part in the long-term process of implementing computer technology into classroom practice. As well, teachers need to be freed from the overwhelming pressure to become computer-literate. As a dynamic educational tool, computer technology will require teachers to reflect constantly upon their teaching. If educators can focus more on teaching methods and practices as the means to successful integration, the hype of computer literacy can be downplayed somewhat and a broader vision of the use of computers in the classroom might replace an outdated one. At this time, a focus on computer teaching methods may be more appropriate than a focus on the technology itself. Because technology is changing so rapidly, professional development should focus on those skills which would allow teachers to effectively evaluate, select and integrate emerging technologies into classroom practice.

Implications for Teacher Education Programs

Specifically, this study has implications for teacher education programs at least in the following four areas: (1) Computer Related Courses (2) Computer Methods Courses (3) Demonstrated Instruction and (4) History and Philosophy of Technology in Education.

  1. Computer Related Courses
  2. Computer related courses have value in preparing teachers to use computers for instructional activities. There are at least two ways in which teacher education programs could implement computer related courses. They could be taught to all students through another department such as computer science, or management, or they could be taught through a faculty of education. One problem with offering the courses through another department is that applications to teaching might easily be lost. If taught within the education department, the courses could focus on computer-related skills as they apply to teaching. Moreover, the pre-service teachers would learn by example, how to teach computer courses. Courses offered within an education department could be divided into several areas such as:

    1. Document Processing. Using word processing to develop tests, outlines, professional plans, unit and lesson plans.
    2. Student Evaluation. Using databases, spreadsheets and specific marks programs as a way of maintaining student records.
    3. Communication Technology. Using the Internet to access teaching materials, working with e-mail for communicating with other educators and subscribing to listservs.
    The above courses would probably be highly technically-based with a clear focus on teaching.

  3. Computer Methods Courses
  4. Courses which focused on methods of teaching with computer technology would be essential to any teacher education program that wanted to prepare its graduates to teach with technology. Such courses should develop skills associated with selecting, integrating and evaluating computer software applications as they relate to various curriculum areas.

    One of the foci of this paper was to develop an appreciation for the need to have effective pedagogic practices as a focus in teacher education programs. Providing pre-service teachers with methods in computer integration would be consistent with the type of courses that are offered for any other discipline area (for example, math methods, social studies methods or Physical Education methods).

  5. Demonstrated Instruction
  6. Balli, Wright and Foster (1997) report that many pre-service teachers hold mental images of early classroom experiences when they were students which may not be congruent with contemporary practice. Because teaching today involves teaching with technology, it may be imperative that pre-service teachers engaging in field experience not only be provided with opportunities to integrate technology into their teaching practice but that they be instructed in a manner that demonstrates the appropriate integration of technology into classroom practices: meta-teaching. In short, if pre-service teachers learn to teach by observing the way in which they are taught, those involved in teacher training and teacher development must take some responsibility for using methods of instruction that effectively demonstrate desired practices.

  7. History and Philosophy of Technology in Education
  8. A course designed to teach pre-service teachers about the history and philosophy of technology in education, I believe, would enable them to teach more reflectively with the technology. Such a course would give them a foundation for making decisions about technology integration into classroom practice. Also, teachers need to develop a position on any new school reform as it applies to their teaching area. Without a solid foundation in the history and philosophy of technology, it would be unrealistic to expect teachers to make personal decisions about something of which they know so little. We cannot expect young teachers to develop a stance on technology without giving them the relevant historical and philosophical views of this particular school reform. Therefore, in addition to providing pre-service teachers with a collection of computer-related skills and teaching methods, teacher education programs should encourage their students to be reflective practitioners by thinking critically about the utility of the latest trends in technology in education.

Concluding Remarks

At this point, a brief review of the implications in the three general areas might be useful. First, teachers' skill in using a particular technology is not sufficient to enable them to teach with the technology. This implies the need to provide pre-service and classroom teachers with opportunities to develop teaching methods for computer integration. This has a direct and obvious connection to professional development. Moreover, it is very liberating for teachers. Secondly, within a constantly changing technological environment, teachers will need to constantly review their teaching practices and use professional development monies and programs to explore possibilities for improving their teaching with new technologies. Professional development, in this way, would focus on teaching methods not on computer related skills alone. Thirdly, teacher education programs should provide pre-service teachers with computer related courses, methods-related courses, demonstrated instruction, and a course on the history and philosophy of technology in education, as they impact those teachers' use of computers for both instructional and classroom uses.

Finally, we are in a time of great change that is both exciting and challenging for teachers. Education will not be improved by technology, it will be improved by teachers who develop creative methods and strategies for using the technology in their classrooms. An approach to technology integration, therefore, embraces the teacher as pedagogue focusing on teaching first and technology second.


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Lorraine Beaudin, is a PhD candidate at University of Calgary. Her; educational technology; teaching experience includes 11 years computer studies (K - Post-Secondary) and she is currently on study leave.

Dr. Lance Grigg, is Assistant Dean: Field Experiences Office, at the Faculty of Education, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Alberta.