Preparing students to be able to actively participate in our democracy is the foundation of social studies education. It’s what social studies educators do every day. Our discipline asks students to engage in inquiry, generate questions, examine primary and secondary sources, deliberate on complex issues in society in both the past and present, and take informed action.
Democratic societies need high-quality social studies teaching and learning so our youngest citizens are able to understand and deliberate complex issues in the past, present, and future. This is also important preparation for college and careers.
Access to educational technology (EdTech) is more critical than ever in order to do this. Inquiry-based social studies depends on cutting-edge EdTech to engage students, model the thinking within our discipline, and ask students to address real-world problems.
Getting tech to those who need it
There is not a lack of EdTech social studies resources available to students and teachers. Students can access millions of primary sources from the Library of Congress or the National Archives, and use these sources to participate in National History Day or Project Citizen. They can play educational games from iCivics such as “Do I Have a Right?”
The Big History Project allows students to engage in free, high-quality, online courses and students can do intensive geography investigations using GIS (geographic information system) technology.
Media literacy is also critical for students to be democracy-ready. The News Literacy Project offers Checkology — a resource to help students build skills to discern fact from fiction.
These examples are just a few of the resources available, but in order for teachers and students to use these resources, and go beyond use to creation, they need technology, both hardware and software, available to them.
An issue of equity
Students in the most high-need districts and schools tend to have the least access to technology and the least exposure to social studies education. This is an issue of equity — not only equity of access, but equity of opportunity for our most vulnerable students to engage in the kind of democratic education that will prepare them for active participation in civic life.
Although technology was once seen as a nice “add on” to the educational environment, this global pandemic has made it obvious that it is now essential. Funding is also needed to ensure teachers have access to professional development to support best use of this technology — moving from using technology to substitute other tools, to creating and transforming learning.
Will we rise to the challenge of ensuring all students have both access and opportunity to engage in the kinds of learning that prepare them for their role as not only current, but future participants in civic life?