Preservice Social Studies Teachers’ Historical Thinking and Digitized Primary Sources: What They Use and Why

From Section:
ICT & Teaching
May. 01, 2011

Source: Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 11(2), 184-204. 2011.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this qualitative case study the authors explored secondary social studies preservice teachers’ abilities to discern the digitized primary resources available to them for historical thinking instruction.

The authors addressed this primary research question:
In what ways do secondary preservice social studies teachers use historical thinking and evaluate websites that contain digitized primary sources?

Method of Inquiry
The instrumental case study design (Stake, 1995) allowed for an in-depth understanding of the particular context, the process, and the understandings preservice teachers constructed in their work with historical thinking and digitized primary sources.

Participants and Data Sources
The participants in this study were 22 secondary social studies preservice teachers enrolled in a method course.

This descriptive qualitative case study included field notes for four observations of methods class instruction in critical historical thinking and constructivism used to trace the instruction provided to the undergraduates.
A fifth observation was conducted and field notes were taken during the class session where the secondary social studies preservice students were asked to evaluate the quality of the Presidential Timeline (PTL) through their understanding of critical historical thinking via a class discussion.
PTL is a collection of particular archives and activities of the 12 existing presidential libraries.


The results revealed that two themes emerged from the initial data analysis:
First, the preservice teachers were able to identify and rationalize an importance of digitized primary source websites in teaching the social studies.
Second, the pedagogical knowledge preservice teachers held regarding historical thinking (e.g., sourcing, significance, agency, etc.) was made apparent through their evaluation of the website’s historical thinking task.


The authors used the teacher cognition scholarship of Shulman2004) ) in order to suggest that the preservice teachers’ enumerated knowledge sources are vital in tracing teachers' decisions.
Shulman’s (2004) enumeration of the four sources of teacher knowledge includes scholarship in content disciplines, educational materials and structures, formal educational scholarship, and the wisdom of practice.

The enactment of historical thinking and the ways in which teachers evaluate digitized primary source websites then reflects the complexity of teacher decision making.
This decision point is where knowing what to teach and why to teach particular concepts, ideas, and moments in history can be linked to the readily available and vast resources of digitized archives.

The pedagogical practice of historical thinking is fundamentally tied to those rich primary sources that can provide historical evidence, tensions, contradictions, and questions.
Understandings of how digitized primary source websites are valued in the use of historical thinking, then, are dependent upon a teacher’s understanding of the educational materials and structures.

Beyond the sources of content and educational materials is the enumerated source of formal educational scholarship.
In this sense, teachers are consciously aware of what good historical thinking looks like and what the essential components are in constructing a lesson that utilizes digitized primary sources.
Finally, there is uniqueness to the wisdom of practice that might be noted in examining teachers’ understandings of the value of digitized websites and historical thinking.
Digitized website archives present preservice teachers with a complex labyrinth of educational choices that may or may not align with Shulman’s originally enumerated knowledge sources that culminate in a wisdom of practice.


In a methods course or staff development, promoting a more thorough understanding of why, how, and for what purpose teachers engage in particular practices and reflections rightly becomes instrumental.

By highlighting and evaluating what teachers know and how they know, teacher educators have an opportunity to consider how better to understand and reflect upon their existing and ever-growing wisdom.


The authors conclude that teachers’ adoption of technology in social studies has remained low despite efforts of both the government and professional associations.
Yet, efforts for a more technology-infused social studies education, especially in history education as digitized primary sources/historical archives, remain intact .

Shulman, L. S. (2004). The wisdom of practice: Essays on teaching, learning, and
learning to teach.
San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Stake, R. (1995). The art of case study research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Updated: Dec. 01, 2019
Computer assisted instruction | Educational technology | History | Preservice teachers | Secondary education | Social studies | Teacher knowledge