Using Digital Primary Sources to Teach Historical Perspective to Preservice Teachers

May. 10, 2010

Source: Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 10(3), 294-308.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The current article describes the experiences of elementary education majors during their social studies methods course.
The authors used digital primary sources to teach historical perspective and to model historical inquiry teaching strategies for use in elementary classrooms.


The goals of this study were
(a) to examine students’ impressions regarding their use of digital primary sources in social studies methods courses,
(b) to better understand how these impressions related to understanding of content,
and (c) to determine implications for K-6 classroom instruction.

The 90 participants in this study were elementary education majors at two large metropolitan universities. 87% of the participants were female.
62% were Caucasian. 16% were African American. 14% were Hispanic, and 8% were other.

Data included observation field notes, students’ work with comments, and responses to prompted questions.

Many of the students indicated that they had never heard the term or had the opportunity to work with primary source materials.
Additionally, some of the technologies used were new to the preservice teachers. Several of the students had limited experience in using Web browsers and downloading resources found on the Web. The authors found that computer technology connected the methods students with resources outside of the classroom that were new to nearly all of the students.

Once these initial barriers were addressed, the students embraced digital resources.
The students indicated that their experiences were positive and that digital resources had great potential for elementary classroom use.
In addition, the students indicated that the use of primary sources made history real to them, helped them challenge assumptions, helped them understand content, and helped see perspective. Additionally, the data illustrated that inquiry was fostered.


The authors believe that these results can be quite useful for elementary methods course instructors when developing curriculum with the intention of beginning the process of moving their students from a novice to an expert level of understanding.

Furthermore, university faculty should correctly model the use of digital primary sources and historical inquiry-based assignments in their elementary methods courses, as this might be the only place that elementary majors have the opportunity to witness these firsthand.

Updated: Apr. 16, 2012