Social Education 57(3), 1993, pp. 113
1993 National Council for the Social Studies
Description and Features
"Iraq Stack" cannot be fairly classified as any one kind of program. Rather, it is a package that contains several parts. Most fundamentally, it is a HyperCard data base that contains a wealth of information accessible through a main menu and icons placed uniformly at the bottom of every card. The icons offer access to informational categories that range from timeline, people, and places, to issues, activities, and notes. This package is one massive stack of over three hundred cards; the icons allow users to move easily in and out of a stack that would be impossible to use comfortably in a linear fashion. The informational category "activities" allows "Iraq Stack" to double as a tutorial and a drill-and-practice program. A wall-sized map of the Middle East accompanies the program.
The wide range of information available through "Iraq Stack" begins with the category "timeline," which allows users to select and read about events before, during, and after the Gulf War. To learn about the role of the key players in the Middle East conflict, users simply select a name from among the twenty-eight choices offered in the "people" category. Geography of the region is seen through the "maps" section which follows. The final selection, "Iraq Stack activities," offers users activities called "quiz," "crossword puzzle," "matching game," and "map explorers."
Quality of Content
The timeline section displays textual information next to the menu in a rectangular box that often contains a picture scanned from an unidentified source. The best of these pictures are important people who figured in a particular date's event; the worst have the look of drawings done by hand that resemble aircraft or oil barrels. Some pictures used in connection with text have no specific connection or accompanying explanation. One screen details events during the sixth week of the war, stating that "most of Iraq's artillery, tanks, and anti-aircraft guns were either captured or destroyed. Also thousands of Iraqi troops were captured." The graphic that accompanies this information is that of some sort of tank beside three people. No information acknowledges the country that owns the tank (was it captured or used to do the capturing?) or the identity of the three people (presumably soldiers).
In the people section, users simply select a name from among the twenty-eight choices offered. The presentation of information in this section is erratic and Margaret Thatcher is the only woman profiled. The best accompanying textual passages contain only sketchy references to the person's role in the war. About Secretary-General De Cuellar, for example, the text notes that "before and during the War with Iraq, he tried to negotiate a peaceful solution, but was unsuccessful in all of his attempts." Other passages offer no specific comment about the person's role in the war and leave the reader completely reliant on outside information. Dick Cheney, for example, receives a notation of his place and date of birth along with the following comment: "Elected Congressman from Wyoming in 1978, he showed enough promise to be appointed Secretary of Defense by President Bush in 1989."
The maps section includes critical countries and regions playing a role in the war. Unfortunately, the maps are average by industry standards-borders are unnecessarily wide, often blending together clumsily, and are complicated by efforts to be thorough.
All maps allow retrieval of information about each country shown by a simple point-and-click routine. This procedure brings up a data card that highlights several information categories about the country. The best feature of this portion of the stack is the inclusion of insert maps that highlight the location of the country selected if it is in the Gulf region, but no country outside the region appears. Country information is generally complete and provides an interesting data base, if somewhat marred by glaring omissions. One category, "important cities," provides no information on the countries of Egypt, Iran, Sudan, or Syria to name a few. Users can also select information from an alphabetical index that lists sixty countries, some of which-Canada and Luxembourg, for example-do not seem particularly relevant to the study of the Gulf War. Students would likely become confused if they were asked to access the information in this section alone.
The four choices in the activities section employ some interesting scripting techniques. One allows the user to attempt to move words to correct positions on maps and a second provides a game that allows the user to match leaders to countries by drawing lines to connect the match. Musical feedback underscores correct or incorrect choices. The crossword puzzle asks typical crossword-type (that is, trivial) questions. Disturbingly, the crossword will not save responses if the user goes back into the stacks to look up data or retrieve information; instead, the user must rebuild the crossword puzzle each time this occurs. From an educator's point of view, the quiz section is misnamed. It is, rather, a list of questions and instructions for students to answer or compose. These questions are at best average and are usually accompanied by directions that underscore the writer's lack of connection to real classroom teaching assignments. For example, one typical item asks students to "choose five people involved in the Iraq war and write a paragraph about each."
General Instructional Quality
"Iraq Stack" offers no specific lesson plans or statements of aim, objectives, sequence, discussion questions, or summary. Educators must rely on their own ability to integrate the resource into existing coursework and objectives.
General Technical Quality
HyperCard users will have little difficulty with this software program. The icon interface is easy to use; with practice, the user can achieve a relatively safe comfort level.
Social Studies Evaluation
Social Studies Knowledge
"Iraq Stack" focuses on events of the Persian Gulf War rather than the issues that caused it. Educators will find this useful to the degree to which their students undertake a study of the particulars of the war.
Social Studies Skills Development
Students in a classroom with only one computer and an LCD projection device are at an immediate disadvantage should their teacher choose to use this program for large-group instruction. Skills development is hampered because displayed information is tedious to read and difficult to interpret. In addition, little data manipulation is called for as the students cipher through its heroic content size. Occasional questions are posed that show two sides to an issue but offer little more than opinions. Most information in this stack appears to have been developed with the single-computer user in mind. Thus, the development of skills lags far behind what is desirable. Furthermore, when "Iraq Stack" is used one-on-one, students are rarely required to manipulate information. Manipulation occurs occasionally in the activities section, but hardly to the degree conscientious educators would demand.
The activities section offers students discussion issues pertinent to this war, and common to most wars, that touch upon values. The issues are developed so that students can view two sides to the issue after reading an overview statement. Critics of such an approach would be quick to point out that all too often students will be satisfied with the points of view and alternatives supplied rather than attempting to formulate their own original thinking.
As today's educators begin to integrate computers into their classrooms, they must make software purchases that afford them both a dynamic learning experience and provide value for the dollar spent. High value is achieved only when the software blends favorably with the pedagogy employed and the technology available. With the arrival of "Iraq Stack," then, comes the caveat that the educator understand completely the limits of the available technology and the kind of instruction to be employed.
"Iraq Stack" is of marginal use in the classroom and is best suited for the at-home user. The stack, although containing much information, was not constructed with the realities of today's classroom teacher in mind.
Dick Rattan is the social studies department chair and teaches U.S. history at Watkins Mill High School in Gaithersburg, Maryland 20879.