Webbing the Social StudiesUsing Internet and World Wide Web Resources in Social Studies Instruction

C. Frederick Risinger

This is the first column of a new regular feature for Social Education. Its goal is to help classroom teachers and other social studies educators tap into and utilize the tremendous resources of the Internet and the World Wide Web (WWW) in their curriculum planning and instruction. This is not going to be a "techie" column, aimed only at those who are already technologically proficient and familiar with the Internet, although, hopefully, they will find it interesting and useful. Instead, it is designed to encourage and facilitate the use of this vast, exciting, global network by all interested social studies teachers and students. While research indicates that we social studies teachers are among the biggest "laggards" in utilizing computers and information technology in the schools, it is precisely our field that can benefit most from the primary source materials, data bases, pictures, maps, lesson plans, and other resources readily available from "the Net."
The format will be simple: about two-thirds of the space for each column will examine a single issue, topic, or WWW site and its relationship to social studies education. The remaining space will feature brief descriptions of web sites that are particularly relevant to social studies. There will not be a lot of technical information about equipment or software. Instead, by the time you read this column, the NCSS Online Web site will have a longer, more detailed article on the necessary hardware, software, and procedures for logging on to the Internet and World Wide Web. By having the article downloaded, novices who currently need assistance to access the Internet and World Wide Web will be able to have the necessary information available for their own use. Some basic technical questions are answered in this first column.

Like other articles in the Instructional Technology section, this one is a teacher's resource. Let me know what you think and what you want. Send me suggested topics and issues to cover and the URLs (Uniform Resource Locators or addresses) of your favorite Web sites. The Internet and World Wide Web are going to change K-12 social studies dramatically, and soon. Hopefully, this column will be one entrance ramp to the information highway for social studies teachers.

What Is the Internet? It's a vast global network, with roots in a national defense research network that linked seven different university computer science departments in 1968. It is now made up of thousands of computers that function as consumers and/or providers of electronic information and services. It differs from online services such as America Online and CompuServe in that there is no centralized organization and it is much, much larger-as much as one hundred times larger than CompuServe, America Online, Prodigy, and all the others combined.

What Is the World Wide Web? The Web, set up in 1992, brought some organization to the chaotic Internet and vastly improved its services by providing text, sound, pictures, and colorful graphics. It allows users to connect, or link, to any one of thousands of resources throughout the world with a single mouse click. Netscape is the most popular software program for searching or "browsing" the Web, although others exist. Netscape 1.1 is the most commonly used version; however, a new version, 2.0, was recently released.

What Does It Cost? Like lunches, the Internet is not free. Somebody's paying for it. Web sites have to dedicate a portion of their computer space and keep the machines online to provide services. Individuals can connect to the Internet from an online service such as America Online, CompuServe, or Microsoft Network, through a rapidly growing number of private vendors, or through their school, university, or other workplace. For example, the nearly 37,000 students, faculty, and staff at Indiana University's Bloomington campus all have Internet access. Many school systems also provide access, although individual teachers may not have separate accounts. Some colleges and universities are beginning to place some restrictions on faculty Internet access. However, access to the "Net" is possible for just about any social studies teacher who wants it.

What's a Page and a Home Page? Pages are files containing text, pictures, links to other pages, and sometimes sound and animation that someone or some organization has made available on the WWW. They actually look like pages from a magazine or newspaper. The widely heard reference to a "home page" has two meanings. It's the first page that opens when you log onto the Web. But each person's or organization's Web site is also called its home page. Each page or Web site has its own unique URL or address.

What Kind of Equipment Do I Need? To use Netscape and access the Web effectively, you need a PC (IBM or compatible machine) with at least a 386 processor and 4 megabytes of RAM, or a Macintosh that uses System 7.0 or higher and has a minimum of 4 megabytes of memory (8 is much better). You'll do much better and work faster with a 486 or Pentium-powered PC, or a Mac equipped with a 68040 or PowerPC chip and at least 16 megabytes of on-board memory. A modem with a data transfer speed of 14,400 gets the job done (that's what I use with my Mac at home), but a 28,800 is, like it seems, twice as fast. Netscape works on both PCs and Macs. (More technical information is available on the NCSS Online Web site).

Recommended Web Sites for General Coverage of Social Studies
Each Web site's name is followed by its URL or address and a brief description of the information and resources available there. URLs are case-sensitive, so be careful to type them exactly as they are printed.

NCSS Online
Everything you ever wanted to know about your professional organization is available here. Find out about upcoming conferences and workshops. Read NCSS Position Statements on important issues in the field. Read about, and even order, current publications. Find links to dozens of other useful Web sites. This is also where you can find an article providing more information about hardware, software, and procedures for using Internet/ WWW resources for social studies.

Planet Earth Home Page
Every state flag, every state map, current weather information, the Inaugural Addresses of all the presidents, comprehensive census information about every state, county, and city, every zip code and area code, the "National Budget Clock," and a Budget Simulation exercise are just a tiny fraction of the information here.

Social Studies Sources
Howard Levin, the social studies department chair at Overlake School in Redmond, Washington, should receive an award for setting up and maintaining this indispensable site for social studies teachers. It has links to wonderful lesson plans, a computer software guide, classroom-based projects, and professional development centers. You can spend all day here. It's great!

M441 Social Studies HOTLINKS!
This is my secondary social studies methods class's home page. I put it together to provide a wide range of resources for my students, but teachers will find dozens of useful (and a few weird) Web sites. It includes links to the three sites described above. Enjoy.

C. Frederick Risinger, who is Associate Director of Teacher Education and Coordinator of Social Studies Education at Indiana University, Bloomington, warns novice Internet users that web surfing can be addictive. He can be reached by e-mail at risinger@indiana.edu