Exploring Development Issues on the Internet


Richard A. Diem

No matter what one’s occupation, we all rely on tools to succeed—be they physical, such as a hammer or wrench, or intellectual, such as the ability to read and write. Teachers at all levels rely on a unique set of these tools to educate their students. Given the range of grade levels, student abilities, educational priorities, curricula, and assessment procedures across this country, developing the intellectual tools that students need or are required to obtain is a daunting task.

In recent years, the most important new tool of choice in education has been computer technology. The computer is a hybrid tool, relying on both physical components and intellectual constructs. It can provide students with access to a wealth of resources via the Internet. However, the value of these resources depends on the quality of information and communication links they provide, and the guidance students receive in making use of them.

Both the NCSS Standards and the National Geography Standards underscore the computer’s potential for enhancing the study of topics and concepts in the social studies. Consider the study of development issues, a complex intellectual construct that involves the relationships among economic development, environmental preservation, the effects of modern technology, and the varying political, social, and cultural landscapes in which development takes place.

The NCSS Standards state that social studies programs should “include experiences that provide for the study of relationships among science, technology, and society.”1 The Geography Standards state that students should “know and understand the significance of the global impacts of human modification of the physical environment and how to apply appropriate models and information to understand environmental problems.”2

In applying computer technology to the social studies in general, and the topic of development in particular, it may be helpful to consider the following constructs:

1. Using technology in any form implies a “hands-on”/experiential teaching approach. Outcomes are not certain, since allowing students to collect and use information implies that there may be no one “correct” response to a question. In examining development issues, the expected “answers” may not surface as students formulate their own rationales and perspectives gathered from a variety of sources.

2. The introduction of computer technology within a lesson by its very nature implies an “integrated approach.” This is especially true when studying, for example, the political and environmental effects of development within a region. Issues ranging from land use to effective community representation can, and will, appear in and out of context as students begin to understand cause and effect relationships.

3. To be effective, the use of computer technology must be participatory. Students must learn not only how to gather data, but how to use, interpret, and judge its validity. To repeat a “new saw,” not all information on the Internet is accurate. This is especially true in a highly value- laden area like development.

4. The use of computer technology requires both commitment and flexibility. Information retrieval systems never close. Data needs to be sorted and analyzed. Traditional lesson and time constraints often have to be looked at in a different manner if technology is to be most effective.

5. Teaching and learning with computer technology is a cooperative process between instructor and student. As students begin to deconstruct information and data acquired through the thousands of information sources now available to them, teachers may have to readjust their own views and interpretations of events.

There are many ways to approach the study of development issues. Where the focus is on sustainable development, a lesson might begin by defining this term and examining its relevance to some issue involving economic development and its environmental impact in the local community or another region of the world.

The first article in this section, “Sustainable Development in Costa Rica: An Approach to the Geography Curriculum,” provides an example that emphasizes the relationship between economic development (in this case, increased agriculture) and environmental problems (the resultant deforestation), and how they are affecting one indigenous group in Costa Rica. The article on “Environmental Degradation in a Dependent Region: the Rio Grande Valley of Mexico and Texas” approaches the issue by observing the impact of economic development and accompanying pollution on the health of people living in this border region. G



1. National Council for the Social Studies, Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies (Washington, D.C.: NCSS, 1994).

2. Geography Education Standards Project, Geography for Life: National Geography Standards 1994 (Washington, D.C.: GESP, 1994).


Richard A. Diem is Professor of Education at the University of Texas-San Antonio and a former NCSS president.

Websites on Development Issues


The following websites are suggested for helping students explore various aspects of development and its relationship to the natural environment. Some are general references, while others pertain specifically to development issues in Mexico and Central America (particularly, Costa Rica). Using a search engine and employing key words (it may be helpful to refer to the Glossary of Terms in the geography lesson on page 84), students can go beyond these initial suggestions to discover other websites on their own.


Map Resources

EPA National GIS Program


A discussion of the National Geographic Information System (GIS) program, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Spatial Data Library System (ESDLS), plus links to other EPA sites are all part of this page.


Map Machines



An excellent site that provides a wide variety of maps including physical, political, and satellite imagery. In additon, the map machine atlas has facts and profiles of individual countries.


PCL Map Collection /map coll


This wide range of country and regional maps is drawn from the map collection of the Perry-Cataneda Library at the University of Texas at Austin. Links to other websites and electronic cartographic reference resources are noted.


Country Information

Country Listing Factbook


The Central Intelligence Agency prepares these factbooks on countries of the world. They include a brief history, along with geographical, political, economic, social, cultural, linguistic, and other useful information.


Country Profiles


This is a browsable library of most countries of the world. Included is a background of each country’s history, geography, natural resources, economics, and demographics. There is a database of sortable statistics.


Development Issues: Central America & Mexico

Convention on Biological Diversity


This site contains the text of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (1992), including a useful glossary of terms used in the Convention.


Eco Travels in Latin America


This website was prepared by environmental business reporter Ron Mader and includes pages on Exploring Ecotourism, Sustainable Development and the Americas (a review of websites), and the Borderlands Environmental Archives (see below under Development Issues: Mexico).


Gaia Forest Conservation Archives


This site contains information on forest conservation worldwide, including Central American Rainforest Conservation Documents.


Indigenous Peoples Biodiversity Information Network


This site provides a mechanism for exchanging information about and increasing collaboration among indigenous groups worldwide on common issues related to biodiversity use and conservation.


Latin American Network Information Center (LANIC)


Website of the University of Texas at Austin. Links to the Sustainable Development Reporting Project, an archive of articles by John Burnett on sustainable development issues in Mexico and Central America.


The Latin American Alliance Network


This website has information on protecting biodiversity, protecting indigenous rights, and other issues of sustainable development. The Alliance is a project of the World Stewardship Institute.


Rainforest Action Network


This site deals with the preservation of rainforests worldwide, and includes teaching resources geared for the most part to elementary and middle school students.


World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)


A site loaded with information on conservation worldwide, including a Latin American/Caribbean Program. (Also see Talamancan and Isthmian Pacific Forest under Development Issues: Costa Rica.)


Development Issues: Costa Rica

Bosque Lluvioso


This site describes the effort by the Bosque Lluvioso Rio Costa Rica in partnership wtih the Institute Nacional de Biodiversidad (INBio) to develop a National Biodiversity Inventory of Costa Rica.


COCORI Costa Rica: National Parks and Reserves Map


This site contains a map and list of the 74 units of land protected by the Costa Rican government in its network of national parks, biological reserves, forest reserves, and wildlife refuges.


Indigenous Cultures of Costa Rica


This site includes a chart of the indigenous peoples of Costa Rica (including the Bribri) and a map of Indian Reserves.


Talamancan and Isthmian Pacific Forest:
The People, The Culture


This site describes the threat to remnant rainforests in the Talamanca Mountain range, which is home to 65 percent of Costa Rica’s indigenous populations, mainly the Bribri and Cabecar.


The Tico Times


Website containing articles on timely environmental issues from The Tico Times, an English language newspaper published in San Jose, Costa Rica.


Development Issues: Mexico

Borderlands Environmental Archives


This site provides information on the borderland region shared by Mexico and the U.S., with special attention to the environment and development. It includes useful bibliographies.


Rio Grande Alliance


This site reports on projects and events related to collaboration in the protection of health and conservation of resources in the Rio Grande basin.


United States-Mexico Chamber of Commerce


This site contains notes on the Mexican economy, including trade statistics and investment figures. It also provides links to other organizations that promote trade between Mexico and the United States.

©1999 National Council for the Social Studies. All rights reserved.