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Technology Position Statement and Guidelines

revised and approved by NCSS Board of Directors 2013

I. Introduction

Students today are maturing in a world where mobile connectivity is interactive, instantaneous, and ubiquitous, which offers educators the challenge and opportunity of preparing digital citizens within a global setting. Cisco predicts that by 2016 there will be 10 billion mobile devices in use worldwide and that the amount of additional data movement will be about three times more than all online traffic for 2012.1 Given the breadth, depth and rapidity of technological change, educators often have focused on a facet of technology--such as how technology can support student learning--at the expense, however, of fully appreciating and realizing the scope of technology's impact. While emerging technologies offer PreK-16 students and teachers new learning tools, the implications for how and what social studies students learn is much richer and deeper than learning the nuances of a new mobile device, in several ways. The proliferation of online data raises questions about critical media literacy and an understanding of how such data is used to make economic and political decisions. The use of social media to create multiple online and blended economic, political, and social settings with a global reach requires rethinking how to prepare children and youth to participate in such settings. In turn, such settings are reshaping how children and youth are able to act as citizens and consumers. Helping students make sense of all the information, new environments, and ways of being, requires grounding them in the experiences of those in the past and other civic and cultural settings. In a time when as a field social studies struggles for relevance, social studies educators need to recognize and promote how they are uniquely qualified and situated to enable young people to effectively use mobile technologies as a citizen, learner, and member of a democratic society in a global setting and to explore the civic, economic, and social implications of such technologies across time and place.

II. Intended audience

All educators

III. Background

The global proliferation of cell phones offers testimony to a shift to mobile devices and the prospect of 24/7 connectivity for people worldwide. This phenomenon, along with others such as the development of augmented reality glasses, self-driving cars, and active authentication program keyed to your brainwaves, represents but the tip of the pervasiveness and rapidity of technological change. These technological changes mirror deeper societal and personal changes that we only are beginning to fathom. People's ability not only to access, but to create, information is leading to the democratization of knowledge. In online settings children are globally interacting with others and are exercising unparalleled adult-like autonomy. Youth are using social networking sites to become civically engaged and to create their own profit-making ventures. Children and youth are engaging in democratic like experiences at an unprecedented rate. While children and youth are immersed in technology related social studies, teachers find themselves hard pressed to incorporate learning about and with technology into their classrooms. Elementary teachers are able to devote less and less time to social studies and secondary teachers confront high stakes testing and new demands as literacy teachers. Social studies educators confront a digital divide between the realities of their classrooms and their students' world.

IV. Rationale for recommendations

Social studies' integrative nature, its exploration of the human experience across time and place, and its commitment to readying youth for life in a democratic society within a global context means the field is well suited to enabling youth to learn with and about technology for several reasons.

  1. The democratization of knowledge, which empowers individuals by enabling them to access, use, and create information in ways traditionally reserved for experts, aligns with social studies' democratic purpose. With such power, though, comes responsibility, which is as simple as pausing prior to forwarding the latest "urban legend" being passed as truth to learning how to critically engage and portray online information in support of a civic cause. Given social studies educators' expertise with sourcing historical evidence, critically analyzing political messages, and drawing inferences from GIS data, they are well equipped to further students' media literacy and related skills.
  2. The impact of technology in all areas of life is a focal point of social studies. The burgeoning role of social media in politics and civil society worldwide and in the lives of children and youth, for example, presents fascinating opportunities to explore the importance of free speech, decision making, and global civic action in a democratic society. Becoming an informed decision maker takes on new meaning when one stops to consider how many digital contracts a student has entered by the time he or she begins high school. Now, more than ever, students need the knowledge base that social studies provides.
  3. The creation of multiple blended and online settings within a global context better enables children and youth to civically, economically, and socially participate. While young people always have needed to become aware of multiple life roles, the advent of mobile technology and social media offers them more venues in which to assume such roles much earlier in their lives, ones often removed from adult guidance. Digital spaces offer students multiple opportunities to interact with others worldwide, but also for others to profit from their innocence or even to prey upon them. Since today's students have grown up with the Internet, as social studies educators, we must realize how what we perceive as offline and online settings they perceive as everyday life, and so we must prepare them for the new digital normal accordingly.
  4. Students' rich array of digital democratic experiences needs nurturing. Not surprisingly, the changes described above affect both political and everyday life in a democratic society. More so than ever, young people routinely engage in democratic acts on a daily basis. What is a profile on a social networking site but one's public persona? While young people long have made choices about how to present themselves on a daily basis in school, they now--through social networking sites, location services, online games and the like--are able to reach a much wider and even a global audience, to make innumerable choices, and to act in multiple social settings at the same time. This creates both an opportunity and a dilemma for social studies educators: helping young people translate these democratic experiences in a social setting into civic and political knowledge and skills within the context of contemporary classrooms.
  5. There is a rich tradition of innovative use of technology in the teaching and learning of social studies. Social studies educators are able not only to use technologies, such as GIS with U.S. census data or video editing of political speeches for powerful learning experiences, but also are able to draw upon corporate and government use of such technologies, such as the use of social media by businesses for cause marketing or by politicians during campaigns. Social studies educators are able to model and build upon cutting edge uses of emerging technologies by the private and public sector during their teaching.

V. Recommendations

  1. Establish guidelines for the promotion of media literacy and related research skills in social studies. Dramatic shift in the nature of information and knowledge requires adaptation of media literacy and related skills.
  2. Rethink the curricular role of society, technology, and science, and related themes, in the National Standards for Social Studies. Support themes with digital instructional examples and with suggestions for how to bridge learning about technology with students' use of technology in their lives. For example, teachers might draw relation between advent of movable type and printing press with the growth of Wikipedia and the democratization of knowledge or between town commons, social networking sites, and commercial digital spaces.
  3. Adapt social studies' civic and socialization role to blended and online places. Identify the cultural, economic and social benefits and concerns resulting from students' immersion in the emerging digital world and address related policy and curricular issues. This ranges from addressing concerns such as cyberbullying and cybersecurity and issues like the commercial value of one's personal information to recognition of how cultural norms are operationalized online and of ways to become civically engaged in a global setting.
  4. Determine ways to best enable children and youth to translate their informal, socially oriented democratic experiences into a more academic, civically oriented setting. Powerful social studies learning is meaningful, integrative, value-based, challenging and active. What better way to illustrate the power of social studies than by showing children how "liking" a person is akin to voting or youth how creating a social networking site for a group is like campaigning for a political candidate or social cause. In turn, how might social studies educators equip children and youth with the civic understandings, digital tools, and off and online participatory skills necessary to address matters of public importance, such as those related to social justice and sustainability.
  5. Promote Pre K-16 educators integration of technology into student learning. At the moment this might range from the development and/or endorsement of acceptable use policies related to use of smartphones or online social networking sites in social studies and of ways to ensure student security and privacy in closed and open source environments to providing examples of exemplary uses of technology in social studies. In doing so, social studies educators must recognize how technology use always will raise questions about the equitable distribution of and access to emerging technologies. In turn, the promotion of technology integration into student learning requires remaining sensitive not only to existing, but also to emerging, technologies so as to ensure that a learning environment is in place which best enables students to make rich use of those technologies as they prepare to become digital citizens.

VI. Conclusion

Technological change has proven one of the few constants of the early 21st century, providing social studies educators with the challenge and opportunity of preparing digital citizens in a global setting. This requires rethinking the type of social studies learning necessary in the 21st century. As the National Academies concluded in the Education for Life and Work report, "the process of deeper learning is essential for the development of transferable 21st century competencies" and "the application of 21st century competencies in turn supports the process of deeper learning, in a recursive, mutually reinforcing cycle.2

Social studies educators already have identified what characterizes deeper or powerful social studies learning. What now is necessary is bringing this vision of powerful social studies education into the 21st century.


1.Cisco, Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update 2012-2017 (2012). Retrieved at

2. J.W. Pellegrino and M.L. Hilton, eds., Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century (Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2012), 8.

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