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Digital Social Studies

reviewed by Lewis Asimeng-Boahene - May 05, 2014

coverTitle: Digital Social Studies
Author(s): William B. Russell III
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1623965209, Pages: 486, Year: 2013
Search for book at Amazon.com

Today, students live in a world where mobile devices provide instant connections to the world. Thus, technological change has become one of the few ubiquitous phenomena of the 21st century, providing social studies educators with the challenge and prospect of helping students prepare to play meaningful roles in a digitized global society (NCSS, 2006). Consequently, technology has provided the necessary impetus to reassess the traditional method and techniques of social studies teaching and learning for the future. Despite unrelenting calls for the integration of digital technologies, they seem grossly undersold as the narratives of social studies education researchers continue to recount traditional teaching methods and minimal cognitive uses of technologies (Beck & Eno, 2012). Subsequently, research studies on technology and social studies often point out the challenges of technological integration which include teacher demographics, insufficient teacher training, teacher attitudes about technology, the availability of technology, and limited school technology support services (Lee, Doolittle, & Hicks, 2006). Hence, Martorella (1997) describes the untapped potential of technology in the curriculum as the “sleeping giant in the social studies curriculum with a few serious attempts to rouse him” (p. 511).

It is in view of the above challenges, that one finds Digital Social Studies edited by William B. Russell III, a welcome and timely resource to engage readers in a discourse about the relevance of technology in the digital world and its place in social studies education. The contributing authors of this anthology seek to explain, through a corpus of ideas, what digital social studies can or should look like, while making available for readers, a current rationale underpinned by anthological narratives.

To help readers understand digital social studies, Russell first defines social studies and its purpose. He then sets the stage by asking pertinent questions, such as, “What is digital social studies? Why do we need it, and what is its purpose?” (p. 2). Russell considers digital social studies as “the study of social studies/social sciences using an array of electronic resources. It encompasses content, methodology, and technology into a powerful and dynamic approach to social studies(p. 2). From here, he offers a synopsis of the book, which includes twenty-two scholarly chapters discussing relevant topics on a range of digital issues in social studies, such as history, geography, movie making, and music in social studies education. The book also spotlights the use of social media in social studies underscored by relevant research and its connection to digital social studies. The twenty-two chapters are divided into two sections. Section One covers thirteen chapters that explore practical perspectives on digital social studies and Section Two captures contemporary research about digital social studies.

The chapters in Section One present some basic goals, perspectives and pedagogy of digital social studies. In effect, this section conceptualizes the overarching rationale for using digital technology in social studies education. For instance, in Chapter Two, Digital Visual Learning: The Next Frontier for Social Studies Education, Waters and Russell examine the importance of visual literacy in the social studies. The focal point of Chapter Three explores the benefits of online instruction for K-12 social studies education. Chapters Four and Five spotlight special themes addressing early childhood and learning disabilities. The early childhood narrative prompts readers with the statement that introducing young children to digital primary sources can “open the door to rich archives…that may stimulate historical inquiry and critical thinking” (p. 57).  The narrative on disability centers on the question, “How can social studies educators access and use appropriate technology to educate the learning opportunities of students with a learning disability” (p. 63).  Here the authors provide pedagogical content knowledge in their narratives, which are very well articulated in helping readers appreciate the usefulness of technology within learners of varied ages and abilities. The authors in Chapters Six through Thirteen showcase web-based tools, digital storytelling, Wikis, computer-based games, as mediums to enhance critical thinking, constructivism, real-life situations, student-centeredness and authenticity for the teaching and learning of social studies in the classroom. Before Section One takes its final bow and Section Two hits the stage in this anthology, Hefner, Corvee, and Bellows poignantly discuss how technology has created a medium for integrating historical inquiry in the social studies classroom in Chapter Fourteen.

Section Two contributors outline current research studies that have shaped digital technology. In Chapter Fifteen, Kartika discusses the results of a qualitative study that examined the diverse roles social media play in his pre-service class. After reading, I endorse his conclusion that social media as a medium “can foster local, national, and global citizenship by incorporating more voices from places” (p. 297). Likewise, Linda Bennett utilizes content analysis to examine social studies journals and articles related to technology and social studies in Chapter Nineteen. The essays in this section are informative and focus on current research studies on digital technology and its impact on education. Consequently, the sequential structure of the book provides countless examples of how to’s, which add to its relevance as a practical resource; it includes effective teaching strategies to infuse technologies within the social studies classroom. The overall message is engaging and uplifting, as it provides tips and hope for those who may be weary of the continual struggle over the cognitive relevance of technology and social studies.

However, as is often the case with edited collections, the intellectual depth is not uniform across chapters, that is, the quality of individual chapters is uneven. In this global era, the value of providing comparative analysis of and the useful knowledge of the use of technology world-wide cannot be overemphasized. Thus, I hope the next edition will expand the focus of the anthology to include a chapter on the international use of digital technology in social studies education that would acknowledge the cultural implications such as the nature of technological illiteracy or literacy in other parts of the world when it comes to using technology in the classroom. Furthermore, a concluding chapter with a thoughtful synthesis of the themes woven throughout the book would have been helpful for readers. However, despite these minimal oversights, Russell’s anthology remains an excellent resource for social studies education teachers, students, curriculum planners, and other educational stakeholders and practitioners interested in the use of technology.


Beck, D., & Eno, J. (2012). Signature pedagogy. A literature review of social studies and technology research. Computers in the Schools, 24(1-2), 70–94.

Lee, J. K., Doolittle, P. E., & Hicks, D. (2006). Social studies and history teachers’ uses of non-digital and digital historical resources. Social Studies Research and Practice, 1(3), 291–311.

Martorella, P. (1997). Technology and social study-or which way to the sleeping giant? Theory and Research in Social Education, 25(4), 511–514.

National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS). (2006). Technology position statement and guidelines. Silver Spring, MD: Author.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: May 05, 2014
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17521, Date Accessed: 1/16/2022 4:30:53 PM

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About the Author
  • Lewis Asimeng-Boahene
    The Pennsylvania State University
    E-mail Author
    LEWIS ASIMENG-BOAHENE, PhD is currently an associate professor at The Pennsylvania State University-Harrisburg. He is a teacher educator and researcher who teaches social studies education, world regional geography, foundations of curriculum, and international comparative education. He is an author and reviewer of several journal articles, book chapters, and books in his field. He recently coedited a book titled, African traditional and oral literature as pedagogical tools in content area classrooms: K 12. His research interests include African oral traditional literature as pedagogical tools in content area classroom, social studies education, multicultural education, and international comparative education. Dr. Asimeng-Boahene has led workshops and presentations both at U.S and international schools and conferences. He is a board member of International Association of African Educators.
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