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Technology Integration and Primary Sources:
Linking the Learner to Learning

By Peggy O'Neill-Jones and Michelle Pearson

Teaching with primary sources is one way to enhance student learning using technology. By their nature, primary sources—the raw materials of history, such as original manuscripts, photographs, maps, and recordings—foster literacy and content knowledge. They support development of 21st century skills, helping students build the capacity to solve problems in a constantly changing world, communicate and collaborate in a global environment, and continuously learn using various forms of media and in multiple venues.

Through technology, students and teachers have instant access to millions of digitized primary sources that represent human thought and achievement across time and geography. These are available through a number of different distribution channels in a variety of formats, including manuscripts, images, audio recordings, and film. Thus, digitized primary sources are both instructionally ideal and technologically ready for integration into classroom teaching.

Technology integration blends pedagogy, content, and technology (Swan 2008). Effective technology integration requires teachers to make purposeful pedagogical decisions during the instructional design process. When designing instruction, teachers must make choices that support learning goals, objectives, and assessment outcomes. They consider what technology or blend of technologies will help students have a successful learning experience.

Technology Integration: An Example

Imagine a middle-school history teacher planning a unit about the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and its immediate aftermath. While the overall learning experience will have several objectives and activities, the goal is for students to develop an understanding of why the bombing of Pearl Harbor was a turning point for the United States entering World War II (Linoff, Welsh and Williams 2009).

For the unit's introductory activity, the teacher considers facilitating a class discussion to compare and contrast two digitized primary sources: a photograph of the wreckage of the USS Arizona and another of the USS West Virginia aflame. But since her students are familiar with the process of analyzing primary sources, she decides to create a wiki for them to individually complete this activity and then collectively synthesize their observations.

Next, the teacher thinks about ways to help students understand the geography of Pearl Harbor in Oahu, Hawaii, and how the attack unfolded. Students could view a detailed map of Pearl Harbor in their textbooks, but the teacher wants them to identify the U.S. ships' locations and trace the Japanese flight path. She develops an activity in which students will first view Remembering Pearl Harbor: Multimedia Map and Timeline (National Geographic Society, 2001), then use Google Earth to plot the positions of the ships and planes and create their own interactive maps.

Assigned readings, a documentary film and individual research throughout the unit will provide students with the historical context for the attack on Pearl Harbor; however, the teacher also wants them to consider the event itself from an individual's perspective. She considers having students write a diary entry of a seaman stationed on one of the ships during the attacks in which they incorporate historical facts into descriptions of imagined experiences of individual sailors. She knows, however, that many of her students have difficulty sharing their own work and providing feedback to others when face to face in class. To address this, the teacher plans to invite students to use a blog for writing diary entries and posting comments.

Students will develop research questions about the Pearl Harbor attack and its aftermath based on their own curiosity and interests. The teacher prepares a list of online resources and library databases for students' use in gathering evidence to support responses to their questions. For example, a student might research the reaction of the American public to news of the bombing. To conduct his or her research, this student could access more than twelve hours of audio recordings capturing 200 individuals' opinions using the Library of Congress digitized collection, After the Day of Infamy: "Man-on-the-Street" Interviews Following the Attack on Pearl Harbor.

Current Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)

While not absolutely essential to 21st century learning, technology greatly enhances the acquisition of these skills (American Association of School Librarians 2007; Partnership for 21st Century Skills 2008). Pedagogically-sound activities and assessments can be purposefully integrated with ICT to leverage the type of thinking that primary sources cultivate, encourage new and emerging literacies, and promote inquiry and 21st century learning skills. The following table describes ways in which some types of technology can contribute to the learning process:

TechnologyContributions to the Learning Process 1
Wiki 2
  • Use the writing process and technology skills to gather sources to display perspective, points of view, misconceptions, and conflicting information.
  • Collaborate with others to broaden and deepen understanding.
  • Use collaborative technology to communicate and display new understandings in ways that others can view, use, and assess.
  • Participate and collaborate as an intellectual network of learners. Connect the learning to community issues. Be open and responsive to new and diverse perspectives.
  • Reflect on the learning.
  • Use the writing process to articulate thoughts and ideas and express new understandings.
  • Communicate and display new understandings in ways that others can view, use, and assess.
  • Reflect on the learning.
Information/Library Databases, Online Resources
  • Use information searching processes to seek and find additional resources.
  • Understand the ethical and legal issues surrounding the access and use of information.
Interactive Map
  • Use technology, information, and visual literacy skills to make sense of gathered information.
  • Identify and ask questions that clarify various points of view and lead to better solutions.

1 The descriptions are drawn from the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills 21st Century Skills and Social Studies Map.

2 Technology-integration wiki, blog and interactive map examples developed by TPS-Metropolitan State College of Denver staff members: Eric Brown, Taylor Kendal, Keith Patterson, Diane Watkins, and Todd Wolfe.


Technology integration provides excellent opportunities for learners to gain and express knowledge using digitized primary sources. When carefully integrated during instructional design, technology and primary sources together can support learning goals while building students' critical thinking and other 21st century skills.

Peggy O'Neill-Jones is a Professor of Technical Communication and Media Production and directs the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) program at the Metropolitan State College of Denver. Michelle Pearson is a middle school teacher at the Hulstrom Options School in the Adams 12 Colorado School District.


AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner (2006). Chicago, Illinois: American Library Association. Available:

Linoff, L., Welsh, T., & Williams, K. (2009). Pearl Harbor Annotated Resource Set. Teaching with Primary Sources-Mountain Plains Regional Center. Available:

National Geographic Society (2001). Remembering Pearl Harbor: Multimedia Map and Timeline. Available:

21st Century Skills and Social Studies Map (2008). Tucson, Arizona: Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Available:

Swan, K. L. (2008, June). Evaluating alignment of technology and primary source use within a history classroom. CITE Journal. Available: