The Ideal Classroom for the 21st Century: Teaching Thinking and Computer Skills for the Information Highway

Governor Glendening, in his summary of education priorities for Maryland, points out that computer literacy will be a key to employment in the high-tech job market of the 21st century. A vital ingredient of computer literacy is the ability to evaluate and to chose wisely from an abundance of electronic information.

The Maryland State Archives' electronic classroom is designed to achieve these important educational goals. By combining the technology of the World Wide Web of the Internet with historical documents and images, the Archives' classroom makes history and social studies come alive for students while teaching them the skills they need to use in the electronic world.

Students who are able to use and think critically about the rapidly growing wealth of knowledge available on the Internet will have a distinct advantage in the information age. And their deeper understanding of their past and the roots of their society will make them better, more responsible, citizens of the 21st century.

How does the Archives' electronic classroom achieve these goals?

The Interactive Electronic Classroom is designed to be an environment in which students and teachers can interact easily and students can work together as a team. A U-shaped classroom layout with the instructor in the center and computer monitors placed at desk level so they do not interfere with student-teacher sightlines is recommended as a friendly format for learning.

While the students and instructor interact almost constantly with each other, there is also the ability for the instructor to make solo presentations or direct the class, using images from the computer projected onto a screen by a high-definition digital projector. This community focus feature allows the instructor to have the complete attention of the students.

An important, and unique, feature of this classroom is that, although it appears to students that they are on the World Wide Web, they are actually working locally off of the server. The classroom looks, feels and works exactly like the Web. Students can learn to use the Web, create documents for it and become comfortable with the electronic world. This feature saves valuable communications time and money but, much more important, it prevents surfing. As anyone who has experienced the World Wide Web knows, surfing is almost irresistible once a person is on-line, and there is a lot out there that is not appropriate for students to see. And, of course, students who are surfing are not paying attention to the lesson at hand. The teachers monitor students' ability to access the Internet to supplement the classroom curriculum.

The computers are capable of multimedia presentations, so students can work with images on the screen and view video clips or listen to audio tracks. These materials could include clips from relevant movies or television shows, educational CD's, as well as interviews with scholars which have appeared on PBS.

The curriculum for the Archives' electronic classroom is built around the Archives' Documents for the Classroom program which makes creative use of scanned images of original sources available at the Archives and, in some cases, elsewhere. These include historical documents, maps, and photographs. The lessons are shaped around important national themes which are examined through events which took place in Maryland. The software used allows images to be blown up on the screen and examined in a way which would not be possible with the original documents or images.

An example of one of these document packets is Close Encounters of The First Kind which looks at the ways in which Native Americans were presented to European audiences. The images and documents in the packet require students to carefully evaluate historical evidence, helping them to realize that what they see and what they read cannot always be taken at taken at 'face value.' Another example of teaching with the electronic classroom is "The Idea of the City," an urban history class taught by Dr. Papenfuse at Johns Hopkins University.

The Archives' electronic classroom contains a number of features which make it unique:

This model classroom has been developed by the Maryland State Archives in conjunction with Boys' Latin School in Baltimore. The prototype classroom used in the NEH-sponsored Summer Teachers' Institute on Using Documents in the Classroom, held at the Archives in July 1995, is now installed at Boys' Latin. The concept of the Documents for the Classroom program and the electronic classroom was developed by Dr. Edward C. Papenfuse, State Archivist and Dr. M. Mercer Neale, headmaster of Boys' Latin School.

It is important to note that the Maryland State Archives provides extensive staff training in support of the electronic classroom and the Documents for the Classroom curriculum materials. Archives' personnel and related members of the educational community are available to introduce the historical materials and classroom methods for using them.

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Dr. Edward C. Papenfuse, Maryland State Archives
rev. October 11, 1995

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