New interactive digital textbook immerses children in Indiana history

Topic: College of Sciences and Humanities

December 13, 2013

Crossroads Connect is not the typical digital textbook, but an application for tablet computers.
Crossroads Connect is not the typical digital textbook, but an application for tablet computers.

Fourth-grade students may soon experience Hoosier history in a new way through Indiana’s first digital social studies textbook, thanks to an immersive learning experience at Ball State University.

Crossroads Connect is not the typical digital textbook, but an application for tablet computers. Students are introduced to Indiana’s past from prehistory to the 21st century through innovative technology. In addition to text and images, Crossroads Connect provides videos and interactive features such video games, music, timelines and quizzes, and it tells the history from multiple perspectives, including those that were previously excluded.

Ron Morris, a Ball State history professor who mentored the immersive learning class offered through the Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry, points out that children have a natural intuition with the tablets so the technology makes for a new and exciting learning experience.

“Indiana students will soon be learning almost entirely on some sort of tablet within a few years,” Morris said. “And since we’ve already completed several history projects for fourth-grade classes in recent years, this application seemed to be a natural part of that process.”

The app gives fourth-graders an opportunity to actively explore history, says Scott May, a Ball State anthropology major.

“Since this is a digital text, Crossroads Connect promotes interactivity in fourth-grade classes,” he said. “Not only does it connect students with the text, but it also connects the student with the teacher and with their peers.”

May was among the Ball State students creating the book’s content. The book complies with the Indiana fourth-grade social studies standards, covering areas such as government, geography, economics and history.

The narration of the book is objective, Morris said, and students will get multiple perspectives on the history.

“The book makes a departure from a European-centric view of history,” he said. “It broadens scope to include women and ethnic groups that have been largely excluded from traditional history texts.”

For example, George Rogers Clark’s legendary winter campaign to take Fort Sackville in southwest Indiana is told from viewpoints of various participants in the Revolutionary War, including slaves, British soldiers, French and Spanish residents, Native Americans, and women.

Lisa Hensell, a public history major, said that such issues present real-world problems to young children.

“By providing children with the opportunity to think critically and take sides on issues at this age, it better prepares them for taking a stance on issues in their future,” she said.

In order to assess the accuracy and representation of research, Crossroads Connect has partnered with cultural institutions and elementary school teachers throughout the state. The book will be released in 2014 through the Apple and Android markets following pilot tests.

Production on the project began last summer and was completed in recent weeks through cooperation with the journalism department’s Digital Production Studio team and the Emerging Technologies Media Development and Training programs.

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