AGQTP Web 2.0 Workshop, Day 4


Yesterday, I attended the fourth day of Web 2.0 workshops run by Tom March. In this session we focused on the use of WebQuests.

[Image: Group’s initial ideas about WebQuests using Stixy]

We have been progressively working our way through various strategies to meaningfully embrace the use of ICT, particularly web 2.0 tools, in the classroom. The thing I have found most helpful about these sessions has been Tom’s focus on the things that will really enhance the learning of the students. These sessions aren’t about tacking technology on, but rather using these tools to completely reshape the way we think about education.

Tom taps into a lot of sound educational and pedagogical theory in his introductions to each session, and I find this gives us a real motivation as teachers to take his suggested activities seriously. I hope I can represent everything accurately in this post, because it was an excellent session!

We kicked off, as always, with a brief introduction from Tom. As an IT Applications teacher, one thing about his intro caught my attention immediately. In ITA one of the design tools we get kids to use when solving information problems is an IPO chart (Input|Processing|Output), and something Tom said reminded me of this and helped me re-frame the way I think about teaching. He said, roughly, ‘we know what the input is (the content), and we know what we want the output to be (what the kids produce to demonstrate their acquired knowledge and skills), but what we need to really think about is what happens in between: the process. What is the magic that need to happen in the middle?’ I think keeping this process in mind throughout any learning program is essential.

So then Tom explained the theory. Essentially, he suggested that there are all sorts of ideas relating to what leads to good learning and outlined them roughly as:

  • Motivation Theory
  • Critical Thinking
  • Intentional Learning
  • Basic Skills / Foundational Knowledge
  • Collaboration / Team Skills
  • Constructivism
  • Authentic Assessment
  • Metacognition

WebQuests can dovetail nicely with this list:

 Motivation Theory Compelling Scenario
 Critical Thinking Open-ended question
 Intentional Learning  Specific Task
 Basic Skills / Foundational Knowledge  Background Knowledge
 Collaboration / Team Skills  Perspectives and Expertise
 Constructivism  Group Process / Transformation
 Authentic Assessment  Real World Feedback
 Metacognition  Reflection

Compelling Scenario, Open-Ended Questions and Specific Tasks

The idea of this compelling scenario is to create cognitive dissonance. If we can unsettle the thinking of our students,this will lead nicely into the open-ended question to encourage critical thinking. The compelling scenario should be real, rich and relevant (the new ‘Three R’s for education?). That is, it should be something that is really happening in the world right now, that is relevant to the kids and can be explored with a rich variety of resources. With web 2.0 tools, finding the material for such tasks is too easy. The hard thing is filtering it successfully so that you pitch it at the right level (to encourage Flow…see day 3 (which I still need to write! tk)).

Tom told us a story about a guy who asked him, ‘in this age of student centered learning, what is the role of the teacher?’ Tom’s excellent answer: ‘To perturb.’ I think if we can perturb the preconceived ideas of our students, they will be motivated to resolve their unsettled thoughts.

One key way to perturb the students is in the juxtaposition of the material you present them with,but more on that later.

Background Knowledge

The background knowledge we provide can be just enough to give the kids the standard they need to participate in exploring the ideas for themselves. (Personal sidenote: ‘We’ often go into lessons with a minimum standard we want the kids to have achieved by the end of the lesson, or at least, ‘we’ are encouraged to by standardised testing. I like the idea of making the minimum background info and from there encourage excellence, whatever that means, for each kid.) The background knowledge serves as the ‘What does Wikipedia/The Textbook say about this?’ input. This is essentially the sort of stuff that can be copied and pasted, but real WebQuests should not allow for such simple and uncritical responses.

Perspectives and Expertise

This is where the kids really get the chance to explore the topic for themselves. The key is to find roles and perspectives that clash. It is important to remain neutral as the teacher and not sell a particular answer. The main goal is to give kids a 360 degree view of the issue. Able students can work individually, while less able students might work in pairs. (Logistically, in a class of 28, you might have six roles/case studies, and four groups over all, but the students work individually at this stage.) Tom suggests even introducing ‘some wackos that are not obviously wackos.’

Group Process / Transormation

This is where 84% of the 2000 WebQuests, Tom and his research team reviewed, stopped being real WebQuests. Here the kids come back together into their small groups and attempt to synthesise everything they have learned as individuals. The big group answer has to incorporate everybody’s point of view. This is a good time to use graphical organisers such as mindmaps, or collaborative documents like Etherpad/

Real World Feedback

Students can then be encouraged to act upon what they have learned. We can find real world opportunities for kids to reach out, beyond the classroom, with what they now know. This might take the form of some sort of social action, or simply creating resources to educate others. The key to this stage, though, is to find a real world audience to respond to this. It could be members of the parent community, other classes, the local community, or anyone else from the 2 billion strong community that is the world wide web. It’s a good way to help the kids feel like they have really done something, and not just got another grade from their English teacher!


We can also help kids to reflect on the process they went through and how their thinking may or may not have changed. Getting kids to understand how their own cogs turn (metacognition!) will encourage self-initiative, critical thinking and lifelong learning. No small claim.

What does that look like in practice?

Webquest example

Here is one of Tom’s own WebQuests, complete with resources: Terrorist or Freedom Fighter.

Wider reading

The Learning Power of WebQuests

What WebQuests Are (Really)

Creating WebQuests

AGQTP Web 2.0 Workshop, Day 4

AGQTP Web 2.0 Workshop, Day 2

I attended the second day led by Tom March yesterday, focusing on leveraging web 2.0 for the classroom. The thing I really like about these sessions is that I hear Tom’s introduction and assume I know everything there is to know and then by the end of the session I’ve come away with really useful tools and strategies for implementing them. It just goes to show that there is always something new to learn or a new approach to try out.

For example, last month we looked at WordPress and my initial reaction was “I know how to set up a blog…I write for 5 of them already.” But by the end of the session I not only knew how to do some cool new things, like using the categories to populate separate blog pages so that they can be relevant to a specific class, but also how to do simple little things like removing the related videos from Youtube embeds (&rel=0 is your friend here). I also had a new method for using blogs in class that was achingly simple, but I hadn’t thought of it previously.

And so it went yesterday, too. Tom informed us we were going to look at RSS feeds and social bookmarking and I arrogantly assumed that since I’d been using both for years it would be a dud session. We looked at Netvibes and Diigo, which set off even more alarm bells since I use Google Reader and Delicious and hated the thought of signing up for yet another couple of accounts. However, the thing that Tom does well is explain the difference between two tools and suggesting why the one he uses is the most appropriate tool for the job (something I’m keen on, if you refer to the Maslow’s Hammer comments in my previous post on IWBs).

Yesterday we setup Netvibes public pages to collect RSS feeds that may be of interest to our classes, with the aim of making these into class portals. I’ve encouraged my classes to use RSS before, but all the grief of setting up Google accounts and the like can often feel like it is not worth it. The thing I like about Netvibes is I can set up a landing page for the kids and they can view it without an account. It feeds in nicely to some of the principles that Tom raised last time two, namely about providing rich resources and encouraging self management of the learning process. It’s a great way of guiding kids towards quality sources without spoon-feeding them too much.

I was particularly dubious about Diigo. I’ve been considering Diigo for about two years, but never bothered making the switch from Delicious simply because I couldn’t see any added value in it. Admittedly, I hadn’t really done my research that well. Now that I’ve seen first hand how well the bookmarking, sharing and highlighting tools work, I doubt I’ll look back. I was particularly impressed by the way the highlighted portions of bookmarked pages act as a summary when you view the bookmark in your Diigo library. It doesn’t hurt that it works perfectly with the iPad, either.

So on day three I will not let myself be critical of the tools we’ll be using until I’ve given them a fair go!

AGQTP Web 2.0 Workshop, Day 2

AGQTP Web 2.0 Workshop, Day 1

Had a fantastic day today, led by Tom March, looking at incorporating web 2.0 into the classroom effectively.

As a result of the workshop I have set up another blog designed to host materials for each of my classes and the training material that I provide to the staff at school. It can be found at if you are interested.

The primary focus of the workshop was to build an online learning space that can be used to disseminate information to kids outside of class, so that class time can be used more effectively for learning (not just ‘teaching’).

Tom emphasised that there are 4 things that are needed for Web 2.0 to be used effectively in the classroom:

  1. We need an online space which is smart and user friendly…that’s where we meet.
  2. It needs to have a pedagogical validity – relying on what has previously worked as a framework using other tools.
  3. It needs to provide rich resources – things that we didn’t have 5 years ago. Schools used to be the place you would first access the internet…now it’s the least technologically advanced area in a child’s life!
  4. It needs a student self managed framework – 1:30 is not as effective as 1:1, but we can’t afford 1 student:1 teacher, 1 student:1 device is feasible…the role of the teacher is going to change.

So in response to this we set up the blogs as the smart online space that allows for the dissemination of rich media resources. The Look to Learn activities are based on thinking routines that have existed for a while and have proven pedagogical validity, and in a 1:1 environment or at home, students can navigate and respond to the tasks autonomously. My school is not at that stage yet, but it good to see that so much can be achieved with a tool as simple as WordPress.

I’m looking forward to the next 4 sessions.

AGQTP Web 2.0 Workshop, Day 1