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.
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
- Authentic Assessment
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|
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.
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/Typewith.me.
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?
Here is one of Tom’s own WebQuests, complete with resources: Terrorist or Freedom Fighter.