Why ClassActPortals?

Learning from WebQuests – Background

Searching for China 0.9

Back in 1995, the WebQuest resonated with technology-using educators so much that “the rest is history.” Used well, a WebQuest guides both teachers and students into and through a constructivist learning activity while providing in-process scaffolds for the trickiest parts. I have been involved in developing the concept since posting the first “mass consumption” WebQuest ever published on the Web (before morphing into this). Even with this decade of development, the vast majority of Web-based BestWebQuestsactivities that refer to themselves as WebQuests actually aren’t. Although they may be fine group activities that involve use of the Web, most don’t take students into the realm of constructivism where they make personal meaning from an array of complex perspectives. Because of the frustration of those educators tasked with facilitating professional development in the integration of ICTs, starting in 2002 I began collecting BestWebQuests: online examples that fulfill the criteria of guiding students to transform information into new understanding. The reason for this brief review of WebQuest history is to provide a convincing rationale for the ClassAct Portal approach.

Learning from WebQuests – Early Adopters vs. The Majority

Thus real life has taught us that – for whatever reasons – developing constructivist learning activities isn’t something that the majority of teachers do. Because my focus for PD as well as classroom teaching is “learning-centered,” my interest isn’t in creating judgements about this, but to work with the reality to facilitate as much learning as possible. Therefore, even after a decade’s use, as motivating and challenging as real WebQuests are, not all teachers create nor use them.

If we turn back to this article’s predecessor (Why WebQuests?), three aspects of WebQuests were highlighted:

  • Student Motivation & Authenticity
  • Developing Thinking Skills
  • Cooperative Learning

I suggest that these aspects are even more important today than they were a decade ago. To this threesome, I’d also add the overarching goal of promoting self-initiated learners who use technology and media to construct, not merely consume. The motivation for this emphasis comes from my view of The New WWW – our impending virtual connection to Whatever, Whenever, Wherever we want. As a counter-balance to a culture that will entice us all to amuse ourselves to distraction, education should regularly and repeatedly engage students in the joy of learning.

Enter the ClassAct Portal

ClassAct PortalAn earlier article on ClassAct Portals define the main aspects and the source of their inspiration, but the point of this piece is to highlight the benefits of such a site over a simple Class Blog. Later, I set up a simple Blog/directory site – ClassActPortals – to catalogue the great sites developed by groups of teachers and students. Although this catalogue was launched in 2005, I’m only now actively campaigning for submissions. A recent rant of mine (Let’s Go Beyond Class Blogs) accents my reservations to this point. I have looked through many of the main sites that promote educational use of Weblogs and have come to this perspective: Blogs (podcasts, wikis, etc. — like the Web) have great potential to transform education, but I don’t see that insightful teacher blogs or pseudo myspaces student blogs will get us there. So as blogs now enter the mainstream of education, I’m calling for consideration of a framework that can shape more powerful learning and human experiences.

What Makes a ClassAct Portal Different from a Class Blog?

Two decades of teaching have clubbed me over the head with the obvious: students yearn for learning that is Real, Rich and Relevant. The artificial kinds of classroom activities that only ever happen in schools undermine a joy for learning which is always connected to the Real world of consequence. The limitation of time, space and consciousness create a pre-digested, segmented experience where “richness” serves as a distraction or nuisance. Finally, in a culture focused on demographically pegging each individual’s whims, a passive mass production approach guarantees irrelevance.

A ClassAct Portal creates a purpose and shared mission that puts students and teachers together in a group endeavor that inherently promotes Real, Rich and Relevant learning. To reiterate the points of my earlier rank, the critical attributes of a ClassAct Portal (as distinguished from any Class Blog) are sites that:

  • Focus on one compelling topic
  • Is of passionate interest to the teacher (and thus the students 😉
  • Ticks along in the background of the class drawing attention when something in the real world provokes it
  • Is a natural use for things like blogs, podcasts, photo galleries, data collection and wikis.

Like anyone who spends lots of time on the Web, I have this niggling feeling that somewhere – perhaps in a better, more noble corner of the Web – whole communities of enthusiastic teachers guide their students into deep investigation of a substantial topic that captures the imaginations of all involved, compelling further research, formation of expert opinions, construction of new insights into sophisticated relationships. Please submit the addresses for these sites.

And if they don’t exist as my searching suggests, let’s just say they don’t exist “yet.” Let’s imagine what’s so easily possible, taking a lesson from one of my favorite sites where students write about child slave labor to raise awareness. Each year a new class of students takes over the mantle and contributes their essays. The Immaculata High School Child Slave Labor News is still the exemplar of what I call a ClassAct Portal. And these are simple, text-only essays. Just imagine the power that a growing collection of podcast media campaigns or a wiki to serve as clearinghouse for real data about the plight of exploited children. Even at its low-tech present CSLN is Google’s #1 site for a search on child slave labor.

Do Let’s Imagine…

ClassAct Portals as Photo Galleries

ClassAct Portals as Collections of Hotlists / Directories

  • Imagine… your primary school students creating a better Hotlist than Yahooligans on their favorite Pixar movies.
  • Imagine… your middle school students annotating the best from a Clusty search on “space”.
  • Imagine… a high school class moderating a hotlist for the best links on Global Warming.

ClassAct Portals as Podcasts

  • Imagine… your primary school students recreating the oral tradition of Norse Mythology.
  • Imagine… your middle school students like the rightfully famous producers of Radio WillowWeb.
  • Imagine… your high school classes creating interpretive museum guides.

ClassAct Portals as Projects

  • Imagine… your primary school students organizing a data collection project.
  • Imagine… your middle school students adopting an era and becoming experts.
  • Imagine… your high school classes carving out a niche on the Net for their own invention like StarWars Macbeth.

ClassAct Portals as Wikis

How Can We Make this Happen?

As of the last year, developments have occurred in the world of Web hosting to combine cheap yearly rates with easily installed open source software. My favorite (no vested interest, no guarantees) is SiteGround (see the link in the footer of this page). These folks have given me such good service, I’m just spreading work of mouth about them. Here are some examples of open source software you can install and use (all at once if you like) for only $90 USD / year and this includes your own domain registration.

Conclusion

Ten years ago, I wrote what has become my second most read article, Working the Web for Education, in which I lined out a range of approaches for learning-centered Web activities. This was where the Hotlists, Hunts, Samplers, WebQuests, etc. array came from. My hope is that we can use this 2nd10 (second decade of Web access) to integrate ClassAct Portals thereby enlisting all educators in authentic, action-learning activities that make school life Real, Rich and Relevant for all students. You know we can do this. You know they need us. So let’s make this happen.