WebQuest Transformations


I’ve found that there are two main phases to creating and participating in WebQuests.  First there is the whole immersion and information-gathering phase.  Interest is excited and the problem becomes clear so we prepare and soak up lots of new information and perspectives on some specific aspects of the issue.  Although this can sometimes feel challenging because of all the information available, generally, this first phase is an one of engaged and enthusiastic pursuit – there’s lots to learn so we get on with it.

The second phase is different.  It’s a phase we don’t often get to in our Assembly line method of schooling.  It’s the sticky part after information is acquired.  What’s to be done with it?  Do we hold it temporarily, say for an exam, and then left it go or do we want to keep at least parts of it and add it to what might be called our “knowledge.”  You’ve heard of this process many times and with a range of terminology.  Classically, it’s Piaget’s shift from assimilation to accommodation.  Others have referred to it as “construction of meaning.” It’s the “Ah-Ha!” insight that sometimes follows the “Huh?” of cognitive dissonance.  It’s the painful shift from short to long-term memory.  Bloom’s taxonomy and the information literacy processes that embody it might see it as “Synthesis,”  the putting together after of something new from the pieces derived by careful Analysis.  I have come to refer to it as the “transformation of new information into new understanding.”

The problem with this second phase is twofold:  it’s hard work and it’s idiosyncratic. The hard work is because this task is very cognitively demanding – it hurts our heads and often feels like we’re treading water, not sure if we will learn to swim or sink into confusion.  The second problem is the idiosyncratic part – if the process of “making sense” from complex new information is unique to each individual (can you imagine it being any different?), then how do we “teach” it to a big group of students, a classroom of them, for instance?  Wouldn’t it require time?  A lot of one-on-one Socratic mentoring?  How can this work with typical teacher-directed learning when the bell’s about to ring, the semester end and kids are lining up to accept their diplomas?  So it’s no wonder that 80% of WebQuests leave this pesky transformation bit off – but thus aren’t WebQuests. It also why I get a little ranty at Info Lit processes that neatly label a stage “Synthesis” as if giving it a name makes it happen (I like to refer to that tact as the “Insert Magic Here” approach).  

So today’s challenge comes with a rare opportunity – working with a small group of teachers who have already spent two days (Day 1 and Day 2) gathering online resources and brainstorming perspectives on an appropriately complex and rich topic.  Today we will see if we can design for each topic a process that guides a group of students toward the light, to accommodation, construction of meaning, Eureka! and Ah-Ha.  One trick we have up our sleeves is that the best Group Transformation processes flow naturally from the acquisition of new information that has preceded it.  Just like a teacher working with a group of students in a WebQuest, I will be working with a group of teachers facing the same Task: given what I have learned, how do I shape it into a new understanding, representing Knowledge I didn’t have before.  The first requirement for this task is met: we have the time.  The second follows with what I hope is Socratic coaching and online resources to inspire possible solutions.

Please go to the Workshop site to re-read this article and access online support through further readings, examples and tools.

Education: We’re in the Humanity Business

The following is a passage from a book I’m working on. I wrote it this morning and thought I’d share it to see if people have any comments.  Thanks, Tom —


Clearly we can’t simply drop even the best psychological models and digital technologies into our schools and expect profound improvement. Efforts over the past decades have tried, but if we look through the literature and Web sites, where are all these new schools whose enthusiastic students are busy taking on the world?  With the way everything “goes viral” nowadays, wouldn’t we all be copying these incredible successes? If we were a knowledge-building entity, education would be learning about what really works and continuously improving.

assemblyine-carframeWe can be, we just need a new understanding, a new awareness.  An “Ah-Ha!” Harkening back to Piaget, let’s go through the process: the fact that “technology + assembly line learning ≠ desired improvements” create cognitive dissonance.  Something doesn’t make sense based upon our current understanding.  Instead of ignoring the dissonance, we could get more deeply into the problem, to explore the gray areas, to immerse ourselves in what may feel like chaos, but once encouraged, our human instinct to learn kicks in and we seek to make cognitive connections between the limits of our understanding and the possibility of assimilating new information and thus broadening our understanding, building knowledge.  The “Ah-Ha” came for me when I acknowledged the transformative power of mass production and the moving assembly line and how it has shaped society, including education.  We didn’t consciously ask for this transformation, but once it began, nothing could stop it.  The “Ah-Ha” insight clicked in when I realized what this century’s equivalent of mass production and the assembly line is.  It’s data – from digitized information, to mass customization, to digital footprints and profiling, to smart algorithms that just get smarter through our use. Just as Henry Ford said, we asked for a faster horse, but when the affordable automobile came along, we hopped aboard and never looked back.  Those who lament the unintended negative consequences the automobile has had on society and the environment may envision similar downsides to the next revolution through Data mining, but it can’t be stopped.  Is anyone asking for poorer search results, less engaging entertainment or losing touch with friends?  Just as factories can accost humanity whether in 19th Century England, 20th Century American or 21st Century China, our digital technologies will have their victims while the wider culture embraces what digital data makes available.  I’d like to suggest that the victims are not the few horrible cases where Facebook is used by predators to stalk and lure the innocent and naïve.  Although blared across the media and clearly tragic, the real victims will number in the millions.  And as the world has suffered from the impact of the automobile, another, more analogous revolution, more pertinent to Education and technology’s impact on humanity, is the television.  In some ways TVs were the next revolutionizing product after the car to come off the assembly line.  Like digital technologies, they also provided a platform for entertainment and socializing that was completely different from what went before.  I find it amazing that people will complain about the remote possibility of a child falling prey to Internet-facilitated abduction, but not monitor a child’s access to hours of gaming, chat or surfing.  I saw a chilling example recently in a doctor’s office waiting room.  A young mother waited with a new-born in a stroller while her toddler danced around the chairs, magazine racks, other patients.  This young thing was not being a nuisance, but being a child, seeking something to do.  My complaint is not that the mother didn’t reign-in this free spirit, but that never once did the mother look up from her iPhone and Facebook.  This is what I think people don’t get and makes me harp on and on.  The media loves a good hysteria, but ignores drugs to the masses.

As educators we are in the Humanity business. We can not disconnect from the wider technological and social transformations swelling over the globe.  We don’t have that power.  Just as we couldn’t provide a scalable alternative to the Assembly line school.  What we’ve done is try to humanize this artificial construct as much as we can.  We are better at this in the early years when the system is less artificial – when students aren’t shifted down the conveyor of content areas to the ring of a bell and shuttled off to the next stage, the next classroom and year level.

So while we have no power to stop – and really wouldn’t want to – the next revolution based on digitalized data mining, at this early stage of the transformation, we can have a greater impact than we will be able to once the model and patterns are fully functional and implemented.  Reflect on how difficult it is to even tweak the current model to consider block schedules, inter-disciplinary studies, cross-age learning or team teaching?  Once the dust settles, it will be just as impossible to modify the next model of schooling.  Unless we get involved now, in this early and dynamic, sometimes stressful and chaotic transitionary period, software companies, textbook publishers, teachers unions, politicians, and hardware manufacturers will create “solutions” and they will all target the largest customers, the largest educational systems, those that, because of their size, still embrace and are founded upon “one-size-fits-all” and minimizing risk and failure.  In other words, 20th Century thinking.

As educators, in the humanity business, our challenge is to use the best tools and approaches currently available to effect the changes that we can – what happens in our classrooms and our schools.  This requires taking risks, choosing to do what’s right as opposed to choosing what’s easy or doesn’t create friction to the assembly line.  Let’s not support the myths that “School is Learning,” that “Curriculum is Knowledge,” that “Results are more important than Wisdom.”  Our mass production schools will not be the same by the time our Kindy students graduate Year 12.  Right now, during this little window between eras, we can influence whether “not the same” means “better” or “worse.”


Recorded Keynote

View “It’s Broke – So Let’s Fix it!” Keynote

On June 16, 2011, I had the opportunity to keynote day two of the CEFPI Conference (Council of Educational Facility Planners International) at the Sydney Convention Centre. This was a fantastic conference in a great facility.  Fortunately the organisers secured InfoShare Technologies to record the keynotes.  Simon Gazey and his team have really done a professional job.  Over the years I’ve had a number of my sessions recorded or streamed and have never bothered sharing the result, but his time the production is so good that I feel their is some benefit in making it available.

The blurb for this keynote goes like this:

We are entering an era when a self-motivated student with broadband access can learn more than he or she could in school. Society has changed around us, undermining cultures focused on standardised outcomes and the myth of uniform excellence; in other words, a culture-like “school.” The world surrounding schools has moved from a “one-size-fits-all” mentality to one where digital customisation enables “all-fit-to-one’s-size”. In this new reality, learn about the four critical pieces needed to succeed and how you can get students and staff started.

Click on the graphic above or this link to view the keynote.  The video will begin to play with the slides automatically synced.

If you’re really desperate for something to watch, I just came across this 2006 presentation recorded by the Computer -Using Educators Group of South Australia:

Tom March: It’s broke (so let’s fix it) – Remaking education for our digital era from CEGSA on Vimeo.

Global Rich List

Go to the Global Rich List Web site.

Choose a currency (Canadian dollar might be closest to the Australian dollar).

Enter the amount you or  a friend might earn from a part-time job (for example someone working at a fastfood restaurant (one day / week might earn $35 / week x 52 = $1820 per year).

Try putting in the average income for a typical Australian: $64,641 per annum in 2010. (According to the Bureau of Statistics.)


  1. Make a claim about the topic
  2. Identify support for your claim
  3. Ask a question related to your claim

Laptop – Global Supply Chain

Here is a map of how the parts of a typical laptop are sourced globally to create what ends up with consumers.

View an expanded version? Here’s an image with a more basic description of where parts of it came from.

All this (and more) has been done to bring your this amazing tool. What will you do with it?

Story Telling

Look into the future three years and then tell the story of what amazing things you have done with this laptop.

Only 100 People on Earth!

Watch this thought-provoking presentation and consider the following question:

  1. How does the presentation make you feel about your own existence in the world?
  2. What is it about the presentation that surprises you?
  3. How can you make a difference in the  lives of those less fortunate than yourself?

Tsunami of Waste?

Gyre, 2009
8×11 feet, in three vertical panels

Depicts 2.4 million pieces of plastic, equal to the estimated number of pounds of plastic pollution that enter the world’s oceans every hour. All of the plastic in this image was collected from the Pacific Ocean.

Interpret This!

What is the subject of this artwork?

What is really the subject?

Explore details from the work.  What do you find most effective artistically?

Do you understand the meaning of gyre?  Did you know about the spread of plastic in the oceans?

Interpretation: Decide whether you think Chris Jordan’s work is more of an artistic or environmental statement.  Justify your opinion by supporting your view with specific insights or observations.