WebQuests at 20: a lesson in “only new mistakes”

<soapbox>

seaching-for-china-0.1I wrote an article last month, The WebQuest: A Parable reflecting on the 20th anniversary of WebQuests (Education Technology Solutions magazine – also available as a pdf). I won’t repeat the article in this post but use what follows to provide a bit of evidence that K-12 education doesn’t need any new ideas, but new mistakes.

Evidence of Missed Opportunities

The heart of the reflection was that I think we’ve missed two decades of opportunities for educational technology in K-12 schools to make a difference, to achieve the goals we had for ICTs to empower authentic, personally rewarding and meaningful learning. As a way to verify this – and to double-check that I haven’t descended into a crotchety middle-aged pessimism – I recently asked a room full of ICT educators and leaders how often they observed the following happening in their school’s classrooms:

  • Essential questions and inquiry drive learning.
  • Students choose their own pathways through content.
  • Students analyse complex topics from multiple perspectives.
  • Learning activities are scaffolded to support differences among students.
  • Students use ICTs as tools for constructing knowledge and creating rich productions.
  • Students work in teams and collaborate with peers online.
  • Students get real world feedback from experts in the field.
  • By the end of every unit students have transformed information into understanding.

You can see the live poll here. The results are in no way a criticism of the people in the audience as I’d wager that this group is more sophisticated in their ICT integration and curriculum than most similar cohorts as they were a self-selected sample of keen educators who chose to attend an EdTech conference.  Here’s what we learned:

poll-SA

Ouch.  Of course the “gotcha” is that each of these teaching and learning bullet points are integrated into every real WebQuest. To verify this, you can take a look at What WebQuests (Really) Are. And these things aren’t radically difficult or cutting edge – and have only gotten easier as technology has becomes faster, more powerful and ubiquitous.  So I think it’s fair to say, as a general summary, that pockets of pioneering educators have ALWAYS done great things, but also, that we’re still far from pervasively improving what’s done across all schools.

I think that what’s heartening is that almost 20% identified that Carol Ann Tomlinson’s (et al) efforts in differentiation have had an impact.  Fantastic!  I have to be a little cynical, however, about the second most-observed aspect of “using ICTs as tools for constructing knowledge and creating rich productions.”  I justify my skepticism on two fronts.  First, again, these responses come from ICT integrators and leaders in the field so are not representative of an average school.  The second hesitation I have is around “constructing knowledge” and “creating rich productions” for which I set pretty high bars.  I see “constructing” as analogous to “understanding” and my work in Understanding by Design with schools indicates that many teachers still don’t have a great sense of the difference between “knowing” and “understanding” – not being harsh, just a reality that springs from mandatory curricula that tend to focus on covering content, not uncovering enduring understandings.  Also, in terms of “creating rich productions” the “richness” I seek is not just in terms of “rich media” which is great, but “richness” of thinking, relevance and authenticity: using technology to transform information into understandings that matter to the students and the world.

Of course the point is that the challenges schools face will not be solved by technology or any “new idea.” Just significant, hard, but deeply meaningful, work. The work, in fact, that only educators can and should do.  So let’s not fret or get too worked up by the latest buzzwords – today’s STEM/STEAM is yesterday’s “Challenge-based learning/ PBL” and last decade’s WebQuests.  This is why I say forget the “new ideas” and focus on making “new mistakes” because the mistakes people are making with STEM and the same they made with WebQuests.  Also, let’s not fixate on things we can’t change (unless you can) like high-stakes tests, government funding, cultural obsessions with technological silver bullets or social scourges.  Let’s keep focused on what we can do to transform our school cultures and curriculum from accepting calendar-based, mass produced teaching to competency-based, personally meaningful learning.

Thoughts?  Leave a comment.

</soapbox>

Next Era Ed @ ECAWA

Hello!

How great to be back in Perth!  I’m really pleased to return to the ECAWA conference to see old friends and meet new ones.  During the conference I’ll be presenting:

the following sessions:

Snapshot Poll

 

 

Friday Sessions

The Five Steps to Next Era Ed

  1. Vision – is it articulated and shared?
  2. Evidence – exactly what does achievement of the Vision look like?
  3. Pedagogies – do you have research-based models to get you there?
  4. Curriculum 2.0 – are your units designed to leverage the models & ICTs?
  5. Process – have you closed the loop for continuous improvement?

Take the Next Era Ed Readiness Check?

Vision & Evidence

Pedagogies / Psychology Research

Curriculum 2.0

CEQ•ALL

Frameworks / Processes

  • Understanding by Design / Schooling by Design
  • Curriculum Mapping
  • High Reliability Schools

Some Crazy Cliff

New Resource Site Launched

crazy cliffWhen I left the classroom in 1995 for a fellowship to develop things like WebQuests and Filamentality, one of the first projects I thought I’d work on was a comprehensive Web-based resource for The Catcher in the Rye.  Ok, so almost 20 years later I get around to it….

The site is (appropriately) called Some Crazy Cliff and focuses on an Understanding by Design approach to unit planning and classic WebQuest formatting that leverages great rich media to promote authentic and meaningful student learning.

Please take a look and send me any feedback.

WebQuest Transformations

Overview

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.

WebQuest Transformations

Welcome & Overview

 
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.  By my definition:

“A WebQuest is a scaffolded learning structure that uses links to essential resources on the World Wide Web and an authentic task to motivate students’ investigation of a central, open-ended question, development of individual expertise and participation in a final group process that attempts to transform newly acquired information into a more sophisticated understanding. The best WebQuests do this in a way that inspires students to see richer thematic relationships, facilitate a contribution to the real world of learning and reflect on their own metacognitive processes.”

 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.

Our Works in Progress

Resources to Support WebQuest Transformations

Further Readings & Background

Transformation Sampler

Web-and-Flow Guides

Design Tools

WebQuests Day 1

Getting WebQuests

The following is a WebQuest designed to introduce educators to both the lived experience of a WebQuest as well as some of the challenges and opportunities we face in 21st Century schools.

Introduction

“In the beginning, there was the computer, then the Internet (the Internet?).  In 1994, along came the World Wide Web.  Within 15 years a few things happened…”

Big Question

How should schools change to adapt to the 21st Century?

You have +45 minutes to immerse yourself in your role and begin addressing your task below.

Roles

Technologist

Task: Given the changes in technology, how can it support school-based learning? (click to begin answering)

Pedagogue

Task: Given expert opinions about the old and new ways of schooling, how do you think schools could / should change to suit the 21st Century? (click to begin answering)

Educator

Task: Given the changing landscape of global education, how could / should Australian schools change to suit the 21st Century? (click to begin answering)

Creator

Task: Given the new media and ways of expression, how could / should  learning be represented by Australian schools in the 21st Century? (click to begin answering)

Group Task

Now that you have been able to focus on one aspect that impacts learning and schools in this century, you need to bring this expertise together to answer the Big Question:

How should schools change to adapt to the 21st Century?

Your Team answer must include consideration of each of the four main areas.  In other words, the group response must be informed by an understanding of changes happening in the following four areas:

  • Technology
  • Pedagogy
  • Education
  • Creative Media

[nggallery id=1]
creator / pedagogy / schools / technology

Your team can choose how to present your answer.  One suggestion is to create an Infographic. Here is a description of how to do it and here’s a tool you can use (Team 1, Team 2, Team 3, Team 4 or use a whiteboard wall or?).

Presentation and Feedback

Each team presents their ideas.

Debriefing and De-constructing the “WebQuest”

Use this stixyboard to brainstorm your insights into the WebQuest process

Use the Comments link at the bottom of this post to give Tom feedback on how this experience was for you.

Introduction

Resources

Articles

Next Steps – Homework for next week

  1. choose a topic
  2. brainstorm its related perspectives
  3. If you have time, begin looking for resources

WebQuest Day

Quick Brainstorm

What are WebQuests? – stick up your thoughts

Introduction

Topics and Questions

Gather Resources & Perspectives

Thinking Tools

Collaboration Platforms

Possible Sources for Real World Feedback

  • Local experts, older students, parents, community clubs, etc.
  • Technorati – Search Real Blogs & Posts –  caution  advised
  • Aardvark – Ask real people who have some expertise on a wide range of real world subjects.
  • AllExperts – post questions to real people.
  • Australian Parliament – House of Representatives

WebQuest Resources

Articles

Resources

WebQuests .9 & 1.0

 

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