ICTs for Learning Design: Week 7

After a couple of weeks focused on assessment, not to mention two assignments which I’m far from happy with, it’s time to return to some study. First, the ICTs for Learning Design course and this week the focus is on

  • WebQuests, including “contemporary ideas about webquests and why they are not necessarily aligned with our current perception of good curriculum”.
    That should prove interesting because I’m fairly sure a previous teacher of this course liked WebQuests.
  • Thinking routines.
  • Optional ideas.
    I’m particularly interested to see how this is structured. My impression is that many students are struggling with this course. Consequently the idea of optional may well get translated into “not required”.


Defined by http://webquest.org/ as

A WebQuest is an inquiry-oriented lesson format in which most or all the information that learners work with comes from the web. The model was developed by Bernie Dodge at San Diego State University in February, 1995 with early input from SDSU/Pacific Bell Fellow Tom March, the Educational Technology staff at San Diego Unified School District, and waves of participants each summer at the Teach the Teachers Consortium.

This is an approach I’ve heard a bit about, but never really seen in action.

Mm, this description raises some interesting questions

is wrapped around a doable and interesting task that is ideally a scaled down version of things that adults do as citizens or workers.

I imagine there are some “inquiry” folk who pause at the “scaled down” description. At this end of the argument, I imagine using scaffolding to bring the students up to the complete complexity might be preferred to scaling down. I think this will be a problem I fall into often.

There is a WebQuest lesson template which provides a good idea of the structure. A structure that includes the following sections

  • Introduction – prepare and hook the reader
  • Task – describe the end result of the learner’s activity.
    My first response is “what about surprise”. Education folk seem to always want to give the surprise away. I recognise the need for learners to understand the purpose, sometimes, but there is also a place for surprise, not to mention the question of unexpected outcomes.
  • Process
  • Evaluation
    Ahh, rubrics raise their head. I’m getting more and more disappointed in how rubrics are used, they really don’t make things clear. i.e. yes I understand that as the grades go up the quality of performance have to go up. What I want to know is what your expectations are for each level of performance and the rubric doesn’t really help.
  • Conclusion
  • Credits
  • Teacher Page

And look, design patterns have made it into the WebQuest world. Most of these design patterns strike me as not specifically for WebQuests, but as good designs for general inquiry-based learning activities.

Which makes me wonder about the differences between WebQuests and lesson plans? There are some structural differences and WebQuests are specifically web and inquiry-based, but the aim appears to be essentially the same. Especially if you happen to be someone who values inquiry/problem-based learning and just uses the Web and online resources as needed.

Oh dear, I have to take exception to this claim

These five verbs: design, decide, create, analyze and predict, represent the highest levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. Starting with those verbs guarantees that your WebQuest will be wrapped around a higher level thinking task.

This reminds of some university experiences with learning outcomes. When the learning outcomes in a group of Masters courses were deemed to be at too low a Bloom’s level for a particular jurisdiction action had to be taken. i.e. verbs from the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (like design, create, analyse) were substituted in for lower level verbs. No other work was done.

Using higher level “Bloom’s verbs” doesn’t guarantee anything. The activities you ask the students to undertake have to require them to actually engage in those “verbs”.

And there’s a link to a good WebQuest.

And now onto WebQuest 2.0. And this seems to be where the idea of WebQuests not being aligned with modern ideas about learning.

Second, research in Self Determination Theory and critical thinking demonstrate the greater learning gains that can be achieved when students are self initiated……Thus, although we might feel as though students will “learn more” when we actively shape their activities into tasks, research suggests that what we lose in the trade-off are long-term retention, interest in further study, better achievement, more conceptual understanding and mental health. Win the battle and lose the war? WebQuests delivered as a series of hoops for students to jump through are not “scaffolds,” but little more than teacher-directed learning dressed up as what might be moderately more engaging Web-based learning.

Which connects well with what I thought the concern might be, however, I have to disagree somewhat. At an extreme, leaving students to be “self initiated” can, in some contexts and groups, generate a sense of confusion and frustration the actively disengages students. There is a balance to be kept here, and it is no simple task. It would have been very interesting to have researched the perceptions of students in this course throughout the term and beyond. As recent as a couple of weeks ago, I sensed a great deal of disconnection from the use of technology for learning amongst many students. The “self initiated” aspect of this course may, I think, have contributed some of this.

Actually, while on the topic of this course, I feel that there is some connections with what comes next in WebQuests 2.0

How do these CEQ-ALL inspired Learning Paths actually eventuate? Using an online learning space provides both the private workspace and public audience that are both important to an authentic learning process. By using a WordPress blog or Ning network, a teacher-centered classroom shifts to a flattened learning hierarchy where each member of the community can initiate posts, get feedback, leave comments or contribute new content.

It’s my impression that while this course has Moodle course site (with forums) and requires each student to create an individual blog, not enough encouragement and scaffolding is provided early on to create a “flattened learning hierarchy”. I think the separation into individual blogs and no attempt at aggregation encouraged this difficulty, but the uncertainty around teaching staff in the early weeks of the course also contributed.
Simply having an online environment does not create a “flattened learning hierarchy”, the members of the community need to be familiar and comfortable with contributing and using such a hierarchy.

Thinking routines

There has been an emphasis in this course on using and becoming familiar with various thinking routines, such as this collection and discussed in this paper. With this paper (mmm, 46 pages), I am now meant to

think about it, contextualise it, what does it tell you about thinking routines? Can you see the value in your own learning, that of your students? Can you contextualise?

This paper arises from the Visible Thinking Team at Harvard. The connection to my context is probably captured in this quote

Understanding how teachers establish, use, and adapt thinking routines to make them a part of the culture of the classroom provides useful insights into how thoughtful classroom environments can be established and maintained.

The “enculturative model of dispositional development” is a new term, but the idea of requiring an appropriate culture to create a disposition is something I can agree with. To some extent this idea resonates with what I think is wrong within University teaching and learning, the culture is wrong. Mmm, eight forces the shape classroom culture: expectations, time, modeling, routines, opportunities, relationships, physical environment, and language. Need to remember this Thinking routines are seen as a “high-leverage practice” as they touch on serveral of the cultural forces.

The use of the term “routines” (rather than strategy for example) is quite specific. It is based on the idea that routines become part of the culture, they contribute to the establishment of the context in which learning takes place. Instructional strategies on the otherhand, are used on occasion.

Four types of routines in literature

  1. housekeeping
  2. management – help students prepare for learning
  3. discourse – structure the discussion and sharing of students’ learning
  4. learning –

Thinking routines are seen as a subset of discourse or learning routines.

Characteristics of routines

  • Explicit in nature – mention the name and the students know it.
  • Instrumental – designed to achieve a specific purpose.
  • Used over and over again.
  • Useful across contexts.
  • Used as both individual and group practices.
  • Having only a few steps.

Okay, so now there is an epistemological analysis of thinking routines. Not exactly all that accessible to pragmatic pre-service teachers, though interesting. The idea is that thinking routines encourage students to engage students in certain epistemic moves – types of thinking – and these moves should influence how the students think or think about thinking.

A list of epistemological beliefs conveyed by this specific subset of thinking routines

  • Learning is doing. i.e. not just read, but do something with it.
  • Learning stats with their own ideas.
  • Learning involves getting personally involved.
  • Questions are engines and outcomes.
  • Learning involves uncovering complexity.
  • Learning can be a group process and a group outcome.

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