Learning theories in practice/WebQuests as Second Language contexts

I remember those times when I sat quietly in English reading classes in Thailand on hot and humid days. Nobody in the class was allowed to talk except the teacher. We were told to memorize a long list of vocabulary with the hope to do well on the upcoming English reading tests. Page after page of a thick English textbook were read and translated to ensure our understanding of every word on the reading passages. The test results came out later. Needless to say, only a few people passed the test despite their passionate (and some not so passionate) attempts to memorize hundreds of lexical items or translate numerous reading passages.

This scenario is probably common in thousands of English language classrooms worldwide – drill, drill, and more drills. This approach clearly did not result in the desired proficiency of English.

And now I become a teacher of English. I would like to change the atmosphere of the class to be more vibrant and engaging. With the advent of computers and the Internet, language classrooms can be more funny and interesting with only a click of a button or a scroll of a mouse. Web-based learning, such as WebQuests, can provide an answer to the quest for interactive “English as a Second Language” (ESL) classrooms.

Contrary to the traditional ESL classrooms, with the use of WebQuests, students can actively participate in group discussion when exploring an issue. They can develop search skills and critical thinking skills when finding information from resources on the Internet. They also have a chance to actually use the target language in the form of reading web pages, writing presentations, listening to peers’ opinions, and discussing ideas on critical issues. Evidently, several learning theories and concepts are embedded in WebQuests. These concepts and ideas relate to critical thinking skills, second language acquisition, and social constructivism, to name a few. WebQuest, therefore, is an option for ESL teachers to engage students in authentic and meaningful activities while learning English language at the same time.

Employing WebQuest to the instruction is novel and intriguing to motivate students’ learning. On WebQuest, teachers offer scaffolding for students to construct and explore their own knowledge. It is like a journey of exploration as well as construction. This journey is funny and informative. Through WebQuest, students acquire not only language competence but also content information. Moreover, students learn computer literacy.

WebQuestsEdit

WebQuest is a term coined by Bernie Dodge from San Diego State University as “an inquiry-oriented activity in which some or all of the information that learners interact with comes from resources on the Internet” (March, 2004, p. 1). March (2004), who is the co-creator of WebQuest, later revised WebQuest’s definition and articulated it as “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” (March, 2004, p. 3). Stated another way, Webquests involve the exploration of real world information and events on the Web in an attempt to solve a problem or find needed content related to a task that students have been assigned.

In order to complete the main task of a WebQuest, students will use information from various sources to form their own opinions and share them with their group members to create a final project, which is usually in the form of an oral presentation or written materials such as brochure or newsletter, or even the creation of a website. To complete a WebQuest task, students typically do not need to use search engines as their primary tools so they do not run the risk of accessing inappropriate material or being overwhelmed by large amount of information. Because WebQuests include only links that are relevant to the lesson learned, they provide efficient and focused lessons. WebQuests therefore take advantage of several learning concepts that are believed to benefit learners. In sum, WebQuests are inquiry-oriented and group-work centered. In addition, they involve higher order thinking skills and selected Internet sources (Dodge, 1998).

Components of a WebQuestEdit

WebQuests are composed of five important components:

IntroductionEdit

The introduction part on a WebQuest introduces the scenario and central question. It discusses the importance of the main question of the WebQuest and reasons why the topic is worth investigating.

TaskEdit

The task section is probably the most important section of a WebQuest because it provides focus for the learners’ activities. There are 12 common task formats: retelling, compilation, mystery, journalistic, design, creative product, consensus building, persuasion, self-knowledge, analytical, judgment, and scientific tasks (Dodge, 1999). Despite the variability of task types, most WebQuests need students to work in groups to explore an issue and produce their group opinion or solution as the final product, usually in the form of multimedia presentations, brochures, and websites, to inform the class of the group decision.

ProcessEdit

The process section outlines necessary steps to assist learners in accomplishing the task. It usually provides guidance and support about how to divide responsibilities along with how to find and organize information. Descriptions of roles and their responsibilities are offered together with scaffolding tools, such as online dictionaries and advance organizers, including handouts or templates.

ResourcesEdit

The resources page usually provides a list of web links where students can find information on the issue discussed. These websites are pre-selected by the teacher to allow learners to focus on the topic without having to aimlessly surf the Internet.

EvaluationEdit

The evaluation page contains criteria related to how students’ work will be evaluated. These criteria usually come in the form of rubrics, indicating selected aspects of students’ performance to be evaluated and indicators reflecting a variety of performance and language levels.

ConclusionEdit

The conclusion page summarizes what students have learned from the WebQuests and encourages students to apply what they have learned in their local contexts.

                  A YouTube video on “Why use WebQuests?”
                  See why WebQuest is a good learning tool. 
                 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yuZ949Zi0TY

WebQuests and second language learningEdit

Interaction plays a significant role in second language acquisition. It is through the interaction with others--as well as the learning materials--that learners receive input and also form and test language hypotheses in order to acquire the target language (Gass, 1988). WebQuests allow learners to receive input in the form of aural and written information, such as reading information on web pages or participating in group discussion in the target language. The learners then attempt to test their language hypotheses by generating output in the form of oral or written production, such as writing scripts for a presentation or preparing a brochure for a topic. This process allows learners to reuse newly integrated language hypotheses and check their understanding. And if the language production leads to misunderstanding, learners will negotiate meaning and try to produce the more intelligible language. Learners then should be exposed to a range of target structures which are within the learner’s grasp and have opportunities to receive input and output to develop fluency, accuracy, and complexity of the target language. WebQuests allow learners to engage in activities that encourage social interaction and collaboration so they have opportunities for communication in the target language.

A case in point is the Talenquest project. The Dutch project “Talenquest,” or LanguageQuest in English, has been developed with a focus on foreign language learning. It is intended to be used as a language learning activity that would provide a variety of language input and encourages learners to collaboratively produce language in an authentic environment. Koenraad and Westhoff (2003) proposed some guidelines for the creation of WebQuests to promote language learning. They suggest that the task should encourage the use of the target language either in the form of instruction language, or the language used when students complete the task, or the language of the end products of the LanguageQuest, or a combination of all of the above. In addition, the material presented in the LanguageQuest should be authentic and reflect what learners would apply in their real life. The tasks within the LanguageQuest should be flexible and promote collaboration and meaningful communication.


WebQuests and social constructivismEdit

Principles of constructivism also support the use of computers in second language learning classrooms. Web-based learning, such as WebQuests, can provide a context for collaboration and social interaction in which learners will construct the knowledge of the target language by being engaged in meaningful activities (Simina & Hamel, 2005). As a result, these computer-based activities enable interpersonal interaction and interaction with the learning materials in the target language.

WebQuests, therefore, provide an ideal context for second language learning because it provides multiple representations of the natural complexity of the real world, representing authentic tasks and enabling context and content dependent knowledge construction (Simina & Hamel, 2005). The constructivist nature of WebQuests leave more space for learners to create their own second language interpretations in which negotiation of meaning will be checked and modified to fit the target language. Learners, therefore, can create their own interpretations through the social negotiation and collaborative construction of knowledge and keep track of their progress of language learning to see how their interpretations fit into the target language. This idea also resonates with the idea of the development of knowledge proposed by Bednar, Cunningham, Duffy, and Perry (1992), which states that knowledge can be developed through the sharing of multiple perspectives and the learners’ interpretation of those perspectives.

In addition, since WebQuest tasks usually involve group work, in which learners take on specific roles, they promote cooperative and collaborative learning. Face-to-face interaction is vital to WebQuests activity because students need to provide each other with assistance to complete the WebQuest task. In order to successfully accomplish the task, students have to exchanges resource and offer feedback. As a result, individual accountability is essential as learners attempt to complete the task. In sum, the WebQuest is a learner-centered activity that allows learners to construct representations of the target language based on their prior knowledge and experiences. Learners can also be involved in authentic activities that expose them to variety of language input. As a result, the use of WebQuests in a second language classroom is a good example of applying computers and technology in second language acquisition contexts.

WebQuests and critical thinkingEdit

WebQuests can also be used to develop critical thinking skills among students. Before attempting to illustrate how WebQuests can be used to develop critical think skills, definitions of critical think should first be examined.

While definitions of critical thinking abound, most share some basic features and address some basic components of critical thinking. Critical thinking can be thought of as a higher order skill associated with the ability to think logically based on information evaluated according to certain criteria. Higher order thinking is “the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generalized by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning or communication, as a guide to belief or action” (Scriven & Paul, as cited in Coster & Ledovski, 2005). Salmon (1998) suggests that the activities that have a potential to promote critical thinking may include activities that are

offering ideas or resources; inviting critique; asking challenging questions; articulating, explaining and supporting positions on issues; exploring and supporting issues by adding explanations and examples; reflecting and re-valuating personal positions; critiquing, challenging, discussion and expanding ideas of others; negotiating interpretations, definitions and meanings; summarizing and modeling previous contributions; proposing actions based on developed ideas. (p. 5)

Critical thinking skills can also be illustrated using Bloom’s Taxonomy. The first three levels of knowledge, comprehension, and application are often referred to as lower order thinking skills. The remaining levels of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation are therefore known as higher order thinking skills or critical thinking skills. Further discussion on each of the higher order thinking skills will be provided below.

Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive DomainEdit

Higher Order Thinking Skills

  • Evaluation
  • Synthesis
  • Analysis


Lower Order Thinking Skills

  • Application
  • Comprehension
  • Knowledge

AnalysisEdit

Analysis requires “examinations of parts or elements of concepts, analyzing the relationship between conclusions and evidence, organizing knowledge based on a principle, or making inferences based on data” (Aviles, 1999 p. 11) It is the ability to break down material into its component parts and may include the analysis of relationships between parts or aspects of a problem or situation.

SynthesisEdit

Synthesis can be thought of as creativity or production of things that are new. It refers to the ability to put parts together to create a whole. Students put ideas together to originate or create something that is new to them.

EvaluationEdit

Evaluation requires students to make judgments. Such judgments are based on defined criteria developed by students or taken from outside resources. It can be shown in the form of class discussion when students share their opinions based on their judgments of information presented on an issue. Judgments, therefore, are neither “right or wrong”.

Even though studies on critical thinking skills and WebQuests use among ESL/EFL students are scarce, several studies have investigated how WebQuests can promote critical thinking skills among first language students in different subjects. WebQuest can promote critical thinking because it requires each member of the group to carry out a specific, meaningful role, and then pool their respective research findings to formulate a response to a complex, open-ended problem. Unlike traditional learning activities, there can be multiple solutions to the problem in a WebQuest. A good WebQuest focuses on an issue that has multiple viewpoints, such as social, political, environmental, or health-related. It also requires more than information gathering; students must process the information in order to form their opinions. Webquests help develop higher cognitive thinking by requiring students to sift through extensive information from the Web until they can construct an understanding that not only connects to their schema, but also builds new knowledge (March, 1998). This activity develops higher-order thinking skills as students summarize and synthesize information to form their opinions (Leahy & Twomey, 2005). As a result, this process of text selection requires students to evaluate content of the texts as well as draw and test their inferences.

Kanuka (2005) conducted an action research study that explored five types of web-based teaching strategies, namely nominal group, debate, brainstorming, invited guest, and WebQuest. According to the SOLO (Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome) taxonomy, which describes the hierarchy of complexity through which learners show mastery of their academic written work, WebQuest appear to be the most effective instructional strategy for facilitating higher levels of learning when the results show that students’ writing reflected relational responses and extended abstract responses more than other instructional strategies.

Summary of learning concepts and principles relating to WebQuest activitiesEdit

Second Language LearningEdit

WebQuest Activities

  • Reading various articles from the Internet
  • Writing scripts for a presentation or preparing a brochure, or newsletter
  • Participating in group discussion

Learning principles involved

  • Receiving language input
  • Producing language output
  • Using and testing newly integrated language hypotheses
  • Negotiate meaning of language newly acquired
  • Exposing students to a variety of the target language’s structures
  • Having opportunities to use the target language communicatively

Social ConstructivismEdit

WebQuest Activities

  • Solving a WebQuest task
  • Participating in group discussion
  • Arriving at group decisions
  • Producing the final product

Learning principles involved

  • Learning through authentic tasks
  • Negotiating meanings through face-to-face interaction in the target language
  • Constructing knowledge of the structures of the target language
  • Constructing knowledge of a particular subject
  • Developing an expertise on a subject
  • Promoting cooperative and collaborative learning
  • Participating in a learner-centered activity

Critical thinking skillsEdit

WebQuest Activities

  • Sifting through web resources to find most appropriate information for the tasks
  • Synthesizing information from the web
  • Creating the final product
  • Relating information from the web to the tasks
  • Arriving at group decisions
  • Developing an individual expertise on a WebQuest role

Learning principles involved

  • Developing analysis, synthesis, and evaluation skills, considered the higher-thinking skills on the Bloom’s taxonomy
  • Making informed decisions based on information obtained
  • Developing critical reading skills
  • Learning to write critically
  • Developing reasoning skills
  • Negotiating ideas critically
  • Learning to evaluate information from the Internet

Example of WebQuestsEdit

            To Hunt or not to Hunt WebQuest
http://www.rippleeffectlearning.com/webquest/Webquest.html


This WebQuest, created by Joni Turville for native English speaking students, asks students to decide whether all Bowhead whale hunting should be prohibited. They will work in small groups and assume different roles on the WebQuest: the Inuit hunters, the animal protection activists, and the environmentalists. They will then form group opinions on the issue and present their decision to the class using multimedia presentation. The nature of this WebQuest allows students to investigate a real environmental issue, explore cultures of Inuit people, develop critical perspectives, and practice language skills at the same time. In terms of language learning, students can practice reading comprehension, summarizing, writing, and speaking skills.

Looking closely at the WebQuest, we can see how the learning principles mentioned in this chapter are embedded. The introduction section lays the backgrounds of the issue and activates students’ prior knowledge by asking questions to motivate students’ curiosity. In the task section, students will have a specific idea of what they need to do in order to complete the task. Students are then assigned to different roles on the process section. In this section, students will also have a chance to explore background knowledge of key issues and specific information pertaining the role they have been assigned.

With role assignment, each student has to develop their individual expertise on an aspect of the issue. Cooperation plays a vital role in this process when they have to delegate group responsibility and establish a group plan to accomplish the task. Every group member, therefore, needs to work on his or her own to develop their different abilities and at the same time share knowledge with his or her group members. Through social interaction, constructive learning among group members can then occur.

The web links to resources provided on the process page point to specific websites where students can find the information they need. Links to online dictionaries are provided to facilitate students with information gathering and producing the final project. Templates are also given for students to organize the information they have collected. These online tools and templates can be seen as a kind of scaffolding that learners can use to learn new concepts and language that are just beyond their level of knowledge and competency.

The evaluation page provides a rubric for the evaluation of students’ work. The conclusion section allows students to reflect on their work and arrive at class decision on the issue. This WebQuest also attempts to connect to students’ real life environmental problems in their community by having an extra section on real world action. This authentic activity allows students to apply what they have learned in the class to real life situations. The resources page provides extensive information on issues which students can explore outside the class.

A story of WebQuest implementation in an English as a foreign language class in ThailandEdit

During the summer of 2007, I had a chance to introduce WebQuests to an English reading class in Thailand. The teacher used the WebQuest, mentioned above, with college students from different majors at a university in Bangkok. Students were very enthusiastic with these WebQuest activities and actively engaged in group discussion. Most students found that WebQuests gave them a chance to exchange ideas with other classmates, which was not available in traditional English reading class, and see different perspectives on the issue. As a result, this activity prompted them to exercise their creativity as well as critical thinking skills when they tried to reach group consensus on issues and create an interesting presentation.

However, some concerns were raised after the activity. Since some students were not familiar with working in a loosely-structured group activity like WebQuests, some of them were sitting around waiting for other team members to finish the task. The teacher was also not quite sure about their roles while students were working in groups during most of the class time. Many students also complained about the limitation of time to complete the activity. Since the class schedule was pre-arranged by university administrators, students had only two one-and-a-half-hour class sessions to finish the activity.

The solutions to the problems raised would be for the teacher to receive some training before introducing WebQuests activity to the class. The teacher also needs to model how to work in groups so students understand their roles. Group leaders may also be assigned to ensure fair delegation of work among group members. As for the time constraint, the teacher can ask students to do some reading or some preparation prior to the class. Despite these obstacles, students and teachers can still benefit from applying WebQuests to their ESL/EFL classes.

Examples of the students’ PowerPoint presentations from the class mentioned aboveEdit

Cool resources for WebQuestsEdit

WebQuest.org (http://webquest.org/index.php)

This is probably the most comprehensive website on WebQuests. It was created by Bernie Dodge, the person who created WebQuests. This website provides everything you want to know about WebQuests, ranging from theories, implementation tips, resources, and news. You can also search for a WebQuest of your interest from a large WebQuest database.

Questgarden (http://questgarden.com/) If you are interested in creating a WebQuests, you can go to Questgarden. It provides easy-to-use templates where you can create your own WebQuests and host it on the Internet. A 30-day trial is offered for free. After the trial period you need to pay membership fee of 20 dollars for a two-year subscription.

CALL-ESL (http://www.call-esl.com/) This website was created particularly for ESL teachers. It provides useful resources on ESL WebQuests, including a list of ESL WebQuests and handouts, along with general information on WebQuests.


ReferenceEdit

Aviles, C. B. (1999). Understanding and testing for “Critical Thinking” with Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Council on Social Work Education (45th, San Francisco, CA, March 10-13, 1999).

Bednar, A. K., Cunningham, D., Duffy, T. M., & Perry, J. D. (1992). Theory and practice: How do we link? In T. M. Duffy & D. H. Jonassen (Eds.) Constructivism and the technology of instruction: a conversation. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 17-34.

Coster, J., & Ledovski, V. (2005). Thinking outside the square: Promoting critical thinking through online discussions. Paper presented at the 18th Annual English Australia Education Conference.

Dodge, B. (1998). WebQuests: A strategy for scaffolding higher level learning. Retrieved October 22, 2007 from http://webquest.sdsu.edu/necc98.htm

Dodge, B. (1999, August 11, 1999). WebQuest Taskonomy: A Taxonomy of Tasks [Internet]. Retrieved October 25, 2007, from the World Wide Web: http://edweb.sdsu.edu/webquest/taskonomy.html

Gass, S. (1988). Integrating research areas: A framework for second language studies. Applied Linguistics, 9, 198-217.

Koenraad, T. L., & Westhoff, G. J. (2003). Can you tell a LanguageQuest when you see one?: Design criteria for TalenQuests. Paper presented at the 2003 Conference of the European Association for Computer Assisted Language Learning, University of Limerick, Ireland, 3-6 September 2003

Leahy, M., & Twomey, D. (2005). Using web design with pre-service teachers as a means of creating a collaborative learning environment. Educational Media International, 42, 143-151.

Kanuka, H. (2005). An exploration into facilitating higher levels of learning in a text-based internet learning environment using diverse instructional strategies. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 10(3), article 8.

March, T. (2004). The fulcrum for systemic curriculum improvement. Retrieved February 10, 2007 from http://www.rsdonline.net/departments/tech/WebQuests/webquest_fulcrum_necc.pdf

Salmon, G. (1998). Developing learning through effective online moderation. Active Learning, 9, 3-8.

Simina, V., & Hamel, M. CASLA through a social constructivist perspective: WebQuest in project-driven language learning. ReCALL, 17, 217-228.