Technology in Education: Problem Solving Using WebQuests

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This case study describes how the author, a college professor at Oklahoma's Northeastern State University, facilitated problem-solving skills in a face-to-face educational technology course required for education majors. The objectives of the course satisfy the National College Accreditation for Teacher Education Foundation Standards that prepare candidates to use computers and related technologies in educational settings. The instructional strategy employed a model called WebQuest. This model offers challenging, interesting ways to involve students in their own learning process by using the Web to gather data and solve problems.

Preparing Future Teachers

All education majors at Northeastern State University must take a course learning how to use technology to deliver instruction.  Such technology serves also as a useful professional tool in non-teaching situations.  Technology in Education had been taught as a teacher-initiated, teacher-delivered course.  After the first year, the instructor modified the course to improve studentsí learning experiences, moving toward authentic assessment, or real life applications.  The instructor employed the principles of constructivist pedagogy, a theory that posits directed instruction (lecture) as being too rigid and too teacher-centered.  Students participate in meaningful activities that generate additional knowledge based upon prior knowledge (Roblyer & Edwards, 2000).

The instructor observed that many of these pre-service teachers lacked sufficient problem-solving skills and depended too much upon the instructor for direction.  Such students need to develop self-directed learning skills which prepares them for real life, lifelong learning.  In response to this need, the instructor searched for a constructivist model that could be applied to this Technology in Education course.  The resulting model was a teacher-resource web site called WebQuest.

The WebQuest Model for Instructional Design

The Webquest model was developed in early 1995 at San Diego State University by Bernie Dodge and Tom March. Dodge (1995) outlines the model in the World Wide Web document, "Some Thoughts About WebQuests".

WebQuest, an inquiry-driven, problem-solving simulation, requires that most, or all, of the information used by learners be drawn from the Web.  WebQuests use learners' time efficiently by focusing on using information rather than simply looking for it.  WebQuests also support thinking at the higher levels of learning: analysis, synthesis, and evaluation (Dodge, 1995).

A WebQuest for Technology in Education became the home page for the newly-designed upper-level education course. WebQuests provide a straightforward instructional design for learners by categorizing the simulation into six components: introduction, task, process, resources, learning advice, evaluation, and conclusion.

Assembling the Team

Five to six member teams in each class were comprised of students from different disciplines using the jigsaw strategy of collaborative learning. According to Smith (2000) in using the jigsaw strategy, an instructor divides an assignment into parts and each team member chooses one part in which to become an expert.

Experts in each part may work together across teams, then reassemble with their "home" team to teach what they have learned to the others. Thus, by the end of the semester, each team member becomes an expert in all areas.  Further, teams conduct teacher-training sessions and construct  teacher-learning sites. Such experience reinforces the learning principle that more than one path to the outcome is possible.

If a student chose, for example, to become the expert in presentations software, that student used any available resource to master skills in PowerPoint or Corel Presentations. Presentations experts from each team then  collaborated to teach their own team members the software, creating appropriate instructional materials and/or a website.

Introduction, Identifying Objectives and Outcomes

The first WebQuest component required the teams to identify objectives that could be measured as knowledge and to synthesize outcomes in the form of a performance. These objectives and outcomes have been set by The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Foundation Standards, approved by NCATE in 1996. The fundamental concepts and skills for applying information technology in educational settings serve as the students' learning objectives. Students must first master the ISTE standards before they can train Oklahoma's public school teachers.

The Team-Based Task

The WebQuest task for pre-service teachers was to develop the curriculum for updating technological skills of Oklahoma's public school teachers. The Task Page of the course web site opens with "Congratulations! You have been selected as a member of the Oklahoma Governor's Task Force for Technology in Education."

The team's task was to develop a plan, curriculum, and instructional materials to train teachers to integrate technology into the teaching and learning process. The outcomes took the form of a multimedia web site and a personal training session available to any teacher in the state of Oklahoma. The task time period equalled 45 hours of instruction.

Learner Assessment

Just as paths through the learning experience are more learner-directed in this style of delivery, so is the assessment of the outcomes. Students monitor their progress by assessing the suitability of their choices in light of the feedback from the simulation itself and by reflecting on alternative results they might have obtained from making alternative choices.

The instructor gave weekly verbal feedback to individual team members and to the team as a whole.  Team members also assessed the expert member's instruction. For example, the presentation software experts were evaluated by peers in their team, and after instruction, the expert assessed the team members' mastery of the objectives.

Experts used a tool, the KWHL Chart, to help learners monitor progress.  This tool allows for planning lessons, accessing resources, and identifying attributes and characteristics of research.  Students create a calendar for the entire semester to determine time allotted and dates for instruction.

Guides for the Learner

A Process page and a Learner's Advice page are also included in the course web site. The Process page guides the learners through the steps of their tasks. The Learners' Advice page has check points that indicate the learners' progress.  Reference to check points involve the students deeply in the assessment experience. In addition, the Learner's Advice page suggests specific questions that require learners to reflect upon how well they covered the objectives.  It also provides options for questioning other resources before making decisions. This page charges the learners to ask themselves whether other choices might have produced more satisfactory results, or whether other  steps need to be taken, or whether other strategies need to be tried.   A Resource page gives students additional web sites and printed material for accomplishing their tasks.

Course Evaluation

At mid-term students evaluated the instructional design of the course. The instructor created the instrument which was based upon the concepts addressed by Keirns in  Inquiry-Based Self-Instruction (1999).

When students evaluted the course at mid-term, they indicated a need for more instructor support and assistance.  Students revealed in interviews their need for more initial training in using Web resources and for more verbal directions from the instructor. Students also complained that some team members did not provide adequate instruction in their area of expertise. This weakness affected their learning the complete course content.

At the conclusion of the course, the evaluation was readministered. Students responded that they felt that, since mid-term, they had received the additional support they needed from the instructor.  They reportedhowever, a less positive perception of learning with colleagues. 

Lessons Learned

Students clearly had been unprepared for a course designed as self-directed and Web-based. Neither were students prepared for working with a team-based method of instruction. Such students would be better prepared by employing a mix of team work with individual work, with gradual movement into the team-based scenario.

Finally, the pre-service teachers in this Technology in Education course became familiar with not only the process of delivering instruction in this manner but also with acquiring valuable data for future reference. The last project, a web-based training site, allowed them to build closure for the entire content of the course. The course structure gave them hands-on experience in collaborative learning, in planning, in developing instructional material--both print and digital, in gathering data, in decision making, and in problem solving.

The WebQuest Model allowed the instructor to contract with students to provide information and experiences needed to develop new skills and knowledge. The learning experiences of these pre-service teachers provided opportunities for them to watch their own learning unfold within a process designed specifically for this purpose.

References

Dodge, B. (1995). Some thoughts about WebQuests. San Diego State University. Retrieved January 16, 1998, from the World Wide Web: http://edweb.sdsu.edu/courses/edtec596/about_webquests.html.

International Society for Technology in Education. (1996). Educational computing and technology literacy endorsement curriculum standards [On-line]. Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education Accreditation and Standards Committee. Retrieved January 16, 1998, from the World Wide Web: http://www.iste.org/standards/ncate/basic.html

Keirns, J. (1999). Inquiry-based self instruction: Designs for self-instruction. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Roblyer, M.D. & Edwards, J. (2000). Integrating educational technology into teaching. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.

Smith, K.A. (2000). Going deeper: Formal small-group learning in large classes. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 25-46.

Wood, D.G. (1998). A WebQuest for Technology in Education: How do I infuse technology into the teaching and learning process? Northeastern State University. Retrieved March 1, 2001, from the World Wide Web: http://arapaho.nsuok.edu/~wooddg.