Encouraging the Use of Technology in the Classroom: The WebQuest Connection Anne D’Antonio Stinson When I first began teaching the Literacy Strategies for Content Area Teachers course, I was convinced of the importance of the integrated unit of study, but not always pleased with the units my students developed. More often than not, their lessons were developmentally inappropriate for the teenagers with whom they would be working. Because our secondary education program offered them no opportunity to observe and study the content area learning of younger students, the preservice teachers in my course would, for example, write lessons about the solar system assuming that 14-year-olds in high school had never heard of the moon. Determining how to deal with my students’ misconceptions concerning the level of expertise adolescents have in the various content areas and the wealth of content area experiences they have enjoyed over the course of their education became an important goal for me. Three years ago, I learned that our office of student affairs was offering small (US$500.00) grants to instructors who infused service learning into their courses. I hoped to secure funding to create a partnership between teachers at a local elementary school and my university classes. Bridging the physical distance between the school and our campus provided a wonderful opportunity to use technology (in this case e-mail) in a very practical way. Thus was born “The E-mail Connection.” Beginning in Spring 1999, students enrolled in my developmental reading course would design integrated units of study for 9- to 11-year-old fourth- and fifth-graders at a local elementary school. The preservice teachers worked in groups, according to their content area specializations. In order to ensure that the lessons would be appropriate for the target audience, each of my students was assigned two or three “keypals” at the school. The students and their key pals were to converse, via e-mail and journals, concerning the younger students’ various content area assignments. I hoped that my students would benefit from this glimpse into the content area learning process, and that the younger students would benefit from the opportunity of “write to learn,” a popular goal of many literacy programs at this grade level. In order to present their lessons to the elementary school students, my students would volunteer their time at the elementary school, thus serving the purpose of the grant and gaining experience in real classrooms. The project was a flop. Well, not a total flop. The younger kids did write a lot. Unfortunately, they wrote in the flashy university notebooks I had purchased for them and not on their classroom computers. A typical pen and paper note from a fourth- or fifth-grade student went something like this: I’m sory I diden’t Email you yet. But I will Whan my dad has time. One would imagine that a school e-mail project would actually involve using e-mail at school, but such was not the case here. The teachers at the elementary school were reluctant to allow their students time to work individually at the computer because most were unable to do so independently. Additionally, due to equipment restraints, teachers were not successful in scheduling or teaching group lessons in the school’s computer lab. Because I had made the materials available, the teachers opted for the children’s use of more traditional dialog journals. Carting four crates full of spiral notebooks back and forth between the elementary school and the university campus was much more difficult than herding a class of kids into the computer lab, but tradition has a certain appeal in our business, and it appeared that teachers were willing to lug those journals around in order to avoid something so new and seemingly unwieldy. It became obvious to me: The journals had to go. I planned simply not to buy them the following year. However, The E-mail Connection was not the only difficult thing to manage that first semester. The university students were having a hard time arranging their schedules in order to visit the fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms. They complained -- legitimately so -- that it would not be fair to reduce their grade on the assignment because their and the elementary classroom teachers’ schedules were incompatible. I found the solution to these problems at the National Educational Computing Conference: WebQuest! The WebQuest Project Originally developed by Bernie Dodge and Tom March and described at a website housed on a server at San Diego State University (Dodge’s institution), WebQuest is “an inquiry-oriented activity in which most or all of the information used by learners is drawn from the Web. WebQuests are designed to use learners’ time well, to focus on using information rather than looking for it, and to support learners’ thinking at the levels of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.” In the fall 1999 semester, I abandoned the integrated unit and The E-mail Connection project in favor of a WebQuest project. Now, groups of students would design integrated lessons to be delivered via the World Wide Web in the form of WebQuests. Teachers at the elementary school were asked to provide a list of topics that their students would be studying during the first half of the school year. E-mail would continue to be a tool for checking on the appropriateness of the lesson designed by the preservice teachers, but there would be no journals and no juggling of schedules. My students were given the option, however, of sending a representative from their group to facilitate the use of their WebQuest by the fourth- or fifth-grade class they had written their lesson for. The service learning grant provided each group with a US$25.00 budget for supplies to be used when preparing or presenting the project at the elementary school. I wish I could report that the project went off without a hitch, but that was not the case. To begin, the e-mail communication between my students and the elementary school students continued to be almost nonexistent. Even though the journals were not an option, teachers were still unsuccessful in planning and implementing lessons in the computer lab. My own university students experienced a great deal of anxiety over this fact: If there was no e-mail, would their grades suffer? Additionally, there were more than a few problems with the hardware at the elementary school, which made coordinating visits from my students difficult, if not impossible. The biggest hurdle to overcome, however, was transferring what my students had written into hypertext documents for posting on the Web. At the start of the project, this was beyond my capabilities, so a great deal of the credit for the eventual success of this project must be given to the staff at my university’s Instructional Technology Research Center. This highlights an important point: While many students come to us with impressive knowledge of technology, many others are as helpless as I was. This project allowed those who did have advanced skills to share them with their classmates; it afforded others a safe venue for acquiring and developing those skills. It is important to note that these students were overwhelmingly pleased with the project, especially for the insight it gave them into building and posting an actual webpage. Additionally, students were able to see the potential usefulness of WebQuests in their own classrooms. This is especially important for students majoring in subjects not traditionally considered to be text or technology oriented -- physical education, for example. The Webquest Connection As the fall semester came to a close, my own level of comfort with the WebQuest project grew, and the hardware problems at the elementary school lessened. Beginning in the Spring 2000 semester, the project became known as “The Webquest Connection.” The one remaining problem -- how to increase e-mail communication -- was solved by reconfiguring the connection: There was no longer an e-mail partnership between university and elementary students, but instead between groups of university students and individual fourth- and fifth-grade teachers. I provided the groups with e-mail addresses, and they took it from there. They were simply to keep records of their correspondence. This they could manage. The resulting project was a relative success. Although the revised WebQuest Connection did not encourage writing to learn in the form of direct communication between the university and elementary school students, both groups of students did experience the practical use of technology in the classroom in a form actually more likely to be employed by elementary classroom teachers. Unlike the original e-mail connection project, which was extremely difficult to coordinate, the revised project allowed teachers more flexibility, and students were therefore offered greater exposure to the technology. My university students visited the computer lab at the elementary school on a volunteer basis when groups of fourth- and fifth-grade students were scheduled to work with the individual WebQuests, so the children did experience some one-on-one attention. Eliminating the requirement that university students visit the elementary school made for much better student morale. It also allowed the spirit of volunteerism to flourish, as those students who visited the school did so because they wanted to volunteer, not because they had to in order to pass the course. Finally, as with the original project, the revised WebQuest Connection also allowed preservice secondary teachers first-hand exposure to the development of content area knowledge of elementary students, a primary goal of the project. The Future of The WebQuest Connection The WebQuest Connection was a relative success, but more work has been done since its inception and even more remains. To begin, moving the partnership up to the middle school level, where the slightly older children are more independent with computers has resulted in increased success. Also, I have recently begun using a WebQuest designed to introduce teachers to WebQuests. “A WebQuest About WebQuests” (see an area of The WebQuest Page at webquest.sdsu.edu/materials.htm or Dodge, 2001, online document) allows my students to anticipate what types of things might give children trouble as they complete the WebQuests created for the course. In addition, students can visit my course WebQuest page to examine and evaluate WebQuests designed by students in the previous semester. As technology use continues to expand in secondary classrooms, it becomes increasingly important that new teachers be comfortable with new uses of that technology. As teacher educators, we are in a position to provide instruction and experiences that result in that comfort. The WebQuest Connection, a project that could be replicated in virtually any teacher education program, allows preservice teachers to become comfortable with aspects of technology within the context of their preparation for the profession of teaching. These teachers will be assets to school districts that encourage the use of technology in the classroom. References Dodge, B. (modified by Byles, B., & Brooks, S.). (2001). A WebQuest about WebQuests. Available (retrieved March 1, 2003): www.memphis- schools.k12.tn.us/admin/tlapages/wq_wq2.htm Back Duhaney, D. (2001). Teacher education: Preparing teachers to integrate technology. International Journal of Instructional Media, 28(1), 23-30. Back Willis, E., & Raines, P. (2001). Technology in secondary education. THE Journal, 29(2), 554-559. Back Technology in the Classroom can open many minds using interesting computer lesson plans. Technology in the Classroom Offers Much More Advantage to Children There was a time when children were well prepared if they had a slate board and a slate pencil for school. Now learning is very different and the access to technology in the classroom offers much more advantage to children. Learning is a process that can benefit from teaching aids and support for the lessons. Technology in the classroom has provided many new tools to assist the teachers. The equipment that can be used in a classroom can bring far more information and understanding to any topic. Visual aids and any thing that can help clarify the point will make teaching the lesson easier for the teacher as well. No one misses the old days of slate boards and pencils. Technology began to creep into the classroom as soon as it was available. Projectors were one of the first tools early teachers found helpful. Tape recorders were also found to be beneficial and brought excitement into the lesson plan. Overhead projects brought with them the chance for teachers to display difficult concepts more easily to the whole class. All of these tools made learning easier and more interesting for students and teachers. The introduction of computers and computer lesson plans has exploded the amount of information available for students with access to the Internet. People all learn in different ways and technology in the classroom has brought more options forward to help students. The details they are learning may be the same but the ways they are receiving it can now vary to meet more learning needs. Speeding the learning process is never a bad thing to strive for. REVIEW of ARTICLE#1 As technology becomes more available in classrooms, it is increasingly important that new teachers be comfortable with new uses of that technology. This article tracks the evolution of “The WebQuest Connection,” a cooperative effort between children and teachers in a local school district and university students enrolled in a secondary reading methods course. The project, which could be replicated in virtually any teacher education program, allows preservice teachers to become comfortable with some aspects of technology use within the context of their preparation for entering the education profession. I enjoyed reading this article; I found it to be extremely interesting. REVIEW of ARTICLE #2 Times have changed so shouldn’t the approach of teaching change as well? This article discusses the advantages of having computers in the classroom. It’s believed that it offers much more to students and is an advantage to students as well. Not only are computers beneficial to students but they are to teacher as well. Computers bring more information and understanding to the students and teachers. It is my belief that children are more eager to learn when they can incorporate technology into a lesson. Computers are the next step in having a more modern classroom and making teaching easier and more enjoyable for everyone. All people learn differently and computers are just another option to help students. I strongly agree with the views of this article.
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