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Analysis of an Instructional Program
by Nellie Deutsch


Introduction

Developing a school curriculum may involve the school administration, the principal, teachers, the community, parents, students, and state or local representatives of education. However, "the real implementers of the curriculum" are teachers, because they provide the instruction (Marsch & Willis, 2003, p. 347). Instructional planning focuses on "learners, the subject matter and society" (Gunter, Estes & Schwab, 2003, p. 14). The teachers or planning committees (a) set goals and rational for instruction, (b) define the objectives, (c) decide on means of assessment, (d) construct a breakdown of units of study for the course, and (e) create lessons using various instructional models and activities (Gunter et al., 2003). Evaluating the effectiveness of a curriculum requires authentic assessment of student performance-based tasks, which "integrates curriculum and assessment" (Wiggins, 1996/1997, p. 25).

Authentic material involves teacher instruction and student performance. The WebQuest combines inquiry-based authentic material and performance-based tasks that require the use of Internet resources. This paper will examine the WebQuest as a research-based instructional tool, determine reasons for choosing the WebQuest, by stating the desired outcomes and implications for the learning institution and discuss the staff's development and understanding regarding research in instructional decision making.

Overview

Inquiry-based learning presupposes that every child wants to learn and that asking questions is a natural means of getting information (Dede, 2000; Educational Broadcasting Corporation, 2004). However, students need to develop skills (Dilts & Epstein, 1995; Educational Broadcasting Corporation, 2004) so that they can cope with future situations and become lifelong learners. The inquiry-based approach to learning uses authentic situations by challenging students to view and solve real life problems (Gunter et al., 2003). Learning to use computer applications such as word processors, databases, spreadsheets, presentations, and webpage software helps students deal with information to solve problems. Trying to solve or resolve problems motivates learners and involves them in the learning process. Students learn to use higher order thinking and social skills necessary in today's fast paced world.

The aim of inquiry-based learning is to emphasize learning as a lifelong process (Educational Broadcasting Corporation, 2004; Kolb & Stuart, 2005), which transforms the teacher from a provider of information to a facilitator, or coach (Woods, 1996; Kolb & Stuart, 2005). This facilitator, or coach, then guides students on a lifelong quest to learn about learning. Inquiry and problem-based learning are very similar to project-based learning (PBL) in that they also raise questions that require answers. Project based learning connects learning to the task (Dilts & Epstein, 1995; Thomas, 2000). Technology offers an ideal environment to practice inquiry, problem, and project-based learning as students work in teams to enhance learning by making it meaningful (Staff, 2001; Deutsch, 2006a, 2006b). One example of inquiry, problem, and project-based learning task has been the WebQuest (Lamb, 2004; MacGregor and Lou, 2005; Deutsch, 2006a, 2006b). Dodge (1997) defines a WebQuest as "inquiry-oriented, based on a doable, engaging task [that] uses pre-defined resources from the Web" (para. 2).

Instructional Inquiry-Based Program

A WebQuest engages students in an inquiry, problem-based learning activity that integrates teamwork, higher order thinking, and access to information on the Internet (Dodge, 1997; Gunter et al., 2003; Kanuka, 2005; Pool, 2006; Sandars, 2005). There are short and long term programs to the WebQuest instruction model. Students are able to comprehend vast amounts of information within one to three class periods by working in groups through a series of activities (Sautter, Pratt, & Shanahan, 2000; Dodge, 1997).

The long-term program takes students from one week to one month to complete (Dodge, 1997). The main objective of the short level is "extending and refining knowledge" (Dodge, 1997, para. 4). The long-term program promotes in-depth knowledge and requires students to demonstrate newly gained information and analysis skills through interactive on-line projects (Dodge, 1997; Sautter, Pratt, & Shanahan, 2000; Teclehaimanot & Lamb, 2004; Kanuka, 2005). As a whole, WebQuest promotes time and task management skills while scaffolding the learning process (March, 2003, 2006). Students learn by classification, inducing, deducing, abstraction, and comparing (March, 2003, 2006). The WebQuest moves across other disciplines but requires a great deal of structure to prevent random surfing on the Internet (Dodge, 1997; Sandars, 2005).

Desired Outcomes of the WebQuest

WebQuests are designed to use learners' time well, to focus on using rather than searching for information, and to support learners' thinking at the levels of analysis, synthesis and evaluation (Dodge, 1997, Leahy & Twomey, 2005). The two levels of WebQuest, short term and long term encourage learners to obtain information from the Internet. Both short and long term WebQuests are deliberately designed to make the best use of a learner's time (Dodge, 1997). WebQuests consist of an introduction, a process, a task, list of resources, a conclusion, an evaluation, and additional information such as student roles, teacher notes along with state, district, or local educational standards, lessons plans, student reflections, and student presentations (Teclehaimanot & Lamb, 2004; Deutsch, 2006a, 2006b). Teachers may use WebQuests in the classroom: (a) as a collaborative activity in which students create a product, (b) to teach students how to be independent thinkers since most of the problems encountered in a WebQuest are real-world problems, (c) to teach critical and higher order thinking skills, (d) to increase competency in the use of technology, and (e) as a motivational techniques to keep students on task (Leahy & Twomey, 2005; Yoder, 2005; Buzzetoo-More & Alade, 2006).

Implications for the Learning Institution

The Internet is bringing learning to more homes (Kolb & Stuart, 2005). Information about every conceivable topic is now readily available to the public. Information is no longer the monopoly of schools, teachers, libraries, or books. Because of integrated workforce technology and technology-rich environments at home, the educational focus on the Internet has turned from teacher teaching to student learning (Kolb & Stuart, 2005). The WebQuest model may affect the learning institution by creating a more meaningful online collaborative learning environment (Leahy & Twomey, 2005).

WebQuests integrate technology by requiring learners to search for information by accessing the Internet (Dodge, 1997). Using the Internet as a learning tool is an unconventional way of learning, since the Internet challenges conventional textbooks and teachers as the sole providers of information (Gunter et al., 2003). WebQuests are similar to online distance learning in that students can work independently. Students do not require assistance from the school or the teacher while performing a WebQuest (Gunter et al., 2003). WebQuests are alternative forms of instruction that have implications for the learning institution (Wilson, 2001).

Instructional Decision Making

Instructional decision making bases new knowledge on existing knowledge (Even, 2004; Xun, Ching-Huei & Davis, 2005). The curriculum development and instructional decision making processes require information on (a) the needs of the students, (b) the societal purpose [of the learning institution], and (c) the subject matter" (Gunter et al., 2003, p. 3). Student needs assessments provide background knowledge for teachers prior to planning new learning activities (Gunter et al., 2003; Even, 2004).

Students needs include learning styles and approaches to student learning (Even, 2004). Learners can apply deep or surface learning attitudes to learning (Lipscomb, 2002; Even, 2004; Kanuka, 2005). The WebQuest provides learners with a variety of learning styles and a deeper understanding of concepts through the use of "case studies..., role-playing and access to online links (Kanuka, 2005, p. 17).

Importance of Research

One strand in the National Research Council reports is based on the notion that decisions affecting the lives of kids and teachers deserve the best possible evidentiary base, that is, that programs and policies with potentially powerful and long term effects require rigorous scrutiny (Feuer, 2006). Not only will research aid and assist teachers in their continuous effort of learning, but it will also lead to helping teachers become more effective in classrooms. Because of research, teachers are able to utilize effective learning strategies in classrooms. Scientific research findings are reflected in the following statement by Feuer (2006):

My assumption is that scientific research can point to reasonable and reasonably better strategies, that it can help teachers and other decision makers make more informed choices about their craft, and that it can provide the public (which pays for much of our educational system) a basis for evaluating the quality of the work performed by those entrusted with our most cherished resources (the kids). (p. 270)

Some argue that research undertaken by a teacher aims to develop teacher and teaching instead of generating knowledge (Elliott, 1991; Zeichner, 1995); whereas others argue that it aims to generate knowledge (Kemmis & McTaggart, 1992); and still others state that it serves for the both purposes (McNiff, Lomax & Whitehead, 1996). Although the discussion is ongoing, the reason behind "teacher as a researcher" approach is that teachers cannot understand and use results of research studies undertaken by academicians (Shkedi, 1998; Even, 2004; Ekiz 2006) conducted a study of elementary school teachers' attitude toward educational research. The findings indicate (a) 75.1% of the teachers think that education aims to understand and develop educational practices, (b) only 3.4% perceive that education aims to produce knowledge that is theoretically relevant, and (c) in response to the question whether they follow educational research, 34.3% responded yes 11.7% no, and 54% sometimes (Ekiz, 2006).

The study conducted by Ekiz (2006) suggests 71.7% of the teachers are willing to carry out educational research, particularly, on the fields of developing pupils' learning and their own teaching strategies and methods. The results also reveal that the primary factor motivating teachers to undertake research is to improve student performance. However, the main factor preventing them from doing research is the lack of time and facilities. In addition, the teachers think that educational research undertaken by academicians does not correspond to their practical world (Ekiz, 2006). According to Leahy and Twomey (2005), studies on teachers assigned to create WebQuests showed 90% of the teachers plan to integrate WebQuests in their classes. The findings suggest "most students are willing to embrace technology in a collaborative learning environment" (p. 143). Based on research, inquiry based collaborative learning may make instruction more meaningful for the teacher and learner (Lipscomb, 2002; Ekiz, 2006). Collaboration should involve ongoing negotiation, interdependence, and joint ownership of the decisions about the research process (Gunter et al., 2003; Ekiz, 2006). Studies conducted Leahy and Twomey (2005) on teachers assigned to create WebQuests, showed that 90% of the teachers plan to integrate WebQuests in their classes. These findings indicate, "ůmost students are willing to embrace technology in a collaborative learning environment" (p. 143). Based on research, inquiry based collaborative learning may make instruction more meaningful for the teacher and learner (Lipscomb, 2002; Ekiz, 2006). Collaboration should involve ongoing negotiation, interdependence, and joint ownership of the decisions about the research process (Gunter et al., 2003; Ekiz, 2006).

Staff Training and Development

WebQuests can serve as forum for educator professional development and learning as well. Teachers and administrators participating in a WebQuest will improve team development and Internet research skills (Peterson, Caverly, & MacDonald; Leahy & Twomey, 2005; Sandars, 2005). Participants will practice gathering information from a wide variety of sources and then compare content with group members. Guided practice leads teachers and administrators towards achieving goals and objectives more readily (Sandars, 2005).

Teachers and administrators can use WebQuests to facilitate professional training programs by working in teams to access information from the Internet (Johnson & Zufall, 2004). Inquire-based WebQuests engage learners in a collaborative community of learning. WebQuests support participants in making decisions that are more informed because participants are required to research in order to achieve specific predetermined outcomes (Leahy & Twomey, 2005).

Conclusion

WebQuest projects integrate critical thinking, cooperative learning, authentic assessment, technology, schema theory, scaffolding, and novice/expert models of teaching (Dodge, 1997). WebQuests can be problem or case-based learning activities that provide teachers with the opportunity to integrate Internet technology into the course curriculum by allowing students to experience learning as they construct knowledge (Kanuka, 2005). WebQuests can be identified as quests for knowledge since students are actively engaged in acquiring knowledge by exploring and processing information (Gunter et al., 2003). Most WebQuests require students to perform multiple tasks, beyond presenting findings to the class or writing a report. The performance tasks include the creation of multimedia projects, videoconferencing, using email, databases, spreadsheets, and other technological programs (Dodge, 1997; Kanuka, 2005)

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