One of the challenges in integrating the Internet into classroom instruction is to identify factors that are critical to online teaching and functionally relevant to student learning (Snelbecker, Miller, & Zheng, 2006; Zheng, Stucky, McAlack, Menchaca, & Stoddort, 2005). This study focused on learner and teacher perceptions of WebQuest learning and identified three constructs - constructivist problem solving, social interaction and scaffolded learning - that were perceived by students and teachers as critical to the design and development of WebQuests. The constructs provide a theoretical framework that is not only instrumental to the design and development of WebQuests but also important for the design of effective web-based instruction.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Web-Based Learning: Web-based learning refers to the type of learning that uses the Internet as an instructional delivery tool to carry out various learning activities. It can take the form of (1) a pure online learning in which the curriculum and learning are implemented online without face-to-face meeting between the instructor and the students, or (2) a hybrid in which the instructor meets the students half of the time online and half of the time in the classroom, depending on the needs and requirement of the curriculum. Web-based learning can be integrated into a curriculum that turns into a full-blown course or as a supplement to traditional courses.
Online Problem Solving: As an alternative to the traditional problem-solving approach, the online problem solving provides a plateau that is not restricted by time and space. Like the traditional problem solving, the online problem solving emphasizes developing in students the ability to relate declarative knowledge to procedural knowledge, and using critical thinking skills to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information. The online problem solving has been widely incorporated into various online instructional models such as WebQuests to enhance student learning in terms of content comprehension, knowledge construction, and application. As an instructional strategy, the online problem solving is often used in conjunction with other strategies such as online collaboration to teach students to solve problems collectively.
Functional Relevance: Based on Rogers’ (1969) concept of personally relevant learning as well as Heider’s (1958)common sense psychology, Snelbecker (1993) proposes the concept of functional relevance. Functional relevance basically focuses on the extent to which intended learners actually perceive instruction as being relevant for, and fit with, the way(s) that they function in their work, studies, personal lives, and so forth. According to Snelbecker et al. (2006) functional relevance basically focuses on the extent to which intended learners actually perceive instruction as being relevant for, and fit with, the way(s) that they function in their work, studies, personal lives, and so forth. Effective instruction is defined as enabling the learner to act in accordance with his or her own present perceptions about the situation, and less in automatic compliance with what instructors say that the learners should feel or perceive. Thus it is essential not only that instruction be designed so that it is relevant for how learners function but also that intended learners recognize how and why it is important for them. The concept of functional relevance is applicable in situations that focus on applying theories and innovations to improve learning and training.
Web-Based Learning Environment: Dabbagh and Bannan-Ritland (2005) noted differences between the traditional face-to-face learning environment and the Web-based learning environment. They concluded that the Web-based learning environment is characterized by six attributes that require a different instructional thinking and preparation from that of the traditional learning environment. The six attributes of the Web-based learning environment include: (1) globalization, (2) decentralized control, (3) multiple forms of interaction, (4) hypermedia with multidimensional space, (5) asynchronous communications, and (6) dynamic, real-time information.
Online collaboration: Online collaboration is defined as a group of students engaged in collaborative learning through cyber space. Based on Johnson and Johnson’s (1994) cooperative learning theory, online collaboration is an instructional strategy that uses digital learning technology—including the Internet—to engage learners in collaborative learning. Successful online collaboration includes the identification and use of the following elements in collaborative learning: (1) selecting appropriate level(s) of communication (e.g., synchronous vs. asynchronous; partners vs. small groups, etc.); (2) defining the role and responsibilities of collaboration (e.g., individual accountability, positive interdependence, etc.); and (3) building the motivational mechanism for learning (e.g., self-initiation, empowerment, etc.).
WebQuests: Originated by Dodge and March in 1995, WebQuest is an instructional tool for inquiry-oriented learning with an emphasis on developing learners’ critical thinking and social skills as well as their ability to construct new knowledge. Two levels of WebQuests exist: short term and long term. Short-term WebQuests focus on learners’ knowledge acquisition and integration that can be completed in one to three class hours, whereas long-term WebQuests may take between one week and a month in a classroom setting. A well designed WebQuest typically contains six parts: (1) introduction; (2) task; (3) information sources; (4) description of process; (5) guidance; and (6) conclusion. These segments guide learners through WebQuest activities by providing descriptive background information, defining tasks, supplying information resources needed to complete tasks, and a describing the process learners should go through in accomplishing tasks. As an online instructional model, WebQuest is considered to be an effective way to organize chaotic Internet resources and help learners gain new knowledge through a structured learning process.
Scaffolded Learning: Scaffolds in academia refer to tools, strategies, and guides used by educators to assist learners to develop understanding beyond their immediate grasp. They can appear in the form of scripts, teacher assistance, computer tutors, and animated pedagogical agents. Scaffolded learning involves providing assistance to students on an as-needed basis, fading the assistance as learner competence increases. As an instructional strategy, scaffolded learning has been incorporated into Web-based learning environments such as WebQuests and used to help develop critical thinking skills in students.