Using the WebQuest Approach to Elicit Student Engagement in a University Course: A Case Study

Using the WebQuest Approach to Elicit Student Engagement in a University Course: A Case Study

Stephen Asunka
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0039-1.ch014
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Following a realization that first year undergraduate students at a private university in Ghana engaged very minimally in their learning processes, and consequently obtained very weak grades in their courses, this study adopted a qualitative research approach to investigate whether the integration of a WebQuest into the learning processes can help foster student engagement through interactivity, and thus improve learning outcomes. Five students and one instructor participated in the study, and over the course of one academic semester, teaching and learning processes were varied by introducing WebQuest-based learning. Data were gathered by observing student activities as they engaged in the learning processes, and also assessing student learning and satisfaction by looking at student grades and also administering a survey questionnaire to students. Findings indicate that educational technologies such as the WebQuest can potentially foster student engagement in learning and also help improve learning outcomes. Implications of these findings are discussed.
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In the educational setting, the concept of student engagement is a multifaceted construct (E. Chapman, 2003), and has therefore been defined and categorized severally by various researchers and educators. Notable categories include: Academic Engagement, i.e. student's willingness, need, desire and compulsion to participate in, and be successful in, the learning processes (Zekpe & Leach, 2010), Psychological Engagement, i.e. willingness to participate in routine school activities, such as attending classes, submitting required work, and following teachers’ directions (Natriello, 1984), Behavioral Engagement, i.e. involvement in learning activities accompanied by a positive emotional tone (Skinner & Belmont, 1993), and Cognitive Engagement i.e. students' use of cognitive, meta-cognitive and self-regulatory strategies to monitor and guide their learning processes (Pintrich & Schrauben, 1992).

However, regardless of whichever perspective being considered, the consensus emerging from research works is that engagement simply represents participation in any enterprise by self-investing personal resources, such as time, physical energy, and cognitive power (Lehmann, Lalmas, Yom-Tov, & Dupret, 2012; Ponciano & Brasileiro, 2014). Unsurprisingly, studies have generally established a positive correlation between some or all of the aforementioned aspects of student engagement, and school achievement parameters such as student grades, class attendance, school completion, participation in school and extracurricular activities etc. (House & Telese., 2015; Junco, Heibergert, & Loken, 2011; Martin & Mullis, 2013). The reverse has also been proven to be the case, i.e. student disengagement or disaffection with school leads to low participation in learning activities, weak grades, cheating in tests, low enthusiasm for school related activities and possibly drop out (Chapman, 2003; Vekkaila, Pyhalto, & Lonka, 2013).

The foregoing exposition points to the need for educational institutions and all other stakeholders to create programmes and conditions that will help increase student engagement, and thereby increase the chances that students will attain the desired outcomes of a college education (Kuh, 2009). This chapter discusses an empirical study that investigated the potential of one such initiative - the WebQuest - to foster undergraduate students' engagement in their learning activities, and the accompanying learning outcomes, in a Ghanaian university. The chapter first discusses the motivation for the study, the theoretical underpinnings of WebQuest based learning, and related research on the subject. This is followed by a detailed description of the WebQuest implementation processes, the learning activities and outcomes, and concludes with lessons learnt and recommendations for further work in this field.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Role-Play: An instructional approach that involves simulation exercises where learners acquire new knowledge and skills by taking on assumed roles and acting out a scenario either in a real-life setting or a contrived setting.

Inquiry-Based Learning: A broader approach to student-centered learning which starts by posing questions, scenarios or problems, and learners work on addressing these issues through inquiry, research, intellectual engagement, and hands-on activities. In the process, learners develop a deeper understanding of the underlying concepts, principles and relevant skills.

Project-Based Learning: An instructional approach where learners gain new knowledge and skills is a specific discipline by investigating, analysing and responding to appropriately designed complex issues and challenges.

Student Engagement: The extent to which students are passionate, interested and motivated to engage in learning activities in a sustained way. A higher level of engagement naturally leads to more desirable learning outcomes.

Constructivism: A learning theory that postulates that learning is effective when learners are actively engaged in collaborative process where they construct new knowledge by interacting with the learning environment and linking new information to previous knowledge, experiences and ideas

WebQuest: An inquiry-oriented lesson format in which learners work in groups to solve real-life, ill-structured problems using web-based resources and information

Problem-Based Learning: A student-centered instructional approach in which students learn a subject by solving ill-structured and open-ended problems.

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