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 (Ghana Technology University College, Ghana)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2584-4.ch022
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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.

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