Enhancing active learning with WebQuest

Thứ ba - 29/07/2014 15:04
First and foremost, it is common consensus that teaching and learning methods play a vital role in defining educational quality. Over the past decades, pedagogists have tried their best to look for the so-called “optimum teaching methodology”, which, despite great advances in pedagogical research and practices, has been quite utopian (Lightbown & Spada, 2006). Actually, each method has its own merits and limitations, and the best way to maximize the potentials is to harmoniously combine various methods to the largest extent possible depending on the teaching and learning context.

Along this line, this paper will briefly introduce the active learning approach exemplified by WebQuest with a view to invoking a more thoughtful consideration of this century-old teaching philosophy towards a more effective second/foreign language education pathway.

What is active learning?

In this paper, active learning should be interpreted as an overall approach rather than an individual method. In fact, it is this approach that has (and will) laid ground for the development and innovative applications of multiple teaching methods.

According to the University of Wisconsin (USA), active learning is in a broad sense a mixture of various important learning processes that requires great physical, mental and intellectual investment (Cuseo, 2010). More specifically, the California Department of Education (USA) defines that “active learning refers to learning that occurs through instructional strategies that engage students intellectually and physically as they pursue given classroom assignments. Active learning is the opposite of passive learning, in which one-way communication f-rom teachers to students is the norm. Active learning involves substantive changes in the ways students and teachers work together, shifting the focus of classroom instruction f-rom teaching to learning…”

As such, active learning is by no means any specific teaching or learning method; instead, it is a collection of principles that guide the pro-active teaching and learning processes so as to maximize the pedagogical effectiveness whe-re LEARNING is at the very center and TEACHING is nothing more than support for LEARNING to take place as desired. Active learning emphasizes the experience of learners through practical activities (learning by doing) as well as the interaction among stakeholders during the learning process.

In the field of second/foreign language teaching, many recently developed concepts and methods have put learners at the center of the teaching and learning processes. For instance, Communicative Language Teaching, Task-based Language Teaching, Content-based Language Teaching, Inquiry-based and Discovery-based Instruction, and Problem-based Instruction, among others, all underline the decisive roles of learners. Active learning should therefore be the synchronous process of creatively and effectively applying various methods to fulfill the goals and objectives set for each lesson and for the curriculum as a whole.

WebQuest: an instrument for enhancing active learning

Over the past two decades, WebQuest has been widely used in second/foreign language education in many countries. So what is WebQuest, and how effective is it in second/foreign language teaching and learning?

WebQuest is an online instrument for materialization of the active learning approach through activities that explore online resources and encourage learners to utilize knowledge flexibly and creatively to solve concrete problems. There are two forms of WebQuest: short-term WebQuest (conducted in one or a few lessons) and long-term WebQuest (developed over a long period of time, sometimes up to a month or a whole semester). The most common goal of the former is to provide learners with sheer information, while the later tends to further expand learners’ knowledge and help them utilize existing knowledge creatively in combination with online resources exploration to generate their own solutions or initiatives.

WebQuest can bring about many benefits for teachers and learners of a second/foreign language. Firstly, WebQuest motivates learners to delve deep into information and think critically in order to come up with solutions or initiatives, making them learn in a more responsible manner with multidimensional views. To complete a WebQuest project, learners usually have to work in groups whe-re each of them is responsible for a specific role and become their team’s “experts” in a certain aspect. This is especially useful in preparing learners for practical work situations in the future. Besides, while working on WebQuest, learners will have access to diverse and up-to-date sources of information, allowing them to absorb new knowledge in a very direct and se-lective manner. The learning process itself is also very flexible as WebQuest can be done anywhe-re as long as there is a computer connected to the internet. Moreover, through the steps necessary to complete a WebQuest project, learners will have opportunities to improve their IT knowledge, which is undeniably a crucial requirement for their career in the intellectual economy of the 21st century.

There are many WebQuest formulas, all of which contain at least the following components:

-      Introduction provides an overview of the WebQuest.
-      Task presents an interesting and feasible task for learners to complete.
-      Resources lists sources of information to be explored for task completion. Most of the information is web-based with links provided in WebQuest for learners to exploit.
-      Process describes steps necessary for task completion.
-      Evaluation provides detailed guidelines to learners on what will be assessed, usually in the form of a matrix of criteria/standards.
-      Conclusion summarizes information on the completed task and helps learners to fully absorb their recent experience. This part also encourages learners to take concrete actions based on the solutions or initiatives they have developed in the process of completing WebQuest.

To cre-ate WebQuest for free and access many existing WebQuest projects for reference, please visit http://zunal.com or http://questgarden.com
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  9. California Department of Education, USA (2010). Accessed April 8, 2014 at http://pubs.cde.ca.gov/tcsii/ap/glossary.aspx

Tác giả bài viết: Nguyen Van Ky (English Department, Hanoi University)

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