WebQuests…Antiquated and Outdated?

I am not a fan of WebQuests.  They were something that had a grandiose allure during my first few years of teaching but that’s when I grappled for lessons and thought, ‘might as well stick them in front of a computer so they don’t have to face me!’  I created one for Día de los muertos a while back but the links are dead and I haven’t updated it.  At all.  It was actually sitting below a pile of papers in my file cabinet.  That’s right, I didn’t have that drawer organized with little nifty hanging folders; everything has been haphazardly tossed in and the drawer quickly slammed shut.

Back to the Quests.  Even the name sounds so…pirate.  “I bequeath you to explore the ravages of the Web in my QUEST.”  How lame!  I’m not discrediting Bernie Dodge’s life work on this stuff, but I just don’t think they are worthwhile activities, not when the advent of technology is proclaiming that we do so much more in many different ways.

An issue I often find in even sitting a child down in front of a computer to do a search (whether WebQuest-related or not) is that they always, always, ALWAYS type the URL in a search box.  They hardly never actually click in the address bar to begin the assignment.  It drives me up the wall and I wonder who ever taught them their introductory lessons on using the Web.  It’s almost as if there has been this culture of helpless spellers that’s evolved from middle school and the results are what I see in high school.  They don’t care to ensure accuracy of the letters they type so they’ll click through the links from the results of a Google search until they see the same visual site as the teacher (me) showed them before going to the lab.  I saw this with Dropbox.  DROP.BOX.  It’s not hard.  Yet I saw every single screen with the glaring Google search results and they clicked through everything from YouTube tutorials to the actual signup page.  Infuriated is not the word to explain how I felt on the inside but I am a master of composure and held it together.

Last time I tried doing a WebQuest with any students was at least four years ago.  I watched as they aimlessly Googled the title of the Web page as I had it typed out and would raise their hand to tell me they couldn’t find the page.  This is even when I had a simple URL available right next to the title.  I think I ended up doing that WebQuest twice and have stored it carelessly in my file cabinet ever since.

For reasons unbeknownst to myself I decided to register on the official page for such activities, QuestGarden.  It was there that I actually found a minute amount of Quests that I quickly put into a .zip file to store for later evaluation.  While scrolling through the myriad of titles and examining those that seemed remotely interesting, I couldn’t help but notice just how verbose these activities were!  I mean, the layout itself seems simple: Intro, Task, Process, blah blah blah.  It was clicking through the Task and Process part that I really felt like a student drowning in the Comic Sans (I HATE that) font, with an obliteration of details and instructions in paragraph form.  If I were lucky there was a picture or two somewhere in the whole thing to spice it up a bit, but not really.

Who are these WebQuests for?  What are they teaching?  It’s almost an exercise in reading comprehension for the instructions, let alone doing the actual research for the content.  The assumption is that the students know how to wade through the pages they are visiting, especially those being brought to Wikipedia, so that precious class time is not wasted with kids squinting trying to find a few site words or the “right answer.”

In my experience there is SO MUCH more to the digital classroom than to do a WebQuest.  It will be something I use only if I cannot articulate or present the information well enough to meet my own objectives.  If that’s the case, God help me that I have the patience to tolerate myself during WebQuest instructions, processes, and evaluations.

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Gooooooooo(g)l(e)!!!

Sorry if you cannot interpret the wordplay of my title. In the Hispanic culture one common interjection is the ever-quoted, “gooooooooool!” The broadcasters are usually shouting in excitement when the favored soccer team scores. Even in the regular season soccer games are revered with as much fervor and good-natured rivalry as in the playoffs for the World Cup. The tie-in here (no pun intended) is that after taking a more in-depth look at the Google suite of apps and tools I feel they’ve created a brand that will be uncontested for a long time to come.

The synchronization offered not only between its own native applications but also across devices is a major draw from the average consumer to the well-rounded businessman. Google’s Gmail is the most popular email client on the market, only recently being rivaled by Microsoft’s Outlook. The personal customization and ties to Google Tasks and Google Calendar make it easy to commit as to avoid checking multiple sources for one’s daily to-dos. Aside from the quotidian uses of mail and calendar Google offers something much more for educators, specifically, which can be found on its Google for Educators page. It was on this page that I was suddenly struck with a sense of urgency; an additional purpose to this path on which I’m seeking to expand my proficiency with technology and applications as a fundamental resource for our day-to-day.

What drew me in and piqued my interest was the idea of becoming a Google educator. At first glance it sounded like any other quick watch-this-webinar certification that I would’ve quickly passed by. I’m glad I took the time to read further because — man! — there are some serious qualifications involved to even become a considered candidate. There is an exam involved that can only be passed after either extensive use and experience in the Google suite (and studying helps, too) along with a video submission utilizing technology in a way that proves initiative and motivation are evident and will propel education in the right direction.  There was actually a webinar I was planning on attending that was led by someone being touted as a Google Educator.  In any other circumstance that wouldn’t have made me bat an eye, but now that I know it’s a prestigious select few with that title I find myself suddenly interested in what this guy has to say.

Seven years ago when I started my position at my school I toyed with the idea of using Google Earth in one of my lessons.  Wouldn’t it be cool if they could see the Alhambra?  Well, it got only as far as that thought but now that I’ve become more astute with my technological tinkerings it seems now is no better time to mobilize that idea again.  I could literally go on an on about the Google suite (strike me down, too, as I’m an avid Apple user), but let me get my feet soaked – instead of just wet – with these new toys so I can really give you the lay of the land.

Stay tuned!

 

The Teachers’ Applications Space Race

It’s amazing to me how many sites, widgets, platforms, and many other resources are available to teachers in the realm of curriculum planning, assessment, and general activities.  Taking a look at some of the big hitters I’ve provided my $.02 below.

Hot Potatoes

This is a pretty neat engine that’s actually freeware available for download.  I came across this while browsing the MERLOT site for world language lessons.  It generates templates varying from cloze activities, multiple choice, quizzes, and more.  Simply put, Hot Potatoes is a fun and quick way to assess students but may also be used for lengthier, more formative assessments.  In my attempt to create a quick, top-of-the-hour matching activity I found the approach to be slightly confusing.  The graphics on the Java interface were tiny and required a cursor scroll-over to identify its function.  It was neat to be able to add graphics to the activity but I’m not sure it’s worth extensively investing much time for the purpose of creating assessments.  One could also add a reading portion to the assessment as well as audio files and Flash images.  To download the engine is free and tutorials are available.  There is no way to track data of students because one does not input any registration, therefore the simplest way to keep track is to print the files and distribute (or have students print their results).  Hot Potatoes is something I’ll return to from time to time.

Quizstar

I’ve never visited this site so far but I’m very happy I did.  It differs from Hot Potatoes in that the user interface is much more friendly, although I have to say, it’s quite verbose.  My eyes were jumping all over the page trying to figure out where to start and what the result would look like.  The process of creating an account was very simple and the best thing was the ability to add students to my classes on my own.  It will save me a TON of time getting them started on this site because they take forever to come up with usernames and passwords.  Even so, I typically have one or two that misspell their own information, therefore doing it myself puts it all on my shoulders and that makes me hypersensitive to mistakes!  The first thing I did after creating a class was to add five questions to a quiz, which was an easy process with an eye-appealing layout at the end.  The student view of the quiz looked clean, simple, and modern.  There was an option to add media to the questions but that will come at a later date.  For now I’m going to enjoy watching the students track their progress and get immediate feedback once they click for their results.  This seems like a no-brainer to replace Hot Potatoes for a quick assessment and even a formative assessment.

Quizbox

I’m not entirely convinced Quizbox would be something for my classroom, or any, for that matter.  It’s geared more towards personality tests, compatibility calculators, match making, and the like.  In the brief exploration I completed on the site it looked like something I’l return to visit at another time outside of the classroom.

YourFreePoll

Not just an ordinary poll site, YourFreePoll seems to have the security on lock down.  The writers caution  you from creating polls that encourage racism, political bias, and other maladies, but also written into the script of the program is anti-bot language.  Basically, a robot could not harvest the information in the survey and produce many of the same (or different) results to skew the data.  There was no obvious place to insert any type of media file, but it’s still an interesting site just the same.  I could definitely use this in my classroom as a means to question my students about current events going on and it’s great that the site doesn’t force user registration upon anyone.

Teach-nology & Rubistar

Unfortunately, this site seems to want me to fork over $29 for a year’s access to their data.  The rubric section has some amazing finds from all content areas to general processes, even a participation rubric!  When I clicked through a few of the Language Arts examples I was prompted to choose a small clip art image that was placed at the top of the table.  The layout of the pre-formatted rubric was simple to read, not too wordy, and supplied sufficient criteria for students to follow.  Unless I was willing to pay the membership fee I didn’t see how I could add my own images or even create my own.  It’s a great site worth exploring but it’s not up for piloting in my classroom just yet.

Rubistar is a site I’ve used a few times and like it.  The generator can be simple to use but may also be time consuming if the project requires in-depth analysis.  There have been some example rubrics I’ve found on that site where the rubric itself is a thesis paper!  The cool thing about this application, however, is that a search for practically anything under the sun will yield some sort of evaluation tool to be used against it.  There is no fee to join and no limit to the rubrics one uses or creates, but certainly one has to be specific in the rubric search to whittle down the choices.  Somewhat boring in layout Rubistar doesn’t have a lot of options for a color scheme or media files being added.  Then again, who really needs all that on a rubric?

Easy Test Maker

Again, for a price ladder starting at $20 I can create tests that may be published to the Internet for a year.  To get basic formatting privileges like bold, italics, or underline, I’d have to upgrade my status.  To me this does not sound enticing at all.  I can easily use the test builder provided by my textbook publisher and use that, although it doesn’t support media files.  The free version of EasyTestMaker also limits the amount of tests I make a year, which doesn’t seem like a sell to me.

There are so many sites for teachers nowadays there needs to be a university degree program for their analysis!  In all seriousness,  however, I’m glad the teaching industry has become more about sharing and collaborating rather than harboring and conserving one’s own thoughts and ideas.

Web 2.0.1?

I included a little bit of humor in my title as a nod to the ever-changing planes of technology.  The use of blogs have exploded and become much more than an asynchronous means of communication.  When the term “blog” was conceived I remember hearing it’s full proper name used often – web log – as if people had to say it, read it, write it, and hear it in its full form to digest what this meant for communication.  Ever pick up an object so peculiar that you keep turning it over and over in your hand, like, say for example, a clock with digitally projected numbers instead of analog?  Ok, you get my point: when we encounter something so fresh, new, and intriguing it’s all we can do to break away for a split second and forget about it.

That’s kind of been the trend with blogs as long as I can remember.  Soon after the expression became the buzzword on everyone’s lips the baby blogs sprouted up in pockets online.  In their infancy they looked unstructured, disheveled, and blatantly experimental.  There was a sense of vulnerability in the publishing of one’s blog.  People could actually, like, read your real thoughts and stuff.  Who’d’a thought?

Flash forward a mere decade (or less?!) and blogs have become an entity of their own.  There are blogs that teach us how to make things, expose us to the darker side of life, enlighten us with the innocence we too often dismiss as frivolous, allow us to peek into celebrity lifestyles, or how to be a better mom.  Blogs nowadays even have subscribers, and full-time heavy hitters go as far as daily/weekly/whenever giveaways with price tags none to scoff at!  It’s putting the steering column of syllabic freedom into the hands of anyone: the naive, the seasoned, the messenger…

But what does that mean for our students?  Frankly, that they can be exposed to inaccurate, let alone inappropriate, content, is the reason to be dubious to allow such a thing in my classroom.  Deciphering blogs (which includes their content and their author’s credibility) has come a long way thanks to the educators who saw the vision unfurl before their eyes.  Thanks to these educators, consultants, and just plain students education is able to join in on the trajectory of the blogosphere and even steer its course.  Do I use blogs in my classroom yet?  No, but that doesn’t mean I’m not searching for the right vehicle.

In my tenure at my current school, which is just a few years shy of a decade, the students that have appeared on my roll sheet haven’t had much experience with changing technology.  Sure, they can tell you all the features of the new HTC Envy smart phone or that their cousin can jail break an iPhone, but they have had no clue of the power of Web 2.0.  Up until recently I’ve been too apprehensive to show them, either.  Because of their lack of resources I have held back on presenting applications like Dropbox, Edmodo, Schoology, and the like.  It wasn’t until the comfort level I needed to feel was reached that piloting a few sites seemed like a good idea.  Thankfully, although I’m not sure if the chicken (my knowledge) or the egg (a good batch of students) came along first, piloting proved successful and turned into full-on implementation.

This year we’re stumbling our way through the aforementioned sites.  Stumbling is the appropriate word because there will forever be pitfalls with the network, someone forgetting their password, a fire drill in the middle of class, and many other things, but we’re getting by.  It’s exciting to me to see the students brag that they put Edmodo on their smart phone, or Quizlet, as if to say, “School is cool since I can ‘play’ it on my phone.”  It’s asking a lot to prepare them to be digital citizens and to embrace the technological onslaught of proficiency standards they should be at, but I’m going to make it my mission to do my best.  

Along the way I’l share my anecdotes, successes, epic fails, and whatever happens in between.  Enjoy the ride!