Lost issue's column began a discussion on "Thinking Through Linking" and called into question the educational merit of referring to the Internet as "the Information Super Highway. " The purpose of that column was to stir a general reflection on how the Web works in schools. This month I continue to "think through" why we link to the Web, but descend from lofty concepts to nitty particulars. In other words, "Okay, so you're on the Web and you want to create a learning activity on topic X for purpose Y-how do you know what kinds of links to choose?" join us for a quick tour through ways you can choose links based on your activity's intended learning outcome.
As one who's spent a few years flailing in the whirlpool where the Web and education converge, my goal is to pass along anchor points to those with less idle time on their hands (ie, anyone working in a school;-). Early in the WebQuest design process, I realized that the best links offered students a specific learning opportunity. Thus, as you're gathering links to use in Webbased activities, consider the following purposes for which you might pick a specific link. Remember that linking's only as good as the learning it inspires.
It's a rare classroom or library that has enough copies of a poem, painting, article, book, map, software simulation, etc. So accessing multiple copies of something that a large group of students needs is one way the Web helps education. No longer do teachers have to wait in long lines at the photocopier, or librarians lament that 197 sophomores chose to write reports on gun control, or students discover ripped-out pages where they expected to find a Tyrannosaurus Tipping into its dinner.
The Teachable Moment
As helpful as multiple copies can be to the logistical functioning of a school, the Web offers more. The best single comment I've heard to explain the benefits of the Web is "to increase the teachable moments" in a classroom. Finding apt links on the Web can excite students to farther study, support individual interests, reveal concerned online communities, and connect students to real-world topics. Use the Web to develop the context surrounding the topic: how does it relate to the past? what similar situations exist in other countries? what are the opposing viewpoints or different interpretations? Likewise, topics bubbling into the classroom from popular culture are readily accessed. If students are abuzz about a recent natural disaster, find out more. If space exploration is in the news, view the actual footage. If Pokemon is all the craze, track the phenomenon from corporate and personal home pages. In addition, since the Web is more opinion than information, we inherit an inadvertently rich and authentic learning environment. Help students to discriminate among links on a topic: is the content presented in such a way that it highlights certain aspects and ignores others? What are similarities and differences among sites on the same topic? By looking at what's included, what's left out, and how it's referenced, can students decipher the author's perspective on the topic? These are the sparks that talented educators ignite on a daily basis. The Web simply increases the friction.
Yet it's not realistic to wait around for teachable moments to arise. Furthermore, state standards and curriculum frameworks increasingly define content and skills for students to master. Regardless of where you stand on the standards debate, until all students are self-initiated learners, and valid and reliable assessments are in place to provide feedback, we will set up classroom learning experiences. This means that sometimes we will approach the Web with premeditated objectives. In this case, we'll want to find links that particularly support the type of learning we intend to help students achieve. Let's look at five sorts of sites you might link to, with online examples for each. …