A WebQuest is an inquiry-based lesson or unit that is supported by Internet-based resources. WebQuests can vary in length from one classroom period to four-week long projects. On her blog about Webquests, Dr. Alice A. Christie, Arizona State University President’s Professor Emeritus, describes the pedagogical implications of WebQuests:

Pedagogical principles involve reflection, collaboration, cooperation, social skills such as consensus-building skills, open minded thinking, multiculturalism, critical thinking, problem-solving, and an interdisciplinary approach. The underlying principles of webquests are active involvement of students in the learning process and structured ways for students to guide themselves through discovery of new material.

In my opinion, WebQuests are internet-based activities delivered by teachers to the students that are transparent, in that, they are usually accompanied by the evaluation rubric which means students know exactly how they will be evaluated. There are various things that can be embedded in a WebQuest such as case studies, websites, images, videos, animation, discussion questions and guided reflective writing tasks.

A WebQuest usually has six parts to it: (1) introduction; (2) task; (3) process; (4) conclusion; (5) resources; and (6) credits/references.

As a future ESL teacher, WebQuests will be something I will use for sure. Although, you can create own WebQuests, there are lots of excellent already-made WebQuests on various topics and themes that would be relevant to my future classes. For example, I found this WebQuest (see below) on Zunal WebQuest Maker. The novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” is contemporary classic literature that high school students within the Enriched English as a Second Language Programme study.

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I would use such a WebQuest as a short-term project related to this novel. Using a WebQuest like this serves to achieve the learning objectives of MELs SÉBIQ English Enrichment programme. In addition, Tom March’s blog, The Learning Power of WebQuests, points out they offer an authentic learning experience for the students.

A real WebQuest is a scaffolded learning structure that uses links to essential resources on the World Wide Web and an authentic task to motivate students’ investigation of an open-ended question, development of individual expertise, and participation in a group process that transforms newly acquired information into a more sophisticated understanding. The best WebQuests inspire students to see richer thematic relationships, to contribute to the real world of learning, and to reflect on their own metacognitive processes.

Integration of a website or an educational CMS

Having completed my secondary and most of my post-secondary studies BIE (before internet existed), it can be challenging to imagine how the modern classroom can be managed with various technological tools such as websites and educational content management systems (CMS).

I knew what a website was but, honestly, I had no idea what an educational CMS was. After doing some research, I discovered some digital tools like Challenge U, Moodle, Schoology, Sakai and Edmodo. I was recently introduced to Edmodo for the first time in my university computer applications course. After looking further into these digital platform tools, Challenge U caught my attention. It looked like it had a lot to offer and a nice clean look to it, as well. However, after several attempts to open a free account with them, it was impossible.  It required a lot of JAVA installations which I wasn’t able to successfully complete. So, I decided not to pursue Challenge U any further. Next, I tried a Moodle simulation where I was able to log in as a teacher in order to see the interface and the features it offers. I found it to be over the top. There were so many sections: navigation, administration, latest news, comments, and so on. I thought to myself, if I were a student, would this be a system I would want to use? It seemed very impractical. For this reason, I wouldn’t implement myself.

Next, I went to Edmodo because it seemed the most clear and simple. The familiarity of its look with the Facebook user interface, put me at ease. Possibly, an important aspect to consider when choosing an educational CMS; how are students are going to respond to it? I wanted to know more about what I could do with it, as a future ESL teacher.

I came across an interesting case study that was done on a classroom and their use of Edmodo. The three learning outcomes achieved by Chris Cooke’s (a teacher in Northern Ireland) Year 7 students through the use of Edmodo showed:

(1) that students developed greater levels of independence in their learning and less reliance on teacher-led tasks;

(2) enhanced their classroom learning through independent research; and

(3) students learned from each other as well as the teacher.

The third outcome raises an important point as a future ESL teacher. In a language classroom, I think it’s really important to promote and embrace an environment where students learn from other, even if it’s a second language classroom. The teacher doesn’t have to be the know-all of the language. In this day in age, it is completely possible and likely that people learn languages simply using the multitude of resources available on the Internet. For example, if a student finds something relevant and interesting (i.e. a funny video in English, music in English, wtc.) that can be shared with the other students, I would strongly support and promote this kind of behaviour and use Edmodo as the means to share resources with all students.

I also watched a 30-minute webinar on using Edmodo to track student progress and assessment presented by Rob Zdrojewski, an Edmodo Certified Trainer and Google Educator. Edmodo has an abundance of assessment tools such as Progress Bars (a visual indicator of where the students are at), quizzes, polls, private feedback and Snapshots. In regards to the grade book or teacher markbook, I find it highly beneficial to be able to quickly identify where all the students are at any given moment. Also, to be able to identify students having problems with the material or tasks at hand.

I definitely envision using Edmodo in my own classroom. It’s features and tools are quite appealing and offer more than I imagined a free digital platform would. All of the pedagogical implications convince me that implementing a digital platform like Edmodo will be beneficial for, both, myself and the students. I think one of the most important outcomes such a tool will provide in my own ESL classroom, is the increased motivation of students. This is a key learning strategy that must be developed, particularly, in the language learning classroom. Another reason I would use this kind of platform is to increase my availability to respond to student questions (in real time). If I am not available online to respond, for example, during the weekend, it would be unlikely that a student would phone or email me at home. Therefore, using Edmodo can eliminate the communication gap between me and my students. Especially, weaker students who may be more reserved to ask a question.

Other reasons I would use this platform are because it can implemented individually as a teacher (no need for whole school implementation), it’s controlled by the teacher, it’s secure and it can increase the communication enormously between me (as a future teacher) and my students. Additionally, it can increase communication between me and the students parents because they can be invited to have access to Edmodo.

Evolution of Animation / Presentation Tools

After watching many videos created using animation tools, I think they offer a valuable creative medium of expression in the ESL classroom. Let’s face it, not only do teachers need to keep students motivated to learn but teachers also need to remain motivated to teach. How many times have we been asked to stand up and make a presentation on a subject in front of the class? Even been asked to make it using PowerPoint…boring! PowerPoint is a great tool but it also gets misused. We find slides with way too much information or, more often than not, presenters who end up reading the information word-for-word off the slides. Then came Prezi, which I happen to find to be a useful tool because students are better able to concentrate on the subject matter while still producing an aesthetically pleasing product. Then I found PowToon. I can already imagine how I can use it and I can envision how students can use it too. Or perhaps, how I can learn how to use it from my students.

PowToon is an online web tool that is used to create presentation and animation videos. First things first, it’s FREE. Although, there is a catch: there is a limit of five videos. However, in comparison to other animation web tools, it is the most economical I found. I discovered GoAnimate and Video Scribe which also look amazing but have subscription fees. PowToon definitely has a learning curve and time commitment but once familiar with it’s user front and capabilities, it is undoubtedly a new, fun and fresh way to present information.

Dave, who has been teaching ESL for twenty years, has used PowToon to create a grammar series for his students. His grammar series videos can be seen on his blog, PowToons for ESL. He has used this web tool as a way to present grammar points in small segments which are amusing to watch. I especially enjoyed his video on the pronunciation of regular -ED verb endings, which can be a challenge to native French speakers learning English as a second language. I envision myself using PowToons to create short videos on grammar points as a way of saving time in the classroom. For example, I would make short presentations on material or grammar points that students are having trouble with i.e. difference between DO and MAKE as supplementary material to be watched before/after a class. I would also use it as a model for an assignment. For example, giving instructions for a recipe using imperatives. I would then have students create their own based on the model they have seen for various recipes. Or as a way for students to tackle explaining grammar to their classmates. I think this is a great way to reinforce learning, by having to explain something to someone else.

In his blog, Role of Animation in Student’s Learning, Bhaskar Kuchimanchi highlights how the learning process is benefited by animation:

One of the reasons animations are now found so widely is that many people believe that animations can help learners come to understand complex ideas more easily. The process of teaching and learning gets a whole new experience when animations are used during the process. Both the teacher and the student as well find it more comfortable to explain or understand a topic. . .

As with any internet-based technology, it does come with some downfalls (as I have quickly discovered). I had no problems getting a free account as an educator but as I started to create my own animation video, I had frequent interruptions with error messages that froze everything.

After further investigation and trial, I discovered that used with Google Chrome, it works seamlessly. But user beware: it seems to have negative reactions with other web browsers such as Internet Explorer and Firefox even though many reviews say it works with all browsers. When I used it on my MacAir with the Safari browser, I tried to save the work I had done but it didn’t seem to work. Shortly after I found this article published by m62 (a presentation development company) overviewing PowToon, PowToon: Review,  that discusses some of these pitfalls of PowToon which, unfortunately, includes bugs when trying to resize text boxes and not saving animations. It is noted though, that they expect to have these issues resolved within the next phases of development.

Everything considered, I still think it is a great tool that has great potential in the ESL classroom. I will continue to test it out and give it a go! Below, I have embedded a video (my first attempt at creating a short animation video).

Frustrated with English?!!