Working the Web for Education
"You Are Here" — A Checklist for Implementing Web-Based Activities
by Tom March
Web-based Educator and Director of Pty Ltd. • Southern Highlands, Australia
MultiMedia Schools • January/February 2001

I've previously compared the question "Does technology increase student achievement?" to another ridiculous query: "Does using a car guarantee a good family vacation?" The title of that column was "Are We There Yet?" for reasons obvious to any parent. This column offers a few directions for getting to our destination. Thus, because there's no where else to start, in the parlance of maps and kiosks, "You Are Here."

Inflicting versus Unfolding
I have flopped as much as anyone in the delivery of perfectly good learning activities. Instead of educating, I assigned: "Here's the handout. There's the due date. No lates. Hasta." When I reviewed what happened, I could see that through any number of good reasons (sleep deprivation, brain mush from evaluating 100 essays, losing a prep period to one more good cause, etc.), I had inflicted the lesson when I wanted to unfold the learning. I suspect we all do this from time to time. As good educators we want to do it less. When there's more to keep in mind than we have mind to keep it, a checklist can help us remember bits we don't want to forget. See what you think.

Goals—Live the Vision
No matter what activity you implement, you have goals regarding its outcome. These might spring from diagnosed student needs for remediation or extension. Objectives can come from course, school, district, state, national, and even international standards, measures, or requirements. Often classroom management plays into what we hope will transpire from the activities we construct. These days so many imperatives exist that it's easy to forget that our job is essentially one of process, not politics. We need to trust our educator's instincts and achieve identified learning goals while keeping in mind that the real outcome lies inside our students. When delivering Web-based activities we have greater choice and responsibility as well as a more powerful tool to support individualized lifelong learning. By making our vision overt to ourselves and our students, we make its realization more likely.

Time—Be Creative, but Realistic
The best month-long unit makes the worst week's lesson plan. Similarly, the best one-day activity becomes a nightmare when it exceeds its use-by date. Rather than see time as the teacher's nemesis, we could apply an analogy from Robert Frost. He said that writing poetry without meter was like playing tennis without a net. Time constraints make curriculum design and delivery a creative challenge. You may see students once a day or all day. They may come to you to learn one subject or a full curriculum. Perhaps you exercise some control over the schedule or you might have to hold your spot on the assembly line. Yes, I believe we need to advocate for structuring time in ways that encourage deep, extended, and reflective thinking, but "You Are Here" and so are the students. We can only play the game with the equipment and conditions available or we're deuced before we start. When it comes to implementation of Web-based activities, we face one of the greatest timesucks known to humankind, so we need to factor in time for the unexpected as well as forays into experimentation.

Available Technology—Use What Works and Work to Use the Best
One of the main reasons the "Technology and Student Achievement Question" is so silly is because your technology is different from mine, and ours are another generation from his and hers. What we can do is make heavy use of what works. Consider hardware, software, peripherals, and your past experiences, expertise, and student capabilities. All these issues combine to create the foundation of your technology integration approach. Start here. Experiment with more crash-prone solutions later when you have the inclination. Realize that as we implement Web-based activities, we tangle with some of the quickest-changing technologies around, so we need to appreciate that change is the status quo and prepare to be flexible.

Learning Resources—Infuse What's Real, Rich, and Relevant (The 3R's)
An earlier column focused on updating the 3R's in relation to WebQuests. The point was that the Web makes it easier than ever before to create authentic learning tasks that involve students in a rich array of information and perspectives that can link to issues our students find relevant. Before implementing any Web-based activity, we should check whether we're tapping into this potential the Internet affords or simply linking to online versions of traditional resources already found in our classroom and libraries. This is not to say that the traditional is bad, but to suggest that we integrate resources in ways that maximize their contributions. Encyclopedias become more valuable in heavily Web-using schools. CD-ROMs and video offer speed that the Web still can't approximate. Books allow us to curl up in a corner to enjoy reading at our own pace. See if the resources you provide encourage a full learning experience.

Online Collaboration—Help Students Stretch for Success
A compelling aspect of the Web is that it invites students to become part of a larger learning community. Thus, if we aspire to provide students access to authentic learning, we should consider arranging a context where they can collaborate with others. Options to consider are setting up a process of mentoring (with your students on either end of the process), arranging an audience for feedback to publications or e-mailed ideas, and collaboratively working on the same project. External collaboration of any kind can stretch students to do their best. View collaborations as ongoing team-teaching, not a penpal once-off. Explore new ways to leverage the partnership. In terms of classroom delivery, asynchronous communication like e-mail is more manageable, but real-time events like chats and videoconferences boost enthusiasm.

Student Readiness—It All Starts Here
Our noble visions and laudable standards amount to little if students can't or won't participate. Successful implementation must include initial and ongoing diagnosis of student readiness. Some of the main variables to juggle are the students' level of self- motivation and self-direction, their command of the domain to be studied, and their abilities in the age-appropriate basic skills.

By providing diagnostic measures for students, we give them feedback that can raise their awareness and inform self-management of their learning. Besides feedback, our next most important contribution is to offer scaffolds that can help students emulate more sophisticated skills. The WebQuest itself is one such example of scaffolding in which students are prompted to complete specific tasks that lead to higher-order thinking. Other examples might be brainstorming ideas, reaching group consensus, or outlining a report. Happily, the Web hosts many online help pages to facilitate such tasks. Ultimately, we could offer students a range of choices from highly to hardly scaffolded and let them pursue those that best served their needs and learning styles.

Teaming—By Design or Necessity
Because of limited access to technology resources, cooperative learning becomes a logistical, if not a pedagogical, necessity. During times of high need, no one has enough access to powerful technologies. One solution is to create student teams, in which each person (or pair) are responsible for one feature of the group's final product. Individual jobs can include editor (on the Computerosaurus), graphic artist (by hand and then the scanner), programmer (with Post-Its then HyperStudio), domain mapper (on paper then Inspiration), researcher (library, then CD-ROM or Web), correspondent (back to the Computerosaurus, then Email), video director (paper storyboard, then QuickTime), etc. These ideas suggest that the technology is not the learning goal, but the means to accumulate, then synthesize, a wide body of knowledge.

Pedagogical reasons also support organizing students in teams. If students are new to a task, letting them pair up makes sense. However, if students are more experienced or able, individual team members should work alone until decisions are needed to produce the team's effort. This way each group in a classroom will come up with a uniquely creative solution. Thus, to successfully launch a Web-based learning activity, think creatively about how teaming students can support logistical and learning goals.

Personality—To Thine Own Self Be True
Does even reading this checklist leave you feeling overwhelmed? Imagine how you'll feel halfway through the unit you want to deliver. Really. By projecting into the future, place yourself in the midst of the classroom activities you anticipate. Now, decrease your patience 30 percent due an imbalance in your caffeine-to-sleep ratio, raise your angst 20 percent because one group of students just lost their work on a crashed hard drive, shake your faith in humanity 10 percent as you watch a student put a mouseball in his pocket. We all have our comfort zones, our limits and a style that works for us in the classroom. Taking note of these conditions is a mark of wisdom, not weakness. Design the implementation for real people, and everyone will have a more enjoyable learning experience.

Rather than prescribe a right way to deliver successful Web-based lessons, my hope is that this checklist might provide a set of variables that tends to support effective activities and therefore promotes student achievement. Apply the list to your specific conditions and then manipulate the variables as an experiment in implementation. Because the Web's impact on education is recent, dramatic, and changing, all we can do is map a reasonable course and be open to learning along the way. So here we are. Isn't this a good place to be?

Tom March develops Web-based activities, tools and strategies for teachers integrating the Net into classroom learning. Pty Ltd. ( designs Web sites for clients in the U.S. and Australia. To contact the author, call, fax or e-mail  him; phone: 612 4872 321; fax: 612 4872 321; e-mail:

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