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Black and Asian soldiers in WW1 webquest

Dan Lyndon

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I have been spending a lot of time recently on a webquest about black and asian soldiers and the first world war (here) and I road tested this for the first time with my year nines last week. The basic premise of a webquest is that it is an online lesson with resources from the Internet and often requiring pupils to use ICT applications such as DTP or presentation software. This particular webquest asked students to imagine that they had been asked to write a booklet for primary school children about the contributions that soldiers from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean made to the war. The task meant that pupils had to use higher order thinking skills to synthesise the appropriate material and produce an outcome that was different from the original material they had used. I also included a self assessment sheet that can be downloaded from here((assessment page) which required the pupils to grade themselves on different criteria ranging from how many websites they used (this was deliberately scored to encourage them not to use too many), how appropriate their language was (I was hoping to cut out as much cutting and pasting as possible) and their effort. I now realise that I should have also included a section about their ICT skills.

I must confess that I was disappointed by the majority of the results:

- too many of the students had simply lifted chunks straight from the various websites that they used

- those who had 'strayed' from the websites that I recommended often went completely off the track - one student ended up writing about Franz Ferdinand!

- There was little thought put into the presentation of the booklets - they are good at making it look colourful, but the layouts were cluttered and ( a personal bugbear) the text was not justified and hyphenated as it stretched across two lines. Some didn't even bother with any colour at all and wrote it in Word - v dull.

- some of the lower ability students found the webquest too daunting and in their words 'too long'! This was despite my attempts to really narrow the resources to a bare minimum with a differentiated page for those who wanted further research

However, there is a light at the end .. the best booklet was done by a dyslexic pupil who really thought carefully about what to include, kept the text to an appropriate amount and in accessible language, clearly presented the work and made good use of images. When I have worked out how to transfer it from the school network onto my flash drive I will put it on my website.

So, my overall thoughts about this series of lessons. Well, like everything I will not be put off because it didn't work first time, I shall continue to give the classes experience of webquests and I am confident that they shall get better at working with them. I also think that our pupils are now so much more ICT savvy that we can really focus on the historical content and allow that to engage and drive the pupils further in their ICT work. One other positive that I can take out of this is that the vast majority of the pupils genuinely were interested in the topic and learned a lot - probably, no certainly a lot more than they would have learned from a worksheet.

I would be interested in any feedback that people have about how I could improve the webquest further.

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What you tried to do was obviously difficult to do. However, I think the exercise is well worth preserving with.

I have seen something very similar done at the International School of Toulouse (IST). It worked very well. However, I think the main reason for this was that there was a tradition of producing materials for others. At the IST they created a dialogue between the producers and the consumers of the materials. It was therefore the students who provided the feedback about the booklets they produced. Have you considered doing this?

Did you have a lesson first on producing educational materials? For example, you could have them examining the books that they currently use in the classroom. This might have given them insights in the potential problems of producing materials.

It does not surprise me that the best booklet was done by a dyslexic pupil. After all, he has probably spent a lot of time thinking about the problems of communication. I would have thought this case in itself was justification enough for the exercise.

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You are absolutely spot on in a number of areas John. I will certainly perservere with these type of activities, they are far too important to drop. I liked your point about Edward (my dyslexic student), I really felt that he was able to get stuck into this project, and I think that his excellent use of ICT has also been helped by the fact that it positively helps him to overcome his dyslexia and he has been using a computer at home for many years now.

I think that you have made a very good suggestion about a lead up lesson, this would be a very good model for the students and a good way of looking at historical interpretations too.

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