Searching for China

ChinaQuest: Teacher's Guide

Orientation | Goals | Improvements in Cognitive Support | Logistics

a     n o t e     a b o u t     J a v a s c r i p t

Vision & Goals

Broadly, the goal of "Searching for China" is to provide a rich, meaning-centered, active-learning experience that matters in the real world.

The following excerpt from the main Web page attempts to capture this goal in more detailed terms with a scenario:

The United States government feels very strongly about the need to understand China. To do this effectively, a special fact-finding team is being assembled that will travel to China to investigate the country, the people, and the culture. Instead of sending only diplomats or politicians, the team will comprise* people from very different backgrounds so that the facts they find present as much truth about China as possible. It's hoped that instead of bringing back stereotypes and postcards, the team members will come away with an accurate and informed perspective*.

Specifically, your Quest(ion) is:

What actions should the U.S. take in its policy towards China?

Your team will develop a Group Report that contains a Three Point Action Plan taking into account the following perspectives: Business, Cultural, Religious, Human Rights, Environmental, and Political.

By completing this WebQuest you should achieve the following goals:
  • develop an interest in the study of China.
  • use the power of the Internet for advanced exploration of China.
  • learn information about six key aspects of Chinese culture.
  • realize that complex topics can be looked at from various perspectives.
  • formulate and support an argument from one of the six perspectives.
  • work with your teammates to problem-solve a combined action plan.
  • question the nature of international relations in our more interdependent world.

Improvements in Cognitive Support

The main premise of a WebQuest is to challenge students with an authentic task, provide them abundant resources, support higher-level thinking through active learning and to have them work together collaboratively. Although the original tended to achieve these goals, it had shortcomings. First, students benefit when they have a clear understanding of the problem -- or in this case, the Quest(ion). The earlier version relied on the classroom teacher or the students themselves to provide this orientation. The updated version, now includes a step that I use in all WebQuests: "Background for Everyone." As its name implies, this phase engages students in acquiring information so that they all begin "on a level playing field" and with a better understanding of the issues involved in the WebQuest.

The original "ChinaQuest" (as we sometimes call it) was the first WebQuest to use specific roles from which students would explore a topic. Although I still believe this to be an effective way to gain deeper understanding of complex topics, the earlier version left student cognition too unsupported once learners branched off into their "dossier" work. In this revision, I've attempted to operationalize what we know about scaffolding, prompting, and concept development to shape the learning activity for students as they attain expertise from one specific perspective. This is done in each of the role pages in the same way. First, students are provided with a question that addresses one of the main issues confronting their role. They are then provided with three appropriate links to explore. Their task is to locate, copy and paste the most important information from each of the links. Once this is completed, learners have three examples from which to induce a truth statement. Of course, the point here is not to find the "one Truth" on the question, but for students to explore a domain, make conscious selections pertaining to importance, and cognitively grapple with information so they may add to existing knowledge or create new schema on the topic. Each role moves through this process three times so as to round out students understanding. Finally, users write their own "Action Plan" which is the equivalent of a complete thesis statement as to what should be done to achieve the goals favored by their role (i.e., economic growth, respect for human rights, etc.). More detailed instructions about this process (including step-by-step graphics and examples) are available online. You might want to print the page out and post it around the classroom for students to use.

Once all this information is inputted, a click of the button with activate a Javascript that creates a customized "Full Report" containing all the students' work. Students should be encouraged to return to their role page to adjust their Action Plan, truth statements, and examples and re-click the button until the Report hangs together and clearly states what they believe.

The final way "Searching for China" attempts to guide users to higher-level cognition is when students from different roles join back up as a team to come up with a Group Report that prompts compromise and the development of a Three Point Action Plan. Clearly, with sometimes conflicting goals, students must problem solve which perspectives should be given priority. Additionally, in preparing the group's action plan, students engage in rule formation. That is, they create "if - then" statements that show that they have mastered the information to such a level that they can state their own rules, predictions, or hypotheses. These predictions are then tested when students make contact with real world experts.

A Rubric has also been added to see how you and your students might evaluate their work.

A Note About Javascript

The dossiers for each of the six roles in "Searching for China" make use of Javascript coding to create customized reports for each of the perspectives (i.e., senator, human rights activist, etc.). The Javascript is part of the Webpage and does not download anything to your hard drive or create a "cookie." You must have a Javascript capable browser (Netscape Navigator 3.0+ or Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0+) and Javascript must be "enabled" (which is usually the way the browsers are set). So, if you're running one of these newer browsers, you shouldn't have any trouble using these pages. If you do have problems even with the right browsers, please let me know.

Remember: None of the information students type or paste is saved, so it will disappear when they've finished with the role page (or the computer freezes up). If they're working with computers or browsers that tend to crash often, please avoid heartache! Advise students to carefully copy / paste and save their work as word processor files first and then input the information into the correct fields in their dossiers. Also, once they've finished a final draft of their Full and Group Reports, it's a good idea to save them as text files and print them out.

The earlier version of "Searching for China" used HyperStudio stacks instead of Javascript. My goal was to make the activity cross-platform and do-able without needing another piece of software. If you liked the old Mac HyperStudio stacks, a zipped folder or self-extracting archive they are still available to download.

Logistics of Using this WebQuest

The most likely audience for this activity is high school social studies students involved in world cultures / current events or English students working on writing persuasive or controversial issue essays. "Searching for China" would also make a good centerpiece for an interdisciplinary unit because of its writing and thinking core with subject matter spanning the content areas. If you're looking for a possible integrating theme, think about "Expansion & Contraction" and its manifestations in the serene openness of T'ai Chi and meditation temples or the barriers imposed by the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the limitations to citizens' freedoms.

The timeframe for implementing "Searching for China" with students will vary, mostly depending on local constraints such as availability of networked computers, bandwidth rate, possibility of printing out Web pages, etc. If you do not yet have adequate online access, you could still complete this WebQuest by Web Whacking the nine links for each role or printing out the pages.

Generally, you could look at the following breakdown of activities (each representing one class session except for where noted):

  1. Introduce Searching for China
  2. Gain Background for Everyone.
  3. Choose teams and roles.
  4. Complete Dossier work for the roles (1-3 sessions per role) depending how much reading is done offline with printed pages. This is the main surfing time and classes with access to networked labs will benefit here.
  5. Completing the Group Report. (1 - 2 sessions depending on discussions and the need to revise Action Plans)
  6. Finding 3 real world experts to contact.
  7. Writing and revising the letter to send to the experts.
  8. Responding to the experts' comments.

Therefore the shortest time I would expect a class to take to complete "Searching for China" is about 7 days, but the more likely timeframe would be two - three weeks. Again this is mostly a variable related to Internet access and whether this activity comprises the whole curriculum.

If you decide "Searching for China" takes more time and effort than you can give it, you might try the shorter Introductory WebQuest Does the Tiger Eat its Cubs? Also, if you're more interested in having students learn a little background information, try The Treasures of China. Lastly, maybe you want an engaging, affective introduction to use for your own curriculum on China. We've created a Subject Sampler called My China for just this situation.

A Note About Vocabulary

Because this WebQuest uses real resources located on the Internet, most are written at an adult reading level. Whenever possible, resources were chosen that had a less elevated or jargon-laced vocabulary. In addition, students can always access an online Dictionary which will pop open a new window whenever they need a definition. Another aspect that you should look for is whether students who are engaged and reading for a purpose actually read above their level and don't get sidetracked by unknown, non-essential, words.

Lastly, pages within "Searching for China" use the convention of linking more difficult words right to a definition. These definition links are followed by an asterisk. Students should access the definitions as needed.

Last revised February, 2005
Created by Tom March, tom at ozline dot com
Applications Design Team/Wired Learning