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Volume 1, Number 4 , Nov/Dec 2000

Using WebQuests to Promote Integrative Thinking in Conflict Studies

by Bill Warters
This article encourages readers to consider using WebQuests in their courses or workshops. These web-based teaching and learning tools make the most of the strengths of the Web, while providing a hedge against some of it's limitations. After a brief introduction to the WebQuest concept, readers are invited to explore an example of a new Conflict Studies WebQuest developed by the author as part of a conflict theory course he is teaching this term at Wayne State University. Should you feel so inspired, links to information and tools for constucting your own WebQuests are provided as well.
Computer When you stop to think about it, the World Wide Web, with it's ever churning content, may in fact be the ideal tool for teaching about conflict and conflict resolution. At first this may not seem obvious. Textbooks, perhaps our most cherished teaching tool, are nicely organized and cross-referenced. Meanwhile, the Web is shapeless and chaotic. While textbooks are carefully researched and screened for bias-free presentation, the Web is passionate and full of opinions. And whereas textbooks are written by professionals, just about anyone can write a Web page. How can this "blooming, buzzing confusion" actually be good for teaching?

In part, the answer has to do with your goals for teaching and the level of learning you hope to encourage. Also key are the kinds of learning activities that you choose to use with your students.

Targeting Different Levels of Learning
A common approach to articulating learning goals and related activities is to use something known as Bloom's Taxonomy. This method was developed following the 1948 Convention of the American Psychological Association when Benjamin Bloom took the lead with a group of educational psychologists in formulating a classification of "the goals of the educational process." This work resulted in a taxonomy including three overlapping domains; the cognitive, psychomotor, and affective.Bloom's TaxonomyBy 1956, Bloom and his co-workers had established a hierarchy of educational objectives which attempts to divide the cognitive objectives into subdivisions ranging from the simplest behavior to the most complex. Each higher level assumes the mastery of lower levels of performance. The focus of the six levels are as follows:
  • Knowledge refers to the ability to recall facts;
  • Comprehension refers to the ability to understand ideas and translate them into other formats;
  • Application is the ability to use ideas in particular and concrete situations;
  • Analysis is the ability to dissect ideas into constituent parts to make the organization clear;
  • Synthesis refers to the ability to integrate parts into a unified whole; and
  • Evaluation is the ability to judge the value of an idea, procedure, etc., using appropriate criteria.

Each level of learning has been associated with the use of different forms of inquiry and learning tasks and assignments. A large graphic laying out some of these questions and tasks for each level is attached for your consideration.

Conflict Resolution Requires the Full Breadth of Learning Levels
As an applied field, Conflict Resolution and Conflict Studies programs must work to prepare students to function across the full range of Bloom's intellectual levels. This suggests that students must be active, rather than passive learners. For in addition to being exposed to some of the core knowledge of the field, and being able to recall basic facts and process models from memory, students need to actually comprehend the utility of various theories of conflict and conflict intervention, and then be able to apply them to new and changing situations. Students also need to develop skills of conflict analysis, as each case and setting is likely be different from the last. Successful students must have the ability to explore multiple viewpoints and develop a synthesis that encompasses the whole. And hopefully, students will become skilled enough to evaluate the appropriateness of applying different conflict theories or intervention methods to any given dispute. Certainly, conflict studies faculty and trainers have their work cut out for them.

The Web Reflects the World
Earlier I raised the question of comparing traditional textbooks with the Web as teaching tools. Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating that we do away with textbooks. There is no question that textbooks, with their structured and carefully filtered expert information, are invaluable tools for presenting core ideas and providing frameworks for thought. But ask yourself which tool, the Web or a textbook, you think more accurately reflects the reality around us? And the world that conflict intervenors must work in? Is the world of conflict neatly structured, filtered, and driven by facts and rational experts? I would argue that the Web, chaotic as it may seem, more closely mirrors our experience of real life, and the experience of working through conflict. We face lots of information, but are unclear about it's quality. We must grapple with multiple perspectives, opinions and agendas. And things change fast.

As more and more classrooms get wired, the Web provides us with the opportunity to bring this world, with all it's lovely complexity and immediacy, into the classroom. And in the classroom novices and experienced practitioners and scholars together can safely work with it and learn from it. Another point in the Web's favor is that as web-based tools like the CRInfo project mature, we will have increasingly rapid online access to the kind of structured, filtered, expert knowledge about conflict that textbooks now provide. If you like the Web, it's kind of like having your cake and eating it too.

From a student-centered, active-learning perspective, the Web can really be an ideal tool. Students are encouraged to take charge of their own learning. They must make ongoing subtle judgements about the quality of the information they find. They are provided the opportunity to explore many different sides of issues, mainstream as well as fringe, and to grapple with opinions as well as facts and the gray areas in-between. They must learn to decide how much information is enough given their available time and goals. And they must become information detectives, able to track missing links and to use available information and search tools with proficiency. These skills can serve them well in future years.

While the Web certainly has many great features, it has its limitations too. It is so vast and hyperlinked that one can quickly get lost on potentially facinating but irrelevant side-trips. Students may feel tempted to spend time in areas of the web that they stumble across (such as pornography, chat rooms, gambling, shopping sites, or term paper mills) that may be clearly inappropriate from an educational or moral standpoint. And given the sheer amount of available information, one can quickly feel trapped by seemingly endless searches for small nuggets of relevant information buried within piles of useless, misleading junk.Fortunately, WebQuests have been designed with the strengths and limitations of the Web in mind. In the next section we will review the WebQuest method in some more detail.

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Page last updated 10/14/2002

A project of Campus Conflict Resolution Resources
and the CRInfo Higher Education Focus Project.
Supported by a FIPSE grant from the US Department of Education
and seed money from the Hewlett Foundation-funded CRInfo project.

Correspondence to CMHE Report c/o
Campus Conflict Resolution Resources Project
College of Urban, Labor and Metropolitan Affairs
Wayne State University
656 W. Kirby, Detroit, MI 48202.
Please send comments, bug reports, etc. to the Associate Editor.

© 2000-2003 William C. Warters & WSU, All rights reserved.