Thinking thru Linking


The title of this page carries an intended double meaning:

Curriculum designers should think through how they use Internet links
The Internet holds such a wealth of possibilities that it is important to choose the kind of Internet site that supports the learning goal.

"Thinking links" should be developed in the minds of learners using the pages
Students should be exposed to learning experiences that connect to prior knowledge, resonate with personal meaning, create links to other content areas, extend their cognitive schema, and prompt the construction of new meaning. It's nice if they push in their chairs when they leave class, too.

Tuning-in to the Twitch of your Link-Type Antenna

Web-and-Flow's expert system works best when you have an understanding of why you're choosing the links you like. Although this kind of metacognition may seem to complicate matters, we think that once the "a-ha" occurs, you'll never look at a Web site quite the same way. This is good. Also, by surfing with your Link Type antenna twitching, you'll speed the Custom Design of your activities. That's because each of the Activity Formats are most effective when using specific Link Types. You can quickly learn the Link Type lingo by following this decision tree for Link identification. If you want a deeper understanding of the rationale behind how Link Types relate to Activity formats, read the rest of what follows.

Note: You can read more about the Web-and-Flow Activity Formats described below as well as explore Link Type Show and Tell.

    General Hints  
Topic Hotlists Knowledge Hunts Subject Samplers
Insight Reflectors Concept Builders WebQuests

General Hints for Picking Links

Don't look to the Web as if it's an encyclopedia. Whenever possible try to pick sites that make it the bizarre and powerful resource that it is. In general try to choose sites that are:
Current - The Washington Post

Authentic - The Government of Tibet in Exile

Rich - Rainforest Action Network

Controversial - Mimsy Were the Borogoves: The Self-Defense Tuskegee

Powerful - ZIP to It

Media Rich - CNN's Video Almanac

To get a clear idea of what type of links you'll want to find to support your learning goals, read through the rest of this page.

Topic Hotlists

Instructional Goal
If the learning goal is to help students "openly explore a topic," then the best activity format to use is the Topic Hotlist.

The idea behind this activity format is to provide learners with a wide range of resources that will allow for expansive research and individual interests.

Rationale for Which Link Types to Use
When you create a Topic Hotlist, the resources are collected to supplement a unit of study and to provide an abundance and variety of information so that students can explore the topic based upon their own research goals. By definition this means you're trying to provide breadth and depth for a range of learners and their interests. While it might be great to offer an exhaustive list of links, we've found that if you can find at least three huge sites that offer this range of information, opinions, and images, you should be in business. You can further support student insight into the issues and aspects of the domain by dividing the Hotlist into sub-categories.

Bottomline on Link Types for Topic Hotlists
Minimum: 3 "huge" sites

Also consider: all other links that seem appropriate

Reasonable total number of links: 5 - 20

Sample Links
Life Magazine

The National Gallery of Art

CIA World Fact Book

The Library of Congress' The African American Mosiac

Knowledge Hunts

Instructional Goal
If the learning goal is to help students "acquire defined knowledge," then the best activity format to use is the Knowledge Hunt.

Whereas Hotlists provide a wide array of information sources, Hunts target specific knowledge acquisition. That's why we suggest you link to specific info-rich Web pages, not Web sites. You also prompt students to look for answers to questions you ask them. This way learners go directly to a page and read carefully to retrieve information.

Rationale for Which Link Types to Use
Because students need to learn specific information, your job is to identify key areas within the domain being studied and collect Web sites that contain significant information. You then use questions to prompt learners toward acquiring the new knowledge.

Because you'll need enough questions / links to make it worth booting up computers and getting folks online, we think you'll want a minimum of five "info-rich" links. Depending on the information available, class time, and the questions you ask, you might want to go for 10 - 15 links before posting your Knowledge Hunt. You could also use "typical" and "perturbing" links if they are informative and contribute to knowledge acquisition.

Bottomline on Link Types for Knowledge Hunts
Minimum: 5 "info-rich" links

Reasonable total number of links: 10 - 15

Also consider: "typical" or "perturbing" links that seem appropriate

Sample Links

High Altitude Illnesses

"Negotiating and Building Effective Working Relationships with People in China"

General John A. Sutter

Samuel F. B. Morse's first telegraph message

U.S. National Debt Clock

Subject Sampler

Instructional Goal

If the learning goal is to help students "connect emotively with the subject," then the best activity format to use is the Subject Sampler.

You want to engage students in aspects of a topic that they find personally interesting or motivating. This strategy is intended to develop positive attitudes and an emotive connection to the topic.

Rationale for Which Link Types to Use
When you design a Subject Sampler, you're allowing students to choose Web links that intrigue them personally. Remember, this should be like picking chocolates from a box or cookies from a jar: no one's going to force you to take anything "because it's good for you." The whole point is to connect students to the topic by letting them explore their personal preferences.

Since you want to allow for choice, you'll need a minimum of three emotive links. Of course more (say up to ten) links would provide additional choices and room for connecting, so don't forget to look at the other links you've chosen. If the information on "info-rich" links is compelling enough, bring these links into your Sampler. If "typical" links post a collection from which students can choose what appeals to them, then this allows for that personal exploration. Finally, "perturbing" sites might evoke emotive responses from students. So examine the links you've selected and chances are good that you already have the makings of a fine Subject Sampler.

Bottomline on Link Types for Subject Samplers
Minimum: 3 "emotive" links

Reasonable total number of links: 5 - 10

Also consider: "info-rich", "typical" or "perturbing" links that seem compelling or evocative

Sample Links

Ibo Landing, a folktale

"On the Pulse of the Morning", by Maya Angelou

The Splendors of Imperial China

Powerful Days in Black and White

Insight Reflector

Instructional Goal

If the learning goal is to help students "prompt a personal reflection," then the best activity format to use is the Insight Reflector.

Like the Subject Sampler, the purpose of the Insight Reflector is for students to connect with the topic. The difference is that with the Reflector, students are asked to look more deeply and to write at greater length.

Rationale for Which Link Types to Use
The main things to look for are sites that evoke human interest and touch on deeper thematic, essential or philosophical questions. These sites may touch our emotions, excite our imaginations, or make us particularly feel our humanity. Regardless, there's something about these sites that turn our perspectives toward reflection.

Because reflection requires an opening occasion to springboard students into this kind introspection, at least one "emotive" link is needed. We often encourage students to extend their reflection by offering a second related prompt to spin thinking into new directions. If you really want to help students, consider using a "perturbing" link as a contrast or juxtaposition for the second reflection. Either way, for those times you really want students to think deeply from their personal understanding of life, look for one or two really compelling Web pages and offer up an Insight Reflector.

Bottomline on Link Types for Insight Reflectors
Minimum: 1 "emotive" link

Reasonable total number of links: 1 - 3

Also consider: a "perturbing" or other link to provide contrast / juxtaposition

Sample Links

Orphanages in China vs. America's Children: How Are They Doing?

Chinese Proverbs

Concept Builder

Instructional Goal

If the learning goal is to help students "develop a conceptual understanding," then the best activity format to use is the Concept Builder.

This strategy is loosely based on the Concept Attainment model where students analyze a series of examples that illustrate a concept. The goal is for students to see and draw out the common critical attributes of that concept. So rather than read a definition and memorize, learners explore examples and hypothesize. You may choose to prompt student analysis with questions or let students openly explore the concept.

Rationale for Which Link Types to Use
The main thing to look for when gathering sites for Concept Builders are "typical" sites that illustrate the critical attributes of a particular concept or subject.

Since it's impossible to hypothesize common critical attributes from just one or two examples, we suggest you find at least three "typical" links. It would probably be better to have six or nine links (thus two or three sets of three examples). Look for collections, galleries, databases, etc. as likely places to find examples. Also, don't forget that sometimes we see things best in contrast, so you might have a "perturbing" link that could act as a good non-example highlighting in juxtaposition the critical attributes of the concept you're helping students build.

Bottomline on Link Types for Concept Builders
Minimum: 3 "typical" links

Reasonable total number of links: 3 - 12

Also consider: a "perturbing" link as a non-example

Sample Links

Byzantine images of all kinds

Oyez, Oyez, Oyez: U.S. Supreme Court Cases

Thumbnails of many paintings by Jan Vermeer

Oregon Trail Family Biographies and Diaries


Instructional Goal

If the learning goal is to help students "engage in critical thinking," then the best activity format to use is the WebQuest.

This strategy prompts learners to inquire and construct meaning through collaborative research and decision making. Learners are supported by extensive Internet and other resources and prompted to higher order thinking by cognitive scaffolding. Because of its integrated nature, WebQuests use a variety of Link Types to achieve different goals during the learning process.

Rationale for Which Link Types to Use
WebQuests target higher level thinking so that an array of Web sites grouped by opposing or overlapping roles will create a thick sense of complexity and multiple truths. This may be because the topic is controversial, but it may also be that the topic is so large or connected to other issues that it requires a team approach. Here's where we want sites that pose strong opinions so students can critque and discriminate. Specifically, you're looking for Web pages in three main categories:

  1. "info-rich" pages to provide a common background as well as inform students who take on specified roles

  2. "emotive" links that help students see and feel the passion that others experience about the topic. These will also be used to support students in their roles.

  3. "perturbing" Web pages that create the sparks and cognitive dissonance that force students to make sense of a complex topic. These may be part of the roles or used during the group process when students must synthesize their ideas. The perturbing links may be related thematically to the topic and tend to raise essential questions.

"Typical" links might also be used if they give students access to a range of examples to explore as they formulate their opinions.

Bottomline on Link Types for WebQuests

    1 "info-rich" link for background information

    3 "info-rich," "emotive" or "typical" links to be used for each role

    1 "perturbing" link to create conflict

Reasonable total number of links: 5 - 15

Sample Links that can create sparks

Any links from the previous categories

How Hot [Radioactive] are You?

Conspiracy or Unnatural Disaster?

First written, January 1996.
Revised for posting on, October 1998.
Revised for Web-and-Flow, October, 2001.

© 1999 - 2008 Web-and-Flow and Tom March