Webquests – An Introductory Guide and Resources

For those unfamiliar with the term, WebQuests can sound a whole lot like regular old internet research that everybody does these days. Even the definition—“an inquiry-oriented lesson format in which most or all of the information that learners work with comes from the web”—doesn’t do much to dispel that notion. There are, however, distinct differences that help to set WebQuests apart.

They are entirely classroom-based. When a teacher comes up with a WebQuest, he or she expects their students to complete the work during the class period.

Sources are pre-selected. The teacher also usually selects the resources students can use ahead of time, which takes the focus off of finding information and moves it to how that information is used and interpreted. In fact, many WebQuests specifically ask students to be critical of the sources and analyze them based on what they already know, or to use them in clever and creative ways.

They are team-based. The vast majority of WebQuest assignments are group projects where individuals are given specific tasks and roles to complete. In this way, WebQuests help show people how the internet can be a tool that brings people together and facilitates communication and discussion.

History of WebQuests

The model for WebQuests as we know them (not to mention the catchy name) was created in 1995 by Dr. Bernie Dodge, a professor of Educational Technology at San Diego State University. Naturally, he didn’t work alone. Also receiving credit from various sources are the San Diego Unified School District’s Educational Technology staff, SDSU/Pacific Bell Fellow Tom March (who actually created the first “fully developed” WebQuest for PacBell’s Knowledge Network), and legions of unnamed participants from the Teach the Teachers Consortium.

Other people didn’t really start making their own WebQuests until Dodge published a paper called “Some Thoughts About WebQuests” later that year. Many in the education community read it, and WebQuests quickly became popular.

At the same time, lots of teachers were using Dodge’s WebQuest Page as a resource and a way to learn about the format, so it also grew, eventually becoming a hub that linked to other WebQuests that people had created around the world. Outside of English-speaking countries, WebQuests have become particularly popular in China, Holland, Spain, and Brazil, and now the number of teachers who have used the model is in the tens of thousands.

Why to Engage in WebQuests?

Why are WebQuests such an important tool? Because they bring many of the most well-respected and desired teaching methods together into one relatively simple and engaging lesson. Students who tackle a well-designed WebQuest are learning to work together, think creatively, and—of course—utilize technology.

Working together. One of the principles of WebQuests is that students work in groups, and that within those groups they are given specific roles or tasks. Doing this makes them motivated because it is their sole responsibility to bring that particular piece of the puzzle back to the group. In so doing, they become the de facto “expert” on that part of the quest for their team and others have to defer to their knowledge. It also serves to show students the value of getting their information from a variety of sources and learning about different aspects of a given question or problem, because while a published professional may be quite knowledgeable about a specific, they might not know anything about related areas. That’s where the other group members come in, because they’ll be researching experts in different fields.

Thinking for themselves. WebQuests should never just be about finding information. Anyone can research. Students engaging in WebQuests, though, are being taught to process the information and build something new based on that. Sometimes, this can be a comparison between two seemingly different things. Other times, WebQuests might ask students to research a problem but come up with their own solution to it. And still other times their task could be to learn as much as they can about a subject and then detail what they believe the most important issues surrounding it are. Part of learning to think for themselves can mean that students will need to find creative answers to problems—or even that the quest itself will require them to create something based on what they learn. In this way, the very nature of WebQuests as a structured activity can serve to teach creativity.

Utilizing technology. Just as important as the ways in which WebQuests teach students to think are the tools that they require them to use. We live in a world increasingly ruled by technology, and for today’s students to succeed in the workplaces of tomorrow, it is vital that they become familiar with the digital landscape. WebQuests show them both the value of technology (and how to operate it) and its potential limitations. How so? Because even though the information available online is practically limitless, it still has to be shaped by human hands and ideas in order for us to create something new and useful. Otherwise, we’re just parroting back facts and figures, neglecting to add anything to the conversation.

All of these factors tend to make students who participate in WebQuests more motivated, which is valuable not only because they’ll be encouraged to do their part but because studies have shown that our level of alertness increases and we’re better able to make connections when we care about what we’re doing. To inspire motivation, most WebQuests center around actual issues that are going on in the world so that students won’t feel like they’re wasting their time on something that only matters for school. Using “real” resources instead of textbooks also helps, as does the aforementioned fact that by assigning roles and tasks, the group is dependent upon each member.

How to Create Your Own WebQuests

The first thing you need to know is that the tools you have access to and the medium that you decide to use are the least important part in creating a WebQuest. So long as you and your students can access the internet so that you can pick out sources and they can go to them, you’re good as far as “tools” are concerned. Some WebQuests may be more technologically involved but they do not have to be.

And as for the medium, a WebQuest that’s handed out to your students on a piece of paper with web-links on it can be just as good or even better than one you present to them using Powerpoint or put up on a website. The important part is that you design the actual WebQuest itself correctly.

How do you do that? Well, every WebQuest has six parts that are considered vital. If you want to create your own, it’s necessary that you understand each of them. These include the introduction, the task, the process, the resources, the evaluation, and the conclusion.

Introduction. This is where you define what the subject of this particular WebQuest is and tell the overall group what their role is. For example, you might create a WebQuest where students need to plan a trip to Mars or figure out how to stop gang violence in a local neighborhood. Your goal should be to engage your students and make them motivated to complete the activity, so it’s often wise to choose topics that reflect their everyday life or align with their interests or goals.

Task. In the Task section, you will detail exactly what you expect your students to accomplish by the end of the activity. You want their task to be something that you believe they’re going to find enjoyable, visually appealing, and meaningful. Some WebQuests require groups to create webpages or other kinds of multimedia presentations utilizing the technology they have available. Others have them working with professionals as part of a web-based research initiative. One great way to get your students excited about the activity is to show them several examples of completed tasks for this WebQuest so that they get a sense of what they’re going to be able to create.

Process. Essentially, these are the steps that you want students to take to accomplish the Task. Often, this section tells them what you’re expecting to look for when they go to the Resources (coming up next!) and how they should use that information in order to create something new. You may also have additional questions or steps on the sheet, depending on the nature of the WebQuest you’re sending them on.

Resources. This one is pretty simple. It’s the list of acceptable resources for your students to use. For most WebQuests, it’s very important that you do your own research first and choose your resources carefully based on what you want your students to get out of the WebQuest. Letting them choose their own resources can harm the outcome by making the activity seem like more of a fact-finding mission than one in which they are interpreting information.

Evaluation. WebQuests all have rubrics that teachers should use to evaluate the work of their students. When creating your rubric, ensure that you’re evaluating them on the specific task that was set for them so that everyone’s scores are consistent, clear, and fair. The goals also need to be made clear to your class ahead of time, and it’s wise to show them examples of previous WebQuests that you find Poor, Acceptable, and Excellent so that they have a specific idea of what to strive for.

Conclusion. Similar to a post-mortem in the corporate world, the conclusion of a WebQuest is where both the students and the teacher can talk about what went wrong, what went right, what they liked and disliked, and offer any suggestions they have for changing the quest to make it better or more appealing.

Once you understand how each section of a WebQuest works, you can either design your own from scratch or seek out examples and templates. There are even some sites out there offering web-based software to make WebQuests.

Common Pitfalls and How to Overcome Them

One of the biggest problems in creating WebQuests in the classroom is a lack of technology in our schools but even if you don’t have access to a single computer for your class, you can have them engage in a WebQuest by going to the resources yourself and printing out the information there. Unfortunately, this means that your students won’t be interacting with technology in the same way but at least it gives them a sense of how they can use the web to explore and look for solutions to problems.

In terms of creating the WebQuest itself, there are a number of things that can lead you astray if you’re not careful.

  • Using an inappropriate topic. Not every topic works as a WebQuest—it’s just that simple. But even beyond that, you may find that the topic you choose doesn’t engage your students the way that you hoped it would. That’s why it’s so important to focus on big, important issues that are relevant to them or that reflect some aspect of their interests.
  • Assigning a task that isn’t unique. The point of a WebQuest is to engage your students in a task that seems new, exciting, and interesting. If it’s something that they could just as easy learn using their textbook, there’s a good chance that they’re not going to be very interested. Specifically, WebQuests aren’t particularly good at teaching procedures to students or at helping them to memorize facts, so including these things as part of their task misses the point of a WebQuest.
  • Assigning a task that isn’t authentic. WebQuests are supposed to be about the real world and reflect things that people out in the real world actually care about and need to know. That means that you need to stay away from tasks that seem to “live” only in schools such as asking them to write an essay. Instead, the tasks should reflect things that adults in the real world engage in or need to know.
  • Choosing resources that are single-faceted. Part of what a WebQuest is supposed to do is present different points-of-view and have students form their own opinions after reading about “facts” that often oppose each other. Unfortunately, that’s not easy to do if you use resources that all seem to be saying the same things.

According to Dr. Dodge, the best way to know if you have created a successful WebQuest is if your students come up with different answers to the same problem. This way, you know that they have engaged with the topic and formed their own distinctive viewpoints based on the information. As our world continues to increase in speed and complexity, this kind of higher-level thinking is going to be invaluable to ensure that they have a successful future.

References

Dodge, Bernie. “Some Thoughts About WebQuests.” 1995.

March, Tom. “Why WebQuests?” 1998.

McGee, Patricia and Claxton, Deborah. WebQuest Template.

Schrock, Kathy. WebQuest Examples.

Schrock, Kathy. WebQuest in Our Future: The Teacher’s Role in Cyberspace. School.Discovery.com.

Starr, Linda. “Meet Bernie Dodge.” Educationworld.com, 2012.

WebQuest.org

WebQuest Pitfalls. YouTube.com

Workshop: WebQuests. Thirteen.org.

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