Part scavenger hunt, part virtual field expedition, part classroom laboratory, WebQuests represent an exciting way to organize classroom learning — a method in which the process itself is as much a point of learning as the topic being researched.
What is a WebQuest?
According to Bernie Dodge, WebQuest inventor and Professor of Educational Technology at San Diego State University, a WebQuest is an “inquiry-oriented activity in which some or all of the information that learners interact with comes from resources on the Internet, optionally supplemented with videoconferencing.”
He points to two different types of WebQuests, short-term (lasting anywhere from one to three class periods) and long term (one week to one month). In a short-term quest, the goal of the student is acquiring knowledge to meet a specific goal or solve a specific problem, then organize that new knowledge in a workable manner. A long-term quest begins with information gathering, but moves into much deeper work — students must create something new from that information.
Elements of a WebQuest
WebQuests are different from “scavenger hunts,” a much simpler approach that is as old as the Web itself. In a typical scavenger hunt, students are given a list of items they must find (answers to questions, for example, or instances of data) and are set loose on the Web.
WebQuests are much more structured and focus heavily on collaboration. Every WebQuest has six basic components:
The Non-Web WebQuest?
- Introduction. This is an overview (often a simple one) of what is to come. Many WebQuests take place within a story setting; in these instances, the Introduction is where the plot and characters are introduced.
- Task. This page details the assignment that is to come. Tasks are often comprised of numbered lists of items that must be accomplished to complete the quest.
- Process. The Process is the meat of the quest — it is here that students work together, develop plans of action, and find ways to solve the presented problem. Often, quest processes may involve role-playing and other off-line methods. (For a good example, view this social sciences WebQuest; click on Process to see the many elaborate steps involved.)
- Evaluation. The evaluation phase centers on a “rubric,” a carefully designed chart listing goals for the quest and the standards by which performance will be measured. This can be thought of as a great widening of the typical letter grade usually given to classroom assignments. Rubrics are highly annotated “grades” with extensive annotation detailing many aspects of the project. (View this example of a rubric.)
- Conclusion. This is a brief summary, usually congratulatory in tone, that wraps up the project.
- Teacher page. Instructors are provided with their own subsection of the WebQuest site, with instructions for each of the above sections. Teachers who develop WebQuests often fill this section with information to help other educators adapt the quest to their own class.
It might sound odd, but educators without in-classroom computers or Web access can still use the principles behind WebQuests.
In fact, the first WebQuest used simply paper and pencil. Several years ago, WebQuest inventor Dodge was working on a lesson for second-semester student teachers concerning an educational software package. But Dodge didn’t have access to the software, so instead he accumulated as much information as he could about the product: evaluations, printouts of Web sites devoted to the topic, and even a transcript of a Web chat with one of the developers.
He organized this material into thematic sections, and then handed them over to the students. Their job was to internalize the information, then collaboratively develop a working plan for determining whether or not the software was viable for the school where they were teaching.
Dodge told Education World magazine that he knew from the beginning that he had stumbled onto something special:
“It was great! Having done my part ahead of time by organizing the resources, I had to speak very little during the two hours they worked on it. I enjoyed walking around and helping where necessary and listening to the buzz of conversations as students pooled their notes and tried to come to a decision. The things they were talking about were much deeper and more multifaceted than I had ever heard from them. That evening I realized that this was a different way to teach —and that I loved it!”
Ultimately, the WebQuest idea is about more than simply using the Web for research. It is a structured process for introducing problems, building methodical approaches to solving those problems, and then getting students to tackle them.
The ultimate goal of a WebQuest is not only to get students to solve problems, but to learn from the process of solving those problems. In addition to putting students to work on existing WebQuests, you can "reverse engineer" them to further highlight the working process:
Links to More Information
- Using one of the links below, find a WebQuest that interests you. Hand it over to your students, and ask them what they would have done differently had they designed it.
- Choose a different WebQuest, and have your students complete it in the conventional manner. Have them write evaluations of how effective an experience it was, and then have them collaborate on the evaluations themselves. (Collaboration is key in any Quest.)
- Assign your students a "meta-WebQuest," that is, the Quest is to design a WebQuest. Using the six-step method, their task will be to determine what makes a given Quest particularly effective, and then implement those findings.
Follow these links for more information on WebQuests: