|Working the Web for Education|
Tips on choosing and assessing WebQuests
Web-based Educator and Director of ozline.com Pty Ltd. • Southern Highlands, Australia
|MultiMedia Schools • October 2000|
|In 1995, I had the pleasure
of team-teaching with professor Bernie Dodge. During that semester, Web
access came to the computer labs at San Diego State University (SDSU) so
Bernie began experimenting with creative ways to integrate the Web with
other successful learning strategies. By posting one elegant activity for
pre-service teachers and a support page describing the rationale behind
the structure, he launched the WebQuest, arguably the most popular approach
for integrating the Web in classroom learning. At that point I also joined
SDSU’s Ed Tech staff on a 3-year fellowship and enjoyed working closely
with Bernie as we added to and refined the strategy.
My particular flavor of WebQuest is based on experiences as a member of a project-based interdisciplinary teaching team, technology-using high school teacher, and developer of online activities. The main features I’ve tweaked within the original format are the addition of an essential question, a phase for acquiring background knowledge, the use of roles, and a real-world feedback loop. The following article begins to explore the subtleties of identifying, creating, and using WebQuests. Perhaps it goes without saying that these opinions highlight my perspective on the subject, not the one truth.
The next reason to recommend WebQuests is that creating a learning environment involves more than saying to students: “Think deep thoughts…. Ready, set, go!” Our best intentions to use best practices can fall short at the nuts-and-bolts level: “Is there a way to avoid The New Plagiarism?” “How can I make sure all students in a group contribute?” “What helps bolster student motivation?” “What if children rebel when confronted by Problem-Based Learning?” These questions illustrate that cool, research-based learning theories often confront variable-laden classroom realities.
Enter the WebQuest.
From Bernie Dodge’s original
description in “Some Thoughts About WebQuests,” he structured a template
for activities to help both teachers and students translate educational
theories into classroom practices. How is this achieved? Some call it scaffolding,
some prompting, some procedural facilitation. Either way, the idea is that
by asking teachers and students to address specific aspects (create an
open-ended, essential question, critique resources that present conflicting
viewpoints), we encourage more advanced performances. This is the heart
of the writing process. The WebQuest format prompts an inquiry-based approach
to encourage a richer learning experience.
When WebQuests Aren’t the Answer
In schools we typically instigate a variety of learning experiences that don’t need to culminate in a WebQuest. For example, sometimes our goals focus on independent research, knowledge acquisition, affective engagement, or concept attainment. In these situations, it’s a more effective use of everyone’s time to consider learning-centered scaffolds other than WebQuests, such as a Topic Hotlist, Knowledge Hunt, Subject Sampler, or Concept Builder, respectively [see http://www.web-and-flow.com/help/formats.asp]. I frequently find that although I’m usually hired to help people create WebQuests, many find the Subject Sampler initially better suited to their instructional goals, comfort level, and students’ skill sets.
WebQuest \’web-kwest \ n : a specific kind of Web-based learning activity
Upon showing Bernie my first
attempt at “Searching for China” [http://ozline.com/webquests/ChinaWebQuest1.html],
he diplomatically said, “It’s good. But it’s not a WebQuest.” This kicked
off a years-long discourse wherein we kicked around what matched our educator
instincts. We surveyed dozens of “WebQuests” and came to find that some
use the term to connote any Web-based learning activity, frequently those
that require a “step-and-fetch-it” approach to information retrieval. This
“every tissue’s a Kleenex” mentality is no big deal from a branding standpoint
because Bernie has always encouraged people to use the term. Problems can
occur, however, if people expect higher-order thinking outcomes from an
assignment inviting copy/paste masterpieces. This kind of sloppiness undermines
the integration of best practices we hope to support. Thus, an imperative
to “Define Your Terms” that focused Greek philosophers in antiquity holds
true for Web educators today.
Are You or Aren’t You a WebQuest?
Concept development strategies suggest that a good way to establish and refine one’s understanding of a concept is to view multiple examples that highlight critical attributes as well as non-examples that lack some of the same. One activity I often use during in-person sessions is to view a handful of WebQuests through the filter of an evaluation rubric. I use one that targets my approach to WebQuests. See the appended page or view the rubric online at http://ozline.com/webquests/rubric.html. Another rubric you may want to use was developed by Bernie Dodge and can be found online at http://edweb.sdsu.edu/webquest/webquestrubric.html.
Rubric in hand, go to one
of the following WebQuest repositories to randomly view examples (and non-examples).
Realize that the changeful nature of the Web, enhancements in browsers
and interactivity, and an evolving understanding of the WebQuest strategy
itself suggest that we view anything on the Web as a work in progress.
Without this disclaimer, it would be almost impossible to entice educators-turned-Web
publishers to post their promising, though perhaps incomplete, activities
onto the Net. Our goal in the following exercise is not to bestow condemnations
or coronations, but to cultivate our own sophisticated understanding of
|The WebQuest Page Matrix
Choose from the five age-level categories, noting that Bernie states, “Some are more complete than others; many were developed as part of a course or workshop and are not fully fleshed out or tested.”
The WebQuest and other Internet Projects
A Suggested Etiquette
By posting a WebQuest, it’s implicit that the author intends for others to use the activity. Because the author receives little or no return for this offering, it’s nice to make e-mail contact and thank folks for their efforts when you find a WebQuest that impresses you or that you may want to use with students. Additionally, sometimes you’ll find a WebQuest on “your” topic. Maybe, however, aspects of the discovered WebQuest don’t suit your students’ background knowledge, interests, reading levels, etc. So you might be tempted to customize what you’ve found to suit your specific needs. Most WebQuest authors have created their own works from the ideas, examples, and templates of those before them, so at its best the Web is a circle of sharing. As a point of etiquette, however, it’s not nice to republish anyone else’s work back onto the Web without his or her permission. Doing so can spawn a cloggy mess of multiple versions, rotten links, and 404 errors. One good solution is to contact the original author and see if you can post your adapted page on your local intranet or publish it to the Web for a limited time. This way the first author remains the nexus for the WebQuest and can maintain version and quality control.
By sifting through a stack of WebQuests you should have a clear idea of not only what defines this particular type of Web-based learning activity, but also what aspects contribute to making a great WebQuest. Enough educators have been working hard these past few years that finding WebQuests related to the core curriculum is no longer such a challenge. Using the evaluation rubric can help highlight exemplary WebQuests on a given topic and lets us move on to developing other killer quests on new topics. Looking at more of the fine points will be the purpose of next issue’s column. Until then, keep working the Web for fun and educational profit.
Tom March develops Web-based
activities, tools and strategies for teachers integrating the Net into
classroom learning. Ozline.com Pty Ltd. (http://www.ozline.com)
designs Web sites for clients in the U.S. and Australia. To contact the
author, call, fax or e-mail him; phone: 612 4872 321; fax: 612 4872
321; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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