Working the Web for Education
WebQuests 101
Tips on choosing and assessing WebQuests
by Tom March
Web-based Educator and Director of 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 World of WebQuests
By now many educators have caught some of the buzz about WebQuests. Colleges of education, school districts, online content providers, and individual teachers have all used the format to support students’ higher-order thinking. For those new to WebQuests, the best place to begin is Bernie Dodge’s The WebQuest Page []. Another entry point is my own “WebQuests for Learning” []. Exploring these sites and their featured WebQuests should help newcomers get a feel for the nature of the format. Specifically, read introductory articles like Bernie’s “Some Thoughts about WebQuests” [], my “Why WebQuests?” [], and a variety of works linked from The WebQuest Page. “Fine,” you might be saying right now, “but why do I want to get involved in WebQuests? Are WebQuests the Answer?” If the question involves wanting to help students use newly acquired knowledge to construct meaning on a complex topic— preferably in a way that motivates working together and testing ideas in a real world context—then WebQuests can be a pretty good answer.

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]. 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.

Defining WebQuests
WebQuest \’web-kwest \ n : a specific kind of Web-based learning activity

Upon showing Bernie my first attempt at “Searching for China” [], 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 Another rubric you may want to use was developed by Bernie Dodge and can be found online at

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 WebQuests.

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.”

WebQuest Collections
Also provided by The WebQuest Page, use this hotlist as a springboard to see what people in universities, districts, and workshops are doing with WebQuests.

Blue Web’n 
WebQuests are often added to the Blue Web’n Library of educational Web sites. Go to the bottom of the page and use the keyword search to enter “WebQuest” (no quotes) and sift through the results.

This new registry gathers pages created using the Filamentality software as well as a slightly sifted collection of submitted activities. Click on “Search the Registry,” then choose the radio button for WebQuest under Activity Format. If you’re feeling lucky, choose a grade level or subject area.

The WebQuest and other Internet Projects WebRing 
Another interesting approach is to surf the WebQuests WebRing initiated by Miguel Guhlin and Jim Baldoni. This page is also accessible via the footer of both Bernie’s and my WebQuest home pages.

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. Pty Ltd. ( 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:

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