In 1995, Bernie Dodge and Tom March developed WebQuest as a new communicative tool for participatory education. The basic idea was to formulate an online page that would utilize academic resources available online to communicate and engage students. The biggest difference between a WebQuest and a textbook is simply that a WebQuest provides links that students can click on, activities that students can perform, etc. Typically, WebQuests focus on activities that can be performed completely online.
The two defined it as: “…an inquiry-oriented activity in which most or all of the information used by learners is drawn from the Web. WebQuests are designed to use learners’ time well, to focus on using information rather than looking for it, and to support learners’ thinking at the levels of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.” (Anne Stinson). In the definition, itself, the divergence from traditional classroom experience can be seen. Rather than rote memorization, WebQuests provide a means for kids and teachers to collaborate in their learning activity.
WebQuests have since formed part of a global initiative to improve quality of education. Arguably the largest benefit of the technology is its ability to be saved and reused by anyone. There are now search engines devoted to WebQuests entirely, complete with lesson plans, activities, and projects for any age group, though efforts have focused on secondary school, to date.
Changing landscape of education
An article published in 2005 by the New York Times noted that education has been drastically altered by information technology. The article reported a summarization of this change, according to Linda Chapman, a Library Media Specialist: “Before, library skills were confined to the four walls of the library and were isolated skills in an independent curriculum. The problem now is that there is too much information. Now we teach information skills that integrate content and skills in collaboration with the classroom teacher.” Previously, secondary school teachers held the keys to knowledge, because students did not have the resources to pursue knowledge on their own. Moreover, students needed a teacher to explain concepts and information in a language they could understand. WebQuests are a great example of how students can now find information on their own, which not only deals with content they would likely find in their curriculum, but also communicates that content in a way they can engage with. The key is for teachers to learn how to use the Internet and collaborate with students on their learning.
Rather than a source of information, the teacher is now relegated to the role of an advisor. Many of the most successful WebQuests use this fact, by facilitating teacher management of collaborative projects. One such project for a high school English class may be found in the additional resources section below and illustrates how the members of a class can conduct online research together. The shift toward a more active, participatory learning experience in secondary school education has been noted by Edutopia.
How to Use WebQuest
Teaching professionals who are familiar with the medium suggest a tiered approach that leads to WebQuest creation. It starts with searching for a WebQuest you might want to use for a particular class. After inputting the appropriate search terms for age group and topic, you will be presented with a list of WebQuests that others have already created. Look through some of the materials and select one that seems appealing, reliable, and fun. Then read through and perform the activity yourself and evaluate whether you could assign it either as homework or as a classroom activity. Likely, it will help your own creative efforts if you try one or two on your class, first.
The next stage is to experiment and create your own. There are a number of different websites that enable WebQuest creation, and some of the best ones are provided at the end of this resource. Some are pre-programmed with templates for easy use. Some require writing in HTML, so all levels of technical proficiency are supported. Don’t get too ambitious. After creating your own, try it out on your class and see what works, and what does not. Like any other teaching tool, WebQuests benefit from being applied to actual classrooms and tested. Have fun!
Webquest.org – The one-stop shop of how-tos, research, and current projects
Filamentality – A great site for anyone new to creating WebQuests, with step-by-step directions, tools, and advice to guide teachers through the process
WebQuest Template – A classic template that is a great example, either to enhance understanding, or to follow
Video Tutorial on Creating WebQuests – A multi-part guide
An Example Webquest about Webquests – Designed for High School English classes, this resource demonstrates some of the advantages that WebQuests have over standard lectures, with participatory learning and real-time features – simple and quick
More Complex WebQuest about Webquests – For intermediate WebQuesters for merely the highly ambitious
Mr. Donn’s History Site – Extensive Resources for Teachers of Secondary School History; link to these resources to add to your WebQuests
List of Specialized Search Engines – Searching the Internet for authoritative, factually-based information that is appropriate for secondary-school kids can be the most difficult aspect of WebQuest creation – This page helps focus on what your lesson plan needs
Process Guide – Refer to this guide to improve the quality of your online teaching resources
Incorporating Tech into Social Studies – The positive findings of one study
Using Webquests to Teach Prospective Math Teachers – The positive findings of another study that compared Webquest to interactive spreadsheets