Some Thoughts About WebQuests
Bernie Dodge, San Diego State University
There are already thousands of schools connected in some way with the internet, and the number is increasing geometrically.
There is no agreed upon terminology for the kinds of instructional activities they are creating for themselves, and the field
would benefit from having a few clear categories to describe the new forms of learning environments now opening up to us.
The purpose of this short paper is to give a name to what we're doing in EDTEC 596 and for the early stages of the Ed First
Partnership and to propose a set of desirable attributes for such activities.
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. There are at least two levels of WebQuests that
should be distinguished from one another.
Short Term WebQuests
The instructional goal of a short term WebQuest is knowledge acquisition and integration, described as Dimension 2 in Marzano's
(1992) Dimensions of Thinking model. At the end of a short term WebQuest, a learner will have grappled with a significant
amount of new information and made sense of it. A short-term WebQuest is designed to be completed in one to three class periods.
Longer Term WebQuest
The instructional goal of a longer term WebQuest is what Marzano calls Dimension 3: extending and refining knowledge. After
completing a longer term WebQuest, a learner would have analyzed a body of knowledge deeply, transformed it in some way, and
demonstrated an understanding of the material by creating something that others can respond to, on-line or off-. A longer
term WebQuest will typically take between one week and a month in a classroom setting.
WebQuests of either short or long duration are deliberately designed to make the best use of a learner's time. There is
questionable educational benefit in having learners surfing the net without a clear task in mind, and most schools must ration
student connect time severely. To achieve that efficiency and clarity of purpose, WebQuests should contain at least the following
- An introduction that sets the stage and provides some background information.
- A task that is doable and interesting.
- A set of information sources needed to complete the task. Many (though not necessarily all) of the resources are
embedded in the WebQuest document itself as anchors pointing to information on the World Wide Web. Information sources might
include web documents, experts available via e-mail or realtime conferencing, searchable databases on the net, and books and
other documents physically available in the learner's setting. Because pointers to resources are included, the learner is
not left to wander through webspace completely adrift.
- A description of the process the learners should go through in accomplishing the task. The process should be broken
out into clearly described steps.
- Some guidance on how to organize the information acquired. This can take the form of guiding questions, or directions
to complete organizational frameworks such as timelines, concept maps, or cause-and-effect diagrams as described by Marzano
(1988, 1992) and Clarke (1990).
- A conclusion that brings closure to the quest, reminds the learners about what they've learned, and perhaps encourages
them to extend the experience into other domains.
Some other non-critical attributes of a WebQuest include these:
- WebQuests are most likely to be group activities, although one could imagine solo quests that might be applicable
in distance education or library settings.
- WebQuests might be enhanced by wrapping motivational elements around the basic structure by giving the learners
a role to play (e.g., scientist, detective, reporter), simulated personae to interact with via e-mail, and a scenario to work
within (e.g., you've been asked by the Secretary General of the UN to brief him on what's happening in sub-Saharan Africa
- WebQuests can be designed within a single discipline or they can be interdisciplinary. Given that designing
effective interdisciplinary instruction is more of a challenge than designing for a single content area, WebQuest creators
should probably start with the latter until they are comfortable with the format.
Longer term WebQuests can be thought about in at least two ways: what thinking process is required to create them, and
what form they take once created.
Thinking skills that a longer term WebQuest activity might require include these (from Marzano, 1992):
Identifying and articulating similarities
and differences between things.
2. Classifying: Grouping things into definable categories on
the basis of their attributes.
3. Inducing: Inferring unknown generalizations or
principles from observations or analysis.
4. Deducing: Inferring unstated consequences and
conditions from given principles and
5. Analyzing errors: Identifying and articulating errors in one's
own or others' thinking.
6. Constructing support: Constructing a system of support or proof
for an assertion.
7. Abstraction: Identifying and articulating the underlying
theme or general pattern of information.
8. Analyzing perspectives: Identifying and articulating personal
perspectives about issues.
The forms that a longer term WebQuest might take are open to the imagination, since we have few existing exemplars to go
by. Some ideas:
1. A searchable database in which the categories in each field were created by the learners.
2. A microworld that users can navigate through that represents a physical space.
3. An interactive story or case study created by learners.
4. A document that describes an analysis of a controversial situation, takes a stand, and invites users to add to or disagree
with that stand.
5. A simulated person who can be interviewed on-line. The questions and answers would be generated by learners who have
deeply studied the person being simulated.
Putting the results of their thinking process back out onto the internet serves three purposes: it focuses the learners
on a tangible and hi-tech task; it gives them an audience to create for; and it opens up the possibility of getting feedback
from that distant audience via an embedded e-mail form.
One example of a short term WebQuest is the WebQuest 1 exercise that EDTEC 596 students completed a month ago. The goal was to give them a sense of how Archaeotype, a simulated
archaeological dig, was conceived and implemented at two very different school sites. The exercise took about 2 hours and
involved students working in groups to answer a series of questions. They were given a set of resources to read and interact
with which included project reports and theoretical papers on the Web, copies of a portion of the Archaeotype documentation,
and directions to go to another room and interact with a teacher at Juarez-Lincoln via video conference, or with a staff member
at the Dalton School in New York via speakerphone. The students broke up into groups to experience each of these sources of
data and then spent time telling each other what they'd learned. The end result was that each person in the class could explain
what Archaeotype was and what problems and successes came with its implementation.
Another example of a short term WebQuest is WebQuest 2 in which the student teachers examined a number of web pages put up by schools. The point of the exercise was to expose them
to a variety of ways in which a school could portray itself on the web in preparation for their creating the O'Farrell web pages. By the end of the exercise they were able to articulate general principles of good and not-so-good design for
school web sites.
(I'm still looking for examples of a long term WebQuest and am eager to receive any suggestions.)