Webquests are fast becoming a popular tool in all subject areas--but just exactly what is a webquest and how can language teachers make--and use--them? In this article Gavin Dudeney takes a look at the origins of webquests and at how they can be implemented in the language classroom.
Vance Stevens, Editor
The Quest for Practical Web Usage
Bernie Dodge of San Diego State University was one of the first people to attempt to define and structure this kind of learning activity. According to him, 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...". (Dodge, 1995).
This definition has been refined over the years, and adapted for various different disciplines. Philip Benz (owner of the English Multiverse) describes a webquest as follows:
A "WebQuest" is a constructivist approach to learning.... Students not only collate and organize information they've found on the web, they orient their activities towards a specific goal they've been given, often associated with one or more roles modeled on adult professions. Since students have to participate in the elaboration of their learning strategies, the level of autonomy and creative production they attain is increased. With the proper guidance and "scaffolding" students can accomplish far more actual learning than in traditional transmission-of-knowledge situations that so often leave them wishing they were anywhere but in the classroom.( Benz, 2001)
Essentially, then, we might consider webquests to be mini-projects in which a large percentage of the input and material is supplied by the Internet. Webquests can be teacher-made or learner-made, depending on the learning activity the teacher decides on.
Why use Webquests?
There are many compelling reasons for using webquests in the classroom, including:
- They are a relatively easy way for teachers to begin to incorporate the Internet into the language classroom, on both a short-term and long-term basis--no specialist technical knowledge is needed either to produce or use them.
- More often than not, they are group activities and as a result tend to lend themselves to communication and the sharing of knowledge--two principal goals of language teaching itself.
- They can be used simply as a linguistic tool, but can also be interdisciplinary, allowing for cross-over into other departments and subject areas (where applicable). This can often give them a more 'real-world' look and feel, and provide greater motivation for the learner.
- They encourage critical (or higher level) thinking skills (see Marzano, 1992), including: comparing, classifying, inducing, deducing, analyzing errors, constructing support, abstraction, analyzing perspectives, etc. Learners are not able to simply regurgitate information they find, but are guided towards a transformation of that information in order to achieve a given task.
- They are both motivating and authentic tasks (if well-designed) and encourage learners to view the activities they are doing as something "real" or "useful." This inevitably leads to more effort, greater concentration and a real interest in task achievement. This, coupled with real-life material and input, can be a greater motivator than outdated coursebooks and other such teaching materials.
Structure of a webquest
Webquests have now been around long enough for them to have a clearly-defined structure. However, this structure--whilst being unofficially recognised as the definitive schema for these activities--should only really be taken as a basic guideline and you should design your webquests to suit the needs and learning styles of your group.
There are usually four main sections to a webquest:
This stage is normally used to introduce the overall theme of the webquest. It involves giving background information on the topic and, in the language learning context, often introduces key vocabulary and concepts which learners will need to understand in order to complete the tasks involved.
The Task section of the webquest explains clearly and precisely what the learners will have to do as they work their way through the webquest. The task should obviously be highly motivating and intrinsically interesting for the learners, and should be firmly anchored in a real-life situation. This often involves the learners in a certain amount of role-play within a given scenario (e.g., you are the school social organiser and have to organise a trip for your class to an English-speaking country...).
The Process stage of a webquest guides the learners through a set of activities and research tasks, using a set of pre-defined resources. These resources--in the case of a webquest--are predominately web-based, and are usually presented in clickable form within the task document (it's important to bear in mind that it's much easier to click on a link than to type it in with any degree of accuracy). In the case of a language based webquest, the Process stage of the webquest may introduce (or recycle) lexical areas or grammatical points which are essential to the Task. The Process stage of the webquest will usually have one (or sometimes several) "products" which the learners are expected to present at the end. These "products" will often form the basis of the Evaluation stage (see below.)
The Evaluation stage can involve learners in self-evaluation, comparing and contrasting what they have produced with other learners and giving feedback on what they feel they have learnt, achieved, etc. It will also involve teacher evaluation of the same, and good webquests will give guidance to the teacher for this particular part of the process.
Since Bernie Dodge developed his model in 1995, many educators have added both to the theory and the practice of webquests, and it is now possible to find several good examples of them in many different subject areas.
Producing a webquest
Producing a webquest does not entail any real degree of detailed technical knowledge. Whilst all of the examples below are essentially web-based, it is not at all beyond the capabilities of language instructors with rudimentary IT skills to produce a professional-looking and workable design using any modern word processor. The skillset for producing a webquest might be defined as follows:
- Research Skills
It is essential to be able to search the Internet and to quickly and accurately find resources. The best search engines currently available are Google (http://www.google.com)--for wide searches over a large database of websites--and Yahoo (http://www.yahoo.com) for a more theme-based approach. It is beyond the scope of this article to delve into the finer points of using search engines and subject guides, but a good reading of their respective help pages will dramatically improve the accuracy of any search.
- Analytical Skills
It is also very important to be able to cast a critical eye over the resources you do find when searching. The Internet was once described as "vanity publishing gone mad," and it is worth bearing in mind that quality is not guaranteed--make sure to visit any website you are considering using thoroughly before basing any activity around it. Simply because the author of the website believes elephants to be bulletproof (a real example...) doesn't mean that they really are.
- Production Skills
You will also need to be able to use a word processor to combine text, images and weblinks into a finished document. This particular set of skills can be acquired in approximately ten minutes. Of course, a more aesthetically pleasing and versatile solution is to work the final product into a set of webpages: Frontpage (often installed as part of the Windows operating system) or any basic WYSIWYG editor will be sufficient to produce these.
Before sitting down to plan a webquest, it is always worth searching around on the Net to see if someone has produced something which might fit your needs. There are plenty of webquest "repositories" out on the Net, so there is little point in re-inventing the wheel. Use Google to have a good look round before you do the hard work yourself.
In the event that you DO have to design and produce your own webquest, Tom March (1997) has produced a flow chart for the design process
Essentially, the following guidelines will get you started:
- Define the topic area and the "end product" (Introduction and Task phases)
- Find web resources which are suitable content-wise and linguistically (Resources)
- Group the resources according to stages of the Task
- Structure the Process--tasks, resources, lexical areas, grammatical areas
- Design the Evaluation stages and concepts
Once these tasks have been performed, the webquest can be put together as a simple word processed document (add images and links to all the resources learners will need) or as a webpage. Word processed files can then be hosted on a school server or Intranet whilst webpages can be uploaded to one of the free services such as Geocities, Tripod, etc.
Some examples from the many available webquests on the Internet:
Further resources can be found at http://www.dudeney.com/consultants-e/resources.html
Benz, P. (2001). Webquests, a Constructivist Approach.http://www.ardecol.ac-grenoble.fr/english/tice/enwebquests.htm.
Dodge, B. (1995). Some Thoughts About Webquests. http://edweb.sdsu.edu/courses/edtec596/about_webquests.html.
Dudeney, G. (2000). The Internet and the Language Classroom. Cambridge University Press.
March, T. (1997). The Webquest Design Process. http://www.ozline.com/webquests/design.html.
Marzano, R.J. (1992). A different kind of class: Teaching with dimensions of learning. Alexandria VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Marzano, R.J., Brandt, R.S., Hughes, C.S., Jones, B.F., Presseisen, B.Z., Rankin, S.C. & Suhor, C. (1988). Dimensions of thinking: A framework for curriculum and instruction. Alexandria VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
About the author
Gavin Dudeney is Head of New Technologies at International House Barcelona, Spain (www.ihes.com) and Lead Developer for the online language school Net Languages (http://www.netlanguages.com) . Author of the Cambridge University Press title The Internet & The Language Classroom (uk.cambridge.org/elt/chlt/internet/) he also runs consultants-e, an e-learning consultancy.