Inquiry based learning is great in theory. It’s messy in practice.
Here’s the basic idea. You give kids a goal. Maybe a specific problem to solve, a project to complete, or a question to answer. You expect them to consult various sources, like the webpages, online multimedia, books, encyclopedias, whatever. And in the end, you hope they find something useful.
Webquests are a way to use technology to eliminate some of the guesswork and narrow down an inquiry based lesson. Rather than set kids free to look at anything, which can be overwhelming, a webquest is a small website created by a teacher with a specific task and a specific set of resources necessary to complete that task.
Let’s start by defining what a webquest is, and then we’ll look at where you can find some to use in your classroom.
What Makes a Webquest?
While the term webquest is thrown around a lot by some teachers, it has a very specific origin. Bernie Dodge, a professor from California, coined the term in the 1990’s and explained what exactly a webquest was.
In the traditional definition, a webquest involves a series of connected webpages – an introduction, a task, a process, a set of resources, an evaluation mechanism, and a conclusion.
- The introduction is important because it gets the students excited. It shouldn’t be long, factual, or very informative. It should just grab your attention. Like a good question, a puzzling picture, or a compelling video clip.
- The task is what separates a true webquest from a simple scavenger hunt. In the task section, you tell students what they’re going to be doing, and this task should be inquiry based, problem based, or project based.
- The process is a step by step outline of how students will complete their task. These are instructions, a roadmap for students to follow. Make it specific, and make it easy to follow, or else they’ll get confused.
- The resources separate webquests from simple research projects. Rather than let kids loose to find anything, you need to give them a short list of resources to use. There are millions of web pages; which ones do you want your students to look at? These could be a mix of text, photo, audio, and video resources, but the point is that you need to pare things down to a manageable level.
- The evaluation page tells kids how they will be assessed. Specifically how will they be graded? How do they earn an A, a B, a C? Provide them with a detailed rubric so they know what to do.
- The conclusion wraps everything up. Give your students something to mull over. What’s the next step they can take to continue their learning? How can they check to make sure have learned something?
You can learn more about what goes into each part of a webquest with this set of articles about webquests. You can also use this rubric from Bernie Dodge to “score” a webquest and determine whether it’s good or not.
So Where Do I Find Them?
There are literally hundreds of thousands of webquests available on the Internet. Many are hosted by big webquest databases, like Questgarden, Zunal, or Teacherweb. Others were created by teachers on services like Google Sites and PBWiki. Still more are self hosted by school districts on their own websites.
With no central repository for webquests, the simplest way to find them is to search on Google. Pick a topic, and then add “webquest” to your query. For example, if you’re an English teacher, you might search for “Shakespeare webquests.” A science teacher might search for “cell webquests” or “volcano webquests.” You get the idea.
The problem with general searches and with the large databases mentioned above is that there are a lot more bad webquests out there than good ones. You’ll have to spend some time sifting through them all to find something useful. There are some curated lists, however, like this list of science webquests. You can also subscribe directly to this RSS feed, which is updated with new, good webquests every week.
And remember, you don’t have to use a webquest exactly as you found it. You can always create your own, modifying existing webquests and adding your own touch to them. In fact, I would suggest that you do this. That way you give your kids exactly the experience you want them to have, rather than the one someone else developed. But browsing other webquests is the perfect way to get inspiration for your own.