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 parts:
- 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 this week.)
- 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):
1. Comparing: 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.