The webquest design course

Written by: Lydia Stoyanova, Naval Academy, Varna

With the introduction of the Internet life has become different. Teaching and learning are no exceptions. Now students are encouraged to search for information, to evaluate it and to use it as appropriate. Thus the students’ critical thinking skills are stimulated together with their interest in the problems discussed.

Recently, with the help of the British Council, all military colleges in Bulgaria have been introducing self-access centers (SAC). For this purpose teachers have been encouraged to produce materials necessary for the successful performance of these centers. This, however, is not an easy task and people need to be trained to write such materials. Therefore the BC Peacekeeping English Project coordinator for Bulgaria provided the opportunity for two Bulgarian teachers to participate in an on-line Webquest Design Course.

In this presentation I will share my expectations and my experience with this course and will point at some sites which the readers may visit and use, if interested.

The first question to be asked before taking up the adventure is:

What do you use the Internet for in your work?

The suggestions below are by no means exhaustive but they outline the basic trends in education nowadays.

Teachers use the I-net:

  • to find information about the topics discussed in class;
  • to find additional authentic texts and materials;
  • to find appropriate exercises;
  • to work on-line in a computer lab or SAC;
  • to give students homework assignments– they search for information at home;
  • in distance learning.

The second question to be answered is:

What is a Web Quest?

Not many teachers, especially in Bulgaria, are familiar with the idea and with the activities web-quests involve. The term is somewhat self-explanatory but it needs clarification. It is a mini-project in which a large percentage of the input and material is supplied by the Internet. It may be teacher-guided or self-performed depending on the needs and objectives. In most cases it requires group work and involves all skills – reading, writing, speaking and (to a lesser extent) listening.

Here is what some experts in the field have said about webquests.

Bernie Dodge: 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.

Philip Benz: 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 (…), thus the level of autonomy and creative production is increased.

Generally the structure of the webquest is the following

Introduction > Task > Process > Evaluation

but there are variations.

In the Introduction the overall theme is presented. In this section students need to be oriented and motivated, so it may include background information on the topic, some key vocabulary, etc.

The next section, Task, explains what the learners will have to do. The task should be interesting and motivating and should be deeply rooted in real-life activities.

The Process section introduces a set of activities and research work which will provide the successful performance of the task. It should include web-addresses in a clickable form, some guidance on how to organize the information in the form of questions, directions, questionnaires, maps, diagrams, etc.

The Evaluation stage includes criteria for self-evaluation and feedback in the form of questions students are required to answer and the results expected from them.

The next questions:

Do you need special knowledge and skills to start the course? What should the computer proficiency level of the participants in such courses be?

What should be done first to ensure that all participants are able to perform efficiently?

may be answered together.

The production of a webquest does not require any profound technical skills but some knowledge of computers, of the use of search engines and databases is essential. Word processing skills are obligatory but it is hardly a problem nowadays.

As is often the case, the level of computer proficiency of the participants in the course was not uniform. Besides, during the course participants were going to use the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) Blackboard and nobody expected them to have any experience in using it. To ensure that everybody would be able to cope with it the tutors dedicated the first week on activities directed towards familiarisation with the Blackboard VLE, socialisation, introduction to webquest design and analysis of examples. During the course the participants were required to keep a Reflective Journal of how learning progressed. Every week finished with writing an entry in it.

Here is an outline of the first week.

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Week 1

  • introduction to the software to be used – The Virtual Learning Environment Blackboard
  • socialisation activities – Who’s who?; using the course e-mail; share an anecdote;
  • introduction to the Webquest Design – read about webquests
  • The Reflective Journal – write your first entry of the Reflective Journal.

The second week was aimed at developing skills for webquest design and for on-line collaboration through the chat. During the chat participants shared their expectations, ideas and problems, compared notes and gave advice.

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Week 2

  • developing the necessary skills – find more about your virtual colleagues; search techniques; treasure hunt – apply search techniques;
  • 1st on-line chat – guidelines for online chat; basic conventions; first impressions;
  • Reflective Journal – entry 2

A good way to practise search skills is to answer the questions in a Treasure Hunt using various search techniques. Participants were asked to send their answers to one of the tutors, together with a short explanation of how they had found them. In another task the on-line students were required to make their own Treasure Hunts and send them to the rest via the Discussion board. Below are the two Treasure Hunts. The former has been prepared by the tutors and the latter is mine.

Treasure Hunt

Trivia Quiz – Searching on the Web

  1. What was the name of the 23rd president of the United States?
  2. Who is widely credited with inventing the aspirin?
  3. How many players are there in a basketball team?
  4. What’s the capital of Australia?
  5. What’s the weather like in Paris today?
  6. Approximately how many albums have the Rolling Stones recorded?
  7. Name 3 (legal) products Jamaica is famous for?
  8. Which film won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1996?
  9. Who was the first person in space?
  10. Who wrote ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’?

Use any of the search pages to find the answers you don’t know

My Treasure Hunt

  1. Very often Bulgaria is called “The Country of …”. The name of which flower should you add?
  2. Who is Ivo Papazov and what happened to him on 06 March 2005?
  3. How is the Bulgarian currency called and what is its rate to the Euro?
  4. What is curious about the Bulgarian Prime Minister?
  5. Who invented Coca-cola and what was his occupation?

Week 3 was dedicated to further developing skills for webquest design. This included evaluating websites and preparing for writing a webquest. Participants had the choice and were encouraged to work in groups but at the end it turned out that most of the students had written their own webquest with some exceptions.  Four colleagues worked in pairs and I produced two webquests – one in collaboration with a colleague from the Ukraine and one alone.

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Week 3

  • evaluating websites – fill in an evaluation form (see Appendix); try to develop the habit of completing a copy of each new website you feel might be useful;
  • Webquest theory review – getting organised for the production phase;
  • collaborative work on-line – explore the mechanics; developing group work skills;
  • on-line chat – share insights about what makes a good website and build up a bank of peer-recommended ELT websites.;
  • Reflective Journal – entry 3

During the final week, which actually lasted 10 days, the participants developed their own webquests and shared them with their colleagues. Along with Entry 4 of the Reflective Journal a final Course Feedback was submitted and the participants were issued Certificates.

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Week 4

  • creating a mini-WebQuest – developing and posting the WebQuests;
  • on-line chat
  • Reflective Journal – entry 4

Everybody who is interested in Webquests can go to the following site and see what participants in the on-line Webquest Design Courses have done.

http://www.theconsultants-e.com/webquests/index.asp

I want to finish with Phillip Benz’s words that

“For the time being, very little work has been done in adapting the WebQuest concept to our specific needs in language teaching.”

Webquests provide immense possibilities for making teaching and learning more pleasant and more successful. Go to the sites I have suggested, look for yourself, try them, use them, have fun!

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Bibliography

  1. Benz, P., 2005, Webquests, a Constructivist Approach,
    http://www.ardecol.ac-grenoble.fr/english/tice/enwebquests.htm
  2. Dodge, B., (2005), Some Thoughts About WebQuests,
    http://webquest.sdsu.edu/about_webquests.html

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