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Why Webquests?

My research has convinced me that Webquests are an excellent teaching

The Webquest "vision" was developed in early 1995 at San Diego State University (SDSU) by Professor Bernie Dodge and Professor Tom March. Perhaps the best website on Webquests and its benefits is authored by Tom March, called Ozline. His website discusses the benefits of Webquests on student learning. 

The following are excerpts from his website that address the benefits of Webquest development from Tom March:

Reason #1: Student Motivation & Authenticity

When students are motivated they not only put in more effort, but their minds are more alert and ready to make connections. WebQuests use several strategies to increase student motivation. First, WebQuests use a central question that honestly needs answering. When students are asked to understand, hypothesize or problem-solve an issue that confronts the real world, they face an authentic task, not something that only carries meaning in a school classroom. Although you can't count on getting a response, when students do receive feedback from someone they didn't previously know, they join a community of learners and have their presence, if not their contribution, validated. When teachers choose a topic they know their students would respond to, they add to the relevance.

The second feature of WebQuests that increase student motivation is that students are given real resources to work with. Rather than turn to a dated textbook, filtered encyclopedias or middle-of-the-road magazines, with the Web students can directly access individual experts, searchable databases, current reporting, and even fringe groups to gather their insights.

When students take on roles within a cooperative group, they must develop expertise on a particular aspect or perspective of the topic. That their teammates count on them to bring back real expertise should inspire and motivate learning.

Lastly, the answer or solution the student teams develop can be posted, emailed or presented to real people for feedback and evaluation. This authentic assessment also motivates students to do their best and come up with a real group answer, not simply something to fulfill an assignment.

Reason #2: Developing Thinking Skills

One of the main (and often neglected) features of any WebQuest is that students tackle questions that prompt higher level thinking. Certainly, the Web can be used as a source for simple information retrieval, but this misses its power and short-changes students. Built into the WebQuest process are the strategies of cognitive psychology and constructivism. First, the question posed to students can not be answered simply by collecting and spitting back information. A WebQuest forces students to transform information into something else: a cluster that maps out the main issues, a comparison, a hypothesis, a solution, etc.

In order to engage students in higher level cognition, WebQuests use scaffolding or prompting which has been shown to facilitate more advanced thinking. In other words, by breaking the task into meaningful "chunks" and asking students to undertake specific sub-tasks, a WebQuest can step them through the kind of thinking process that more expert learners would typically use.

Lastly, constructivism suggests that when students need to understand a more complex or sophisticated topic like those that comprise WebQuests, it doesn't help to serve them simplified truths, boiled down examples, or step-by-step formulas. What they need are many examples with lots of information and opinions on the topic through which they will sift until they have constructed an understanding that not only connects to their own individual prior knowledge, but also builds new schema that will be refined when students encounter the topic again in the future. Until the Web, this kind of activity was very difficult for the average teacher to create because collecting such a breadth of resources was next to impossible.

Reason #3: Cooperative Learning

As has already been mentioned, in WebQuests students take on roles within a small student group and this tends to promote motivation. In addition, because the WebQuest targets learning about large, complex or controversial topics, it's probably not realistic to expect each student to master all of its aspects. Thus learners divide to conquer. This is not to say that students don't gain the overall understanding, because this happens in a later stage of the process, but it does suggest to learners the reality that not everyone knows everything. In fact, this is one of the great messages that students invariably bring back from interactions with experts whose works focus on very thin slivers of the knowledge pie. Having students develop expertise and be appreciated for it by their peers is built into each WebQuest. Cooperative learning strategies are then applied to necessitate each student's input. By running several WebQuest groups in the same class, students will also see that different solutions were chosen by each team because of the quality of the group members' research and argumentation skills. As students complete more WebQuests they will become increasingly aware that their individual work has a direct impact of the intelligence of their group's final product.


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