Not all WebQuests are created equal. There are both design and conceptual differences that can make a world of difference in the quality and success of the WebQuest. I have chosen two example WebQuests below. Both are generally on the topic of global warming, but they could not be more different in how they go about it.

The first WebQuest is really good It is both procedurally complete (adheres to WebQuest guidelines) and pedagogically complete. I'll let you all decide what this means exactly.

The second is not very good . It has the requisite sections for a WebQuest, but does not fullfill the requirements of these sections. Also, the pedagogical approach is severely lacking. Again, I'll let you decide exactly what this means.

You're job is to compare the two to determine, for yourselves, what a good WebQuest is. Don't tell us what specifically each does right or wrong. Tell us what the general qualities are that make them good or bad. This discussion will directly affect the path that you take on your WebQuest. I will hold everyone accountable for the "good" and "poor" qualities in these WebQuests and thus, in yours.

Good webquest: Greenpeace Exercise – “Finding Eden” by Phoenix Chen & Rachel Bai 2005

Strong characteristics: Well organized, pedagogically sound. Provides students with a balanced breadth and depth of information with which to form their opinions, state facts, and present an informed presentation. The task is grounded in authenticity and the process, while simple in its steps, allows for discovery, inductive learning, deductive learning, cross-referencing of information, group work and collaboration/sharing of ideas, reinforcement of information for better learning—through reading, listening, talking, sharing, writing, and presenting, and a clearly defined rubric for evaluation and self-assessment. The webquest is easy to follow. It will not leave students asking what they are supposed to do next.

Weak Characteristics: Grammar and spelling need to be checked before given as an assignment to students. Formatting, especially in the tables, should be tightened. The resources page could offer a breif despcription of each link. The teachers page could offer a list of standards being met by the webquest or another type of rationale for the lesson. It would be nice if the student didn't have to scroll down through the entire site. All the information could be placed on one page with hyperlinks to each section. The links provided allow you to "jump" down the page but not back up.

Overall Aesthetics: Relatively clean design—somewhat type heavy. Given in proper doses with guidance, 10th through 12th graders should not be overly intimidated. The simple design and plain text make it easy to read and follow. The links all work and are relevant to the project. The use of a familiar and clear outline format to help guide students as they approach the task is helpful. Nice symmetry and the sectionare are separated nicely. The key points/words are highlighted in an effective way. This site is "easy on the eyes".

Introduction: Provides a clear motivation/justification for the webquest task including establish a “real life” purpose for the students “to promote the awareness of global warming in your country”. It engages the students immediately allowing them to center on the task.

Task: Clearly defined and concise—using an organizer to capture and synthesize information, a group of students will produce a white book/white paper on the topic of global warming in such a way that they “promote awareness”. The description of the task is complete. It offered links to tools and definition of terms.

Process: 1. Encouraging the use of effective learning styles, the webquest asks students to check their group assignments and choose a role within their group as leader, scientist, editor or advocate. These roles allow them to work collaboratively as a valuable team member; they have the freedom to choose the role which best accentuates their strengths. 2. The students take time to learn a bit about the subject—terminology especially, and issues, prior to beginning their web investigations. 3. The webquest lesson provides a clever interactive quiz of 7 questions that allows the students to check their knowledge. They are allowed to miss each question once and try again prior to continuing the test. This pedagogically sound measure allows some mistakes, and gives the students time to check their resources before risking a lower mark. They are allowed to check the materials and definitions during the quiz. 4. They use the organizer to sort and prepare their report or white book. 5. They create the white book. ALL steps are clearly defined and supported throughout the process.

Resources: The 12 online resources are credible and reflect a broad and balanced source of information enabling students to reflect and to decide for themselves what they believe the issues are. Given the fact that they are working on behalf of Greenpeace, they do risk losing their jobs if they disagree with a Greenpeace position on Global Warming, but given the “task” to simply “promote awareness”, they should be safe to do so!
The non-Internet resources as well as the links to support tools for the assignment provide a good library of references for students to consult. The resources page could offer a brief description of each link.

Evaluation: Because students have had the advantage of a checklist to guide them through the six hour process (which will likely take longer, but may be successful if each student puts in 6 hours!), they will understand better what they need to complete in order to earn their 100 points—based on the checklist completion AND the evaluation of their collaboration, the content, the aesthetics of the presentation, technological quality, the writing, and the oral presentation they are required to make. This encourages student autonomy, or at least group autonomy, as they push toward the standards.

The webquest lesson provides a very clearly defined evaluation rubric that is transparent and logical providing every group ample information to know what will create a mediocre project and what will create an “advanced” or successful project. The students should know exactly what is expected of them from reading the rubric.

Teacher's Page: The teacher information is helpful, especially in reminding the teacher of what he or she may need to prepare or establish in advance of the lesson. Role playing styles as well as organizer tools might require one or two extra class sessions prior to beginning this assignment in order to improve its efficacy and reduce unanticipated or unnecessary questions. The information provided helps clarify the authors' intent and recommended direction of execution.

Other: Well written webquest. For students with less linear thinking and for those who are not “organizers” in the terms of the tools used in this exercise, it may be necessary to have groups that also reflect differing abilities for organization of material and to have the “scribe/editor” to summarize the process and be the one to clarify or “simplify” tasks for those who find the exercise daunting at first sight. The task bar at the top of the web quest allows for easy navigation of the entire document.

Less good webquest: Global Warming Webquest by Kelly Susi at Ohio State University

Strong characteristics: This webquest offers students a choice of what aspects of global warming to research. They will be a little more interested in the task. They will feel like the work they are doing is not something the class will have access to anyway if they were not completing the task.

Weak characteristics: Links are already inactive on several references including Sierra, NEI, and Solstice. Updating these for classroom use will be important. The tone of some of the instructions seems to promote group disagreements. The steps to take are confusing. The webquest does not offer examples or templates for the students' summaries.

Overall Aesthetics: Very blue, but moving images creates interest and text does not seem as intense as the Chen, Bai webquest. Although the text and moving images creates interest, it makes it more difficult to read, when compared to the "good" webquest. This is so important. Those who don't have much experience in webpage design often make the mistake of using striking colors or fancy backgrounds that look good to them. But actually, after looking at the page for awhile, it becomes more and more difficult on the reader. While keeping the design simple might be considered boring to some, it is much more effective and has less strain on the reader's eyes.

Introduction: The introduction is clearly stated and the purpose of the task is grounded in “real life”, but the intended outcome may be much too broad and complex to accomplish and the teacher has imposed, even more than the Chen/Bai quest, a position on the students rather than allowing them to discover for themselves what the issues should be. With a broader scenario students may find it more difficult to step into a role, diminishing motivation.

Task: Susi gives students four possible topics to pursue in this quest. The topics are interesting in their own right, but it is not clear what kinds of information or knowledge or skills they will gain from the exercise. There doesn't appear to be an effort by the teacher to ensure that there is some diversity in the product. What if all of the groups choose option one? The task's description of the output seems oversimplified: include your opinion and lots of support. Some students will thrive with such a wide realm of possibility, others won't. The task should outline specific requirements to guide the students. Furthermore, unlike the Finding Eden web quest, this one doesn't integrate as much technology or opportunities (tasks) for students to show what they have learned.

Process: Students, presumably in groups larger than 4 (not stated) must assume multiple roles based on getting the job done, rather than on learning style preferences. Although it could be said that the “leader” might be the Type A personality in the group, and the one responsible for writing up the material is the assimilator and organizer, this quest seems to place a priority on getting to the end of the task without considering the advantages of a guided, pedagogical approach. Also, students may not be as focused on their tasks because they each have more than one role. Students are left to their own devices, in what is likely a limited amount of time, to make decisions that are not directly relevant to the task and that could be guided in the lesson. The order of the process is a bit inverted—providing students hints for using the Internet to support a point of view which they don’t yet have, nor will they be sure how to establish that point of view. It would be at this juncture where organizing tools and “pre-information” would be useful prior to their getting started. The group descriptions seem broad at times. For instance, the leader is "the main contact to the teacher." Students may choose roles based on the amount of work listed... but I wonder if in reality there were many unstated expectations.

The process in general is not clear. The students may be left unsure about what the next step is. Also many details are omitted that are critical in allowing the group to be successful. For example, the web quest states that each group has a limited time to present their information and to plan accordingly; however, no time limits are established.

Resources: The imbalance of information under each topic from which students can choose will likely lead many of them to choose the topic with the fewest links. Moreover, if only some of the students in each group choose to be responsible for Internet-based materials, then the entire point of a webquest is virtually lost.

Evaluation: The evaluation rubric provided for this lesson will likely work well within a class where certain standards and expectations have already been established and where the rubric simply provides a snapshot of how students will be evaluated on a rather general level. So, where it will likely “do the job”, students may ultimately complain about the unfairness of the process and assessment due to the lack of internal guidance and the potential variability that may result in the outcomes which will lessen the effectiveness or “fairness” of the rubric.

The rubric should evaluate more than just the finished product.

Teacher's Page: No teacher’s page, but Ms. Susi is accessible perhaps for questions. Without a teacher's page we can't get a full understanding of the author's intent (from a teacher's perspective).

Other: A reasonable web quest and a useful template for others, but it lacks some critical content that would make it a better learning and teaching tool. I would think that given most students’ ability to use the Internet, one might get the same results as this quest by writing the 4 topics on the board, telling the students to break into groups of 6, and asking them to choose a topic, 5 Internet sites that they can defend as “credible”, and then to write a presentation for oral delivery on how to save the world from global warming.

I’m not sure I’d have been as critical of this site had I NOT seen the “better” selection, but the differences are significant. Indeed, I think this is an effort that should be applauded, but then updated as time permits!
Posted by Spaeth Mar 5, 2007 5:05 pm