Since the mid 1990s, educators have looked for ways to make effective use of the vast information resources available on the Web. Rather than low-level scavenger-hunt types of activities, teachers have sought ways to promote higher-order thinking through authentic assignments that emphasized inquiry-based learning.
Use this page to examine the definition and history of the WebQuest concept, as well as the theoretical foundations.
Bernie Dodge, a Professor of Education at San Diego State University, coined the term “WebQuest” in 1995 to describe an inquiry-based activity that involves students in using web-based resources and tools to transform their learning into meaningful understandings and real-world projects. Rather than spending substantial time using search tools, most or all of the information used by learners is found on pre-selected websites. Students can then focus on using web-based information to analyze, synthesis, and evaluate information to address high-level questions.
Transformational Learning. Beyond traditional term papers and tests, WebQuests require students to connect their understanding of information to meaningful situations through original products for authentic audiences. The most effective WebQuest communication products provide students with opportunities to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information and alternative perspectives.
Short Term and Long Term WebQuests. Dodge distinguishes between short-term and long-term WebQuests. The goal of a short-term WebQuest is knowledge acquisition and integration, while in a long-term WebQuest learners analyze and transform knowledge into something that is understandable by others.
WebQuest Attributes. Dodge’s model is similar to other information inquiry models. Critical attributes of a WebQuest include:
- an introduction that sets the stage of the activity
- a doable, interesting task
- a set of information resources
- a clear process
- guidance and organizational frameworks
- a conclusion that provides reflection and closure.
Non-critical attributes included group activities, motivational elements, and interdisciplinary approaches.
Three Domains. Dodge identified three domains to assist in developing web-enhanced, information-rich learning environments: inputs (i.e., articles, resources, experts and other information sources), transformations (i.e., high-level activities such as analysis, synthesis, problem solving and decision-making), and outputs (i.e., products such as presentations, reports, and web publishing). He points out that students need scaffolding in each of these domains such as quality resource links, compelling problems, and production templates to assist in building understandings.
WebQuests are a learner-centered, project-based approach to teaching, learning, and information inquiry drawing on a variety of theories that include the following areas (Lamb & Teclehaimanot, 2005):
- constructivist philosophy
- critical and creative thinking, questioning, understanding, and transformational learning
- authenticity, meaningfulness, and situated learning environments
- cooperative learning
- motivation, challenge and engaged learning
Learn more about inquiry-based approaches to learning at Virtual Inquiry.
Tom March created the first WebQuests for the K-12 environment while working with Bernie Dodge and San Diego State University. His well-known, early WebQuests included Searching for China, Look Who’s Footing the Bill!, Ewe 2, and Tuskegee Tragedy. March’s websites BestWebQuests.com and Ozline.com contain resources to assist educators in using and developing web-based materials. He has found that well-designed WebQuests:
- promote dependable instructional practices
- combine research-supported theories
- make effective use of essential Internet resources
- produce open-ended questions
- offer authentic tasks
- motivate students
- allow students to develop expertise in a subject from within a situated learning environment
- offer opportunities for transformative group work.
Many people confuse hotlists, guided tours, scavenger hunts, and WebQuests. For explanations of each approach, go to Filamentality: Activity Formats.
Go to the Middle School Evolution of a WebQuest page. Compare and contrast each of the four types of assignments.
Complete a WebQuest About WebQuests. You can use the Elementary Grades Version, Grades 3-4 Version, Middle School Version, or the Middle/High School Grades Version by Bernie Dodge. Or The Elementary WebQuest?ion by Cynthia Matzat.
Return to Teacher Tap: WebQuests