Phil Brabbs ensures his students don't get lost in cyberspace.
This article appeared in the July 2002 issue (24) of English Teaching Professional.
It has been said that the internet is the most significant development for education since the invention of the printed word, so why are we not all using it in class? Of course, one obvious answer is that in many countries few ordinary classrooms even have computers yet, let alone computers linked to the internet. Some schools do now have computer labs, though often these seem to be mainly used by teachers of information technology. Another reason why there has not been a bigger take-up of internet use in the classroom is that there is a big difference between having access to the internet and actually knowing how to use it to teach English. However, I know from my own discussions with teachers that, despite the difficulties of getting access to suitable equipment and the lack of training, many are now beginning to use computers for English language teaching and learning.
I think it would be fair to say that project work is now a standard tool for many teachers of English and in order to carry out projects, students often have to collect information from various sources. One of the amazing things about the internet is that it is a vast source of information on almost anything. And for English teachers, the good news is that a large percentage of the material found there is in English. However, as anyone who has tried to find information on the web will know, it can be an extremely frustrating and time-consuming activity. It sometimes feels like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. For this reason, setting up a project and asking our students to go away and find the information they need on the internet is not quite as easy as it may appear at first sight. It may in fact lead to them becoming frustrated and wasting their own time as they search in vain for the information they need. One answer to this problem is to use a structured approach which will enable students to spend time using information, bringing different pieces of information together and combining it in new ways, using their creativity and problem-solving skills, rather than wasting time simply looking for it. And this is what a WebQuest is all about.
What is a WebQuest?
Put in its simplest form, a WebQuest is a project which uses the internet as its main source of information. However, a key feature of a WebQuest is that instead of having students search the whole world-wide web for suitable information, the teacher provides them with a list of specific websites which the teacher knows will be relevant to the project and suitable for his/her students. Students still need to search these websites to extract the information they require, but by specifying useful websites in advance, the teacher knows that students will not get hopelessly lost in cyberspace, wandering around aimlessly rather than getting on with their task. Another very important feature of all WebQuests is that they are made up of a number of standard building blocks:
In order to understand better what a WebQuest is and how it works, let's look at a specific example.
A sample WebQuest
Let's look at a WebQuest entitled 'And now a word from our sponsor – a WebQuest on propaganda'. It is available at http://www.thematzats.com/propaganda/. This particular WebQuest was not actually designed for language students, but it seems to me that it could still be used with students who have a reasonably high level of English.
One problem with using the internet as a source of information is that websites come and go. For example, some of the ad site links in this WebQuest are now dead. Anyone wishing to use this WebQuest might like to add some of their own ad sites or use the workaround suggested in "Adaptations" below.
The WebQuest starts by asking students to take a short test to find out whether or not they are brainwashed by advertising. This is the Introduction and serves to arouse student interest in the topic of advertising.
Next comes the Task, which is intended to be as life-like as possible in order to make it both motivating and interesting. Students are told that they, and a partner, have decided to apply for a job with an advertising agency. In order to apply, all applicants have to analyse some current advertisements (to demonstrate their knowledge of advertising techniques) and then create and present an ad for a fictional product. This is obviously quite a complex task and in Process, the task is actually divided into three main stages.
Step 1: Students are given a list of nine websites where they can find out about the techniques used by advertisers to influence their audience. Step 2: Students are asked to visit a number of websites from which it is possible to download TV adverts, to select six different types of advert (clothing, food, soft drink, automobile, toy and household cleaning item) and to analyse each one using an analysis chart provided by the teacher. Step 3: Students are required to design their own original advert. They do this with the help of a planning guide and further advice about the key aspects of an advert contained in the instructions for this stage. They are asked to produce their advert using PowerPoint and to include a final slide which contains a profile of their product and details of the target audience and advertising techniques used.
In the Evaluation section, the teacher sets out the criteria against which the students' work will be evaluated. Students see this before they begin work so that they have a better idea of what they have to do and the standard they have to achieve.
Finally, in the Conclusion, students are reminded that as critical thinkers they need to be aware of the techniques used by the media so that they can make informed decisions. They are also told that after completing this WebQuest, they should have the skills to make sensible judgments about what to buy and believe, and should be able to avoid being brainwashed by advertisers.
'Fine,' you might say', but what if my students don't have sufficient access to computers to complete all aspects of this WebQuest?' Of course all teachers' contexts are different and you will best be able to decide what is possible in your own teaching situation. However, here are a few tips on how to adapt and simplify this particular WebQuest for less computer-rich environments.
Why use WebQuests?
Now that you have a clearer idea of what WebQuests are and how they work, I would like to focus on some of the reasons why you might like to use them with your students. It is clear that a WebQuest is really just a project which uses the internet as its main source of information. Furthermore, the following elements can all be built into conventional projects which do not require the use of computers: the clear structure, the motivating task allowing for students' creativity, individual choice and interpretation, the co-operative work in pairs or groups, the clear evaluation criteria, the requirement on students to use higher-level skills such as analysing, synthesising and evaluation information, the scaffolding of students work by providing clear instructions and other resources (such as the advert analysis chart and planning guide in the WebQuest described above), etc.
However, carrying out projects with the aid of the internet does have a number of advantages, and for the teacher who is new to using the internet with students, WebQuests provide a relatively easy way in.
Obstacles and challenges
Of course the picture is not all rosy, and there are problems involved in the use of WebQuests with students:
Personally I do not see any reason why WebQuests should replace conventional project work. However, for teachers wishing to use the internet with their students for the teaching and learning of English, I think they do constitute a very useful tool which can help both parties avoid some of the pitfalls inherent in the web whilst tapping into some of its huge potential.
1. http://www.ozline.com/webquests/intro.html An article which explodes some myths about the Internet and gives the rationale behind using WebQuests. Easy to read, powerful arguments.
Examples of WebQuests
2. http://webquest.org/matrix3.php WebQuests at San Diego State University. Click on, Middling and New to see other examples.
3. http://www.pa.ash.org.au/rite/projects/webquests/form1/engine.asp Australian webquests
4. http://asterix.ednet.lsu.edu/~edtech/webquest/ Louisiana State University list
6. http://oncampus.richmond.edu/academics/as/education/projects/webquests/france/france.html Our Vacation in France WebQuest taken from http://webquest.sdsu.edu/matrix/6-8-For.htm
The WebQuest concept
7. http://webquest.sdsu.edu/overview.htm Brief overview of WebQuest concept.
8. http://projects.edtech.sandi.net/staffdev/buildingblocks/p-index.htm Explains each building block of a WebQuest.
9. http://webquest.sdsu.edu/designsteps/index.html WebQuest design flow chart with help for each stage
WebQuest Task Types
10. http://projects.edtech.sandi.net/staffdev/tpss99/tasksimap/ Describes different task types for WebQuests with examples of each.
11. http://edweb.sdsu.edu/webquest/ Probably one of the best places to start - the WebQuest page at San Diego State University (SDSU)
12. http://www.ozline.com/learning The Australian angle on WebQuests.
13. http://rite.ed.qut.edu.au/oz-teachernet/projects/webquests/index.html And again - Oz WebQuests
14. http://www.education-world.com/a_tech/tech011.shtml Education World (US site)
Tips on using search engineshttp://webquest.sdsu.edu/searching/fournets.htm An excellent guide in simple English on how to improve your searching of the Web using a search engine.
Phil Brabbs. Plzen, 24 April 2002
This article appeared in the July 2002 issue (24) of English Teaching Professional.
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