More and more of us are looking into different ways of leading classes online, bringing together face-to-face and online classroom approaches and tackling the accompanying issues of motivation, engagement, autonomy and digital literacy in our learners. Flipping your classroom is one way of encouraging learners to take control of their own study and work independently on pre-lesson tasks, making them more ready for exploration of content in the classes that you deliver to them directly.
Within the flipped classroom approach, one way of developing a range of language, content knowledge and other skills through a mix of asynchronous and synchronous activity is to set your learners a webquest. A webquest is a type of focused research which requires learners to use specific sites or resources to find a series of items to present in a specific way in a following class. They can be used with groups of any age, subject discipline or level of study, from primary to university, and the theme of the quest can be tailored to any topic being studied.
Why use webquests in your teaching?
The purpose of the quest is for learners to use specified resources to find, evaluate and apply online content to achieve a task-based goal. This could be a presentation, project, poster, slideshow, podcast or webinar which demonstrates the results of the quest, and which can be evaluated by the teacher in a live class (either in person or online). The multimodal aspect of webquests make them a really good fit for groups of learners who may be spending reduced hours in the physical classroom, or who meet online at specific times with a teacher.
The stages of a webquest
The original framework for a webquest (as developed through webquest.org and questgarden.com, includes the stages: introduction, task, process, resources, evaluation/guidance and conclusion, though this can be adapted to fit the needs of your learners and the content that you are teaching. These stages each aim to develop a different set of tranferable, higher-order skills in learners, as follows:
The introduction phase provides context for the work which the learners will do online. This is where you (or the materials you provide) give some background tot he project they will embark on. This could be a group presentation to the class, a poster or online graphic, a webinar or podcast, created by groups of learners as their final product, to be given in a live class, or recorded and shared with classmates online. It is important for learners to know what they are working towards to help them to develop strategies for success when they go off to organise their quests in groups.
The task itself focuses on the limitations of the project - how many items will the learners have to research? What topic areas can they chose? How deeply into the topic will they need to go? Is there a time limit or word count imposed on the final product? Think about the mechanics of the task that the learners will complete in order to work towards an effective final product in the end. This is all important information for everyone to know before they start working.
Another aspect of the task phase is the roles which the learners will take on within their group. Assigning specific jobs to members of a group will increase their ownership of their roles, and engage them in their responsibilities more than a free-for-all where everyone is left to their own devices entirely.
Process / Resources
The process phase can include any preparatory materials that learners might need to work through their project: note sheets, logins for any apps or sites that they will use to share information (Padlet or Slack are great resources for this, as are Whatsapp groups and even facebook or other social media groups). Providing a frame for the information that the learners will gather, and the ways it can be organised in the final product, can provide guidance and support for the process, and enable learners to structure the research that they do online. Some work with the expectations of the genre of presentation that they will perform will also add structure - what do you expect from a student-led webinar, or a poster presentation? Knowing the features of the final product will help to guide learners further in how to proceed with their research work.
This is also the time to present the resources which you want the learners to use to find the information for their projects. Giving URLs for useful sites, online environments and other resources gives direction for the research that the learners will do. Make sure you find a range of different resource types for the learners to engage with: videos, infographics, photos, maps, audio resources, reading texts and different media to get them processing the information they access in different ways.
There are a couple of different points in the process where developmental or summative evaluation can take place: either at the draft stage, when learners can present an outline, first version or rehearsal of the final product (depending on the genre of presentation they are putting together), or a more formal evaluation of the final product itself, taking into account language, content knowledge, accuracy of content and organisation of ideas.
For evaluation of this kind, some kind of assessment framework is a useful tool, and helps to keep things objective and fair for all groups. Assessed components of the final product should reflect the features or processes that were outlined in the preparatory task / process phases, to ensure that you are assessing the same qualities that the learners were working towards as they put the final product together.
Developmental guidance can help students to identify points for improvement in their final versions, and summative assessment can be used to assess performance in key outcomes which you (or the wider curriculum) define.
The official webquest framework includes this final stage to the process, whereby students write a concluding paragraph to summarise the research and presentation of information that they underwent. This can be a reflective piece which outlines the processes that the group members found most valuable, or the most challenging, or it can be a role-played summary of the information gathered written ‘for’ a relevant party in the theme of the quest itself - a newspaper editor, head of a company, local politician or similar (depending on the context which the quest relates to).
I like to make the conclusion phase more communicative by holding reflective discussions between groups before asking learners to write their conclusion paragraphs. This brings out more evaluative thinking and reflection, which can make for a more effective piece of writing in the end. Don’t forget to include the conclusion writing task on your assessment framework, as a final piece of evaluation for this all-important phase of the quest.
In conclusion, webquests are a great development in flipped/blended and inquiry-based education, and can develop a range of transferable and collaborative skills through independent study, peer collaboration and groupwork. They can develop digital literacy and strategic thinkgin, reflection and teamwork. In addition, a well-designed and effectively facilitated webquest can work towards a wide range of higher-order thinking skills which will stand learners in good stead in their future academic and professional lives.