Web Watch
Not Just for Kids Anymore: WebQuests for Professional Development

Denise Johnson
Leah Zufall


Increasingly, the Internet is being used as a way to deliver professional development to teachers in the form of online courses from universities and publishers; listservs and discussion boards; live chats with experts in education; and websites with articles, materials, and lesson plans. WebQuests can be another excellent way to present information to teachers in a way that allows them to access information at their own convenience and at their own pace while utilizing the vast resources of the Internet. While previous Web Watch columns have typically focused on Internet resources for students, this column focuses on a particular resource for teachers that has direct implications for literacy teaching and learning for students.

Purpose and Design of a WebQuest

A WebQuest facilitates the acquisition, integration, and extension of a vast amount of information through tasks specifically designed to engage the learner in analysis and demonstration of understanding. According to Bernie Dodge (San Diego State University) and Tom March (ozline.com), creators of the WebQuest,

A WebQuest is an inquiry-oriented activity in which most or all of the information used by learners is drawn from the Web. WebQuests are designed to use learners' time well, to focus on using information rather than looking for it, and to support learners' thinking at the levels of analysis, synthesis and evaluation. (http://webquest.sdsu.edu/overview.htm, paragraph 2).

The design of a WebQuest is critical to its effectiveness as an instructional resource. WebQuests consist of the following critical attributes:

According to Bernie Dodge, "Putting a WebQuest together is not much different from creating any kind of lesson. It requires getting your learners oriented, giving them an interesting and doable task, giving them the resources they need and guidance to complete the task, telling them how they'll be evaluated, and then summarizing and extending the lesson."

Dodge's website has a plethora of information about WebQuests, with a template and numerous examples. Most are for elementary and secondary students. But, the principles that support an effective, well designed WebQuest for students also hold true for educators. Professional development WebQuests can provide an effective, time efficient means for teachers and other educators to learn about specific aspects of teaching, if the WebQuest has been well designed.

WebQuests can be either long-term or short-term, depending on the instructional goal. Short-term WebQuests can take from one to three sessions and involves the learner in knowledge acquisition and integration of new information. Long-term WebQuests can take anywhere from one week to a month and involves the learner in extending and refining information through analysis and demonstrations.

WebQuests are built on a constructivist philosophy; therefore, cooperative learning and scaffolding are important components. Providing an opportunity for teachers to work cooperatively on a WebQuest allows teachers to exchange ideas, insights, and opinions on educational topics. During these exchanges, teachers can continue to build understanding based on the information presented through the WebQuest resources. For example, tasks that involve creating pamphlets or brochures for parents, designing bibliographies of books or preparing inservice programs for colleagues provides shared experiences for constructing knowledge. Scaffolds are provided for teachers through the resource links that are built into the WebQuest. Teachers do not have to search the Internet to find relevant, valid web sites to complete the tasks. The creator of the WebQuest has preselected the web sites insuring that educators spend their time interacting with information rather than surfing the web. The most important part of the WebQuest experience is that educators spend quality time with the resources presented in the WebQuest, digest what they have learned, and apply their new understanding to worthwhile tasks.

Evaluation of WebQuests

There are currently many, many WebQuests that have been created by teachers, students and others on the Internet. Some of them are good and some are not. It is absolutely essential that a WebQuest be critically evaluated before deciding to use it with educators or students. The following guidelines, written by Don Leu of the University of Connecticut, and adapted for this professional development WebQuests can serve as an effective evaluation instrument.

1. Does this WebQuest meet my goals and learning objectives?

2. How much time will this take and is this time well spent or could I accomplish more in less time with a different learning experience?

3. Does the WebQuest require me to think critically about information and evaluate the information I encounter?

4. Is this WebQuest developed so as to accommodate my individual learning needs and interests?

5. Is there an opportunity for me to share the results of my WebQuest with other educators?

6. Are all of the links on the WebQuest active and appropriate?

Not all WebQuests will meet the above criteria. Do not assume that since it is a WebQuest on the Internet it will provide a good experience. Good teachers make careful judgments about their own professional learning and differentiate between useful and useless learning experiences, whether they appear on the Internet or in more traditional formats.

As an educator, it is a good idea to include the use of a short workshop session following each WebQuest so that you can have a better understanding of what you have learned by sharing your new found knowledge with others. This allows for increased professional development amongst many educators rather than a few. Overall, awareness and understanding of educational topics and concerns can make great gains by educators using WebQuests to educate themselves and then spreading their knowledge. WebQuests help manifest a supportive environment within schools where teachers help each other become better teachers.

Professional Development and Other WebQuest Sites

A good example of a professional development WebQuest is Teachers Helping Teachers Integrate Technology into the Classroom, created by Leah Zufall. This WebQuest was created to help educators become aware of the many resources available on the Internet for incorporating technology into their classrooms. A significant part of the Webquest is dedicated to highlighting the contributions of several educators who use technology in the classroom with their students. These educators have won the Miss Rumphius Award given by the International Reading Association for using technology in very meaningful ways with literacy learning. The WebQuest also includes websites about using listservs or mailing lists, collaborative projects, and keypals.

This WebQuest is considered long-term as it contains many tasks to help educators increase their understanding of the role technology can play in their students' literacy learning. These tasks include evaluating the strengths and weakness of Internet resources for beginning technology use, designing an inservice program for colleagues, completing peer and self evaluations, and assessing readiness for incorporating technology into classroom literacy learning. The emphasis of this WebQuest is that the learner takes what they have learned and designs an informative inservice program for their grade level team or school. By conducting an inservice program, the learner is refining his or her understanding of literacy and technology by demonstrating the usefulness of the WebQuest's resources. This WebQuest is a great teaching tool for educators who are just beginning to learn about the connections between literacy and technology and want to know how to get started in their own classrooms.

While there are numerous examples of WebQuests by students on the Internet, professional development WebQuests developed by educators are scarce. However, there is one website that contains several terrific examples of WebQuests that can be used by educators to enhance their professional skills. This WebQuests (www.wm.edu/education/reading/resources.htm) were created by graduate students in the Reading, Language and Literacy Master's Program at The College of William and Mary. These WebQuests contain rich information on a variety of topics in the area of literacy, such as parental involvement, Reading Workshop, conferencing, literature circles, fluency, reading aloud, and children's literature. These WebQuests can help educators get a better sense of the format, depth of information, and variety of resources required to create a good model of professional development.

Of course, anyone interested in WebQuests must visit Bernie Dodge's The WebQuest Page for training materials, articles, a discussion forum about WebQuests, a WebQuest template, and examples of WebQuests for K-adults.

There are several other websites that explore creating, using, and evaluating WebQuests. Although these sites cater to WebQuests for students, many of the ideas and information can be applied to using WebQuests as a professional development tool. Tom March, co-founder of the WebQuest concept, has written several articles about using WebQuests such as,"Webquests for learning: Why WebQuests?" In this article, he explains the myths about the Internet and the benefits of WebQuests such as enhancing student motivation and authenticity, developing thinking skills, and incorporating cooperative learning.

Also, Tom March has created some great pages on the ozline.com site that pertain to constructing WebQuests. These pages include a prewriting activity to think about key aspects of a WebQuest before starting and a WebQuest design process page. The design process page is broken down into three areas: exploring possibilities, designing for success, and creating the WebQuest. This page provides comprehensive information and helpful links for each area so that you can build an effective WebQuest.

Another good article is A Checklist for Evaluating WebQuests by Tuanita Y. Benjamin on the Tech Learning: A Resource for Education Technology Leaders website. This brief article provides good evaluation criteria to use when creating your own WebQuest. These criteria provide a great guide to follow when preparing and constructing WebQuests to insure the right activities are included.

One last website on the Internet that can assist with the actual creation of WebQuests is Filamentality, a great resource for beginning users of the Internet and WebQuests. This interactive site uses several activity formats for Web learning including WebQuests. Users of the site are prompted to create their own WebQuests. They are guided through tasks such as picking a topic, searching the Web, gathering good Internet links, and turning the information gathered into learning activities. Once the WebQuests are completed, users can share their WebQuests with others by posting them onto this website. Not only can you post your own WebQuest, you may also search for WebQuests by a particular topic.

Conclusion

WebQuests are another way for teachers to use the convenience and vast resources of the Internet to gain professional knowledge without leaving their classrooms. As technology continues to advance, educators are able to take advantage of many more opportunities via the Internet to achieve their professional goals. WebQuests can serve as a powerful teaching tool and should be considered an excellent avenue for professional development utilized by educators.


About the Authors

Denise Johnson is an assistant professor of reading education at the College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virigina, USA. She received her Ed.D. in reading from the University of Memphis, Tennessee. She has worked as an elementary classroom teacher, a middle school reading specialist, and a Reading Recovery teacher. She now teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in literacy education and conducts research on the integration of technology into preservice and inservice education courses and within elementary classrooms. Her articles on literacy and technology have been published in a variety of journals and she is active in several professional organizations. She enjoys traveling with her family and reading to her son, Derek. Contact her by e-mail at cdjohn@wm.edu.

Leah Zufall is currently working towards a master's in Reading, Language, and Literacy. She has a bachelor's degree in Elementary Education and Special Education from Vanderbilt University. She taught grades K-4 for three years in Washington, DC, as a general education and special education teacher. Leah's current research interest include literacy and technology, preservice education, and self-efficacy. Contact her via e-mail at lkzufa@wm.edu.


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For an index of Electronic Classroom Web Watches, click here.

Citation: Johnson, D., & Zufall, L. (2004, March/April). Web watch -- Not just for kids anymore: WebQuests for professional development. Reading Online, 7(5). Available: http://www.readingonline.org/electronic/elec_index.asp?HREF=webwatch/webquests/index.html


Reading Online, www.readingonline.org
Posted March 2004
© 2004 International Reading Association, Inc. ISSN 1096-1232