WebQuests…Antiquated and Outdated?

I am not a fan of WebQuests.  They were something that had a grandiose allure during my first few years of teaching but that’s when I grappled for lessons and thought, ‘might as well stick them in front of a computer so they don’t have to face me!’  I created one for Día de los muertos a while back but the links are dead and I haven’t updated it.  At all.  It was actually sitting below a pile of papers in my file cabinet.  That’s right, I didn’t have that drawer organized with little nifty hanging folders; everything has been haphazardly tossed in and the drawer quickly slammed shut.

Back to the Quests.  Even the name sounds so…pirate.  “I bequeath you to explore the ravages of the Web in my QUEST.”  How lame!  I’m not discrediting Bernie Dodge’s life work on this stuff, but I just don’t think they are worthwhile activities, not when the advent of technology is proclaiming that we do so much more in many different ways.

An issue I often find in even sitting a child down in front of a computer to do a search (whether WebQuest-related or not) is that they always, always, ALWAYS type the URL in a search box.  They hardly never actually click in the address bar to begin the assignment.  It drives me up the wall and I wonder who ever taught them their introductory lessons on using the Web.  It’s almost as if there has been this culture of helpless spellers that’s evolved from middle school and the results are what I see in high school.  They don’t care to ensure accuracy of the letters they type so they’ll click through the links from the results of a Google search until they see the same visual site as the teacher (me) showed them before going to the lab.  I saw this with Dropbox.  DROP.BOX.  It’s not hard.  Yet I saw every single screen with the glaring Google search results and they clicked through everything from YouTube tutorials to the actual signup page.  Infuriated is not the word to explain how I felt on the inside but I am a master of composure and held it together.

Last time I tried doing a WebQuest with any students was at least four years ago.  I watched as they aimlessly Googled the title of the Web page as I had it typed out and would raise their hand to tell me they couldn’t find the page.  This is even when I had a simple URL available right next to the title.  I think I ended up doing that WebQuest twice and have stored it carelessly in my file cabinet ever since.

For reasons unbeknownst to myself I decided to register on the official page for such activities, QuestGarden.  It was there that I actually found a minute amount of Quests that I quickly put into a .zip file to store for later evaluation.  While scrolling through the myriad of titles and examining those that seemed remotely interesting, I couldn’t help but notice just how verbose these activities were!  I mean, the layout itself seems simple: Intro, Task, Process, blah blah blah.  It was clicking through the Task and Process part that I really felt like a student drowning in the Comic Sans (I HATE that) font, with an obliteration of details and instructions in paragraph form.  If I were lucky there was a picture or two somewhere in the whole thing to spice it up a bit, but not really.

Who are these WebQuests for?  What are they teaching?  It’s almost an exercise in reading comprehension for the instructions, let alone doing the actual research for the content.  The assumption is that the students know how to wade through the pages they are visiting, especially those being brought to Wikipedia, so that precious class time is not wasted with kids squinting trying to find a few site words or the “right answer.”

In my experience there is SO MUCH more to the digital classroom than to do a WebQuest.  It will be something I use only if I cannot articulate or present the information well enough to meet my own objectives.  If that’s the case, God help me that I have the patience to tolerate myself during WebQuest instructions, processes, and evaluations.

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6 thoughts on “WebQuests…Antiquated and Outdated?

  1. I, too, have wondered what kind of basic, introductory experiences children get in school with computers now. Unfortunately, I think that districts often believe students know more than they really do. Having been in an affluent district where I taught computers, the curriculum was forty steps ahead of where students were and I constantly struggled to drag them along. Do you find that if you choose to complete a web-based assignment such as a quest that you have to spend a lot of time teaching about web skills and then it eats up too much time for the overall lesson? I’ve had this trouble and it usually makes me drop the idea for the next year so as to not repeat the headache. I have tried to combat this by building up to a full-blown web quest assignment. I start by talking about how to search in an engine (and NOT just type the whole question they have to answer) and we look up things about our subject area so we are learning content and skills. Then we build to searching for something on our own, without explicit steps. Finally, toward the end of the year after I have built their abilities with the computer I give them something web-quest like and they are much better at it. Just some food for thought.

  2. Probably at your level web-quests seem outdated but at the elementary level they can be useful. Students are just learning how to use a computer effectively and a web quest can give them a starting point and some experience. I think it also depends on your students. Many of our students’ families cannot afford internet and computers. (They do though own every game device available.) This limits their computer experience only at school. We do have technology as a special but the students only get in once a week. I do agree as computers, iPads, and iPhones ownership is like owning a television, Web Quests will be dated as a way of teaching or having students demonstrate learning.

    • Very true, candid thoughts, Joslin! It’s tough to try implementing technology – like cloud computing, for example, to eliminate “forgetting” flash drives at home – when the resources are so limited anywhere they go. Our schools sound similar: there are not enough computers for each student, we have one lab that was out of commission for literally TWO MONTHS, and it’s a race to reserve it for an hour or so. That said, the quality of instruction on the technology alone has to improve. I was floored when I assigned my kids a PowerPoint and they had NO IDEA you could animate pictures within the transition! Yes, let’s focus on whether or not the content is there, blah blah blah, but these people are going to be presenting themselves one day and, darn it, they will NOT make sloppy cut-and-paste PowerPoints! It’s so frustrating to not have a million chilling in the bank to afford the families what they need, then again, that’s questionable based on what families have done with appropriated funds *intended* for educational use…ugh, it’s an ever-evolving cycle with many challenges but it fuels my fire. Sounds like we’re on the same page!

  3. Allyson says:

    Wow! Love your honestly about WebQuests. I have found that some are a complete waste of time as well. I think that WebQuest can be very useful for students when used properly. I recently used a Webquest as a mini-lesson to introduce election process. I received a lot of positive feedback from students about this.

    • Hey, sometimes you gotta say what others might be thinking (to some extent!). Glad you at least had a positive experience with one. I’m not against them, but I tried using one from the WebQuest Garden (or whatever it’s called) and it was intriguing until I got to the rubric. It then became a joke of an assignment that weighted students’ *cooking skills* over the content they’d spend days researching. I know I can edit them, but it just confirmed why I don’t like them: they’re sloppy and few are done well with integrity. Thanks for your comments!

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