A WebQuest is an inquiry-based learning activity that limits students to a set of carefully selected web-based information sources. The model was originally developed by Bernie Dodge at San Diego State University in the mid-1990’s, so it has been around for awhile! I love WebQuests because they are not only fun and easy to create, they also serve as fantastic tools for teaching information literacy skills.
I have used WebQuests in the classroom, but in reading an article on the most effective instructional methods for online discussions, WebQuests were found to be more effective then other methods at promoting higher order thinking skills. What I found especially interesting in this article is that the instructional method of the invited expert was not nearly as effective as WebQuests for online discussions. In fact, invited experts ranked third in the study in terms of cognitive presence of the students.
So what does this mean for information literacy in online learning? Well, embedded librarians usually play the role of invited experts in online courses. If the invited expert method is less effective than other methods such as WebQuests, then maybe the current model of embedded librarianship needs to be re-examined.
Research has found that while students tend to rate invited experts well, the method itself does a poor job of promoting higher order thinking skills. This makes a lot of sense to me because it is very difficult to provide adequate research support in an asynchronous environment. First of all, you have students that lack the ability to formulate the ‘right’ kinds of questions. Secondly, the asynchronous environment makes it difficult to do the back and forth that face-to-face reference involves. And that back-and-forth is the key to promoting the metacognitive processes that students need in order to become information literate. So, students end up getting advice and source recommendations instead of individualized instruction from these online discussion forums. That’s not good.
Are WebQuests the answer to this problem? They just might be. WebQuests are particularly useful for teaching students how to evaluate information (not just sources). They are usually based around some type of narrative that requires role-playing on the part of the student. For example, I created one about an inheritance, with an added twist that in order for the student to accept the inheritance from their ‘Great Aunt Ida,’ they would need to move into her house smack dab in the middle of a cancer cluster (this was a local issue that had made headlines). Within the WebQuest, the students were provided a set of sources to help them make that decision.
I had a whole lot of fun creating the WebQuest, the students enjoyed it, and I do feel that it stretched their evaluation skills much further than other methods had.
The WebQuest as a model for embedded librarianship would be pretty easy to adopt, and could perhaps serve as an adjunct to the invited expert method. The nice thing about WebQuests is that they can be used over and over again, and shared.
QuestGarden is a great resource for finding examples of WebQuests. You also have the option to subscribe to QuestGarden as an authoring tool for your WebQuests. That’ll run you $20 for two years (cheap!).