Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Webquests in the Busines English Classroom

The pedagogy of WebQuests and their place in the Business English Classroom.

Sheila Vine

1. Introduction to this article
2. What is a WebQuest?
3. Why use WebQuests for language teaching?
4. What WebQuests are not
5. Relevance and Business English uses
6. WebQuest production
7. Webquest evaluation
8. Webquest trouble shooting
9. Bibliography


This article is based on a talk I hoped to give at BESIG in Berlin in 2007 but had to cancel as the conference clashed with the Cambridge BEC Exams.

Webquests have been an important topic in online and blended English language teaching for some years now. However, they tend to be a misunderstood tool and are often dismissed by many Business English teachers as ‘some sort of quiz using the internet’, and a ‘good idea for children but unsuitable for adults.’

Those teachers who have taken onboard the pedagogy of the WebQuest find that they are an engaging topic both in the writing for teachers and in the completion for students of all ages.

What is a WebQuest?

Bernie Dodge of San Diego State University defined a WebQuest as ‘an inquiry-orientated activity in which some or all of the information that learners interact with comes from resources on the internet…’ Bernie Dodge is the father of the webquest and although many others have written on the subject, it is his ideas that underlie the WebQuests in use today.
One way to think of them is as a type of project where students complete a task using the internet rather than books as their source material. These ‘projects’ can be designed for group work, pair work or for one student working alone. They are very useful in a situation where the students do not have regular class meetings or are working entirely separate from each other, and then the Internet allows an exchange of ideas, which can often be missing from other forms of online learning.
The WebQuest is an entirely modern way of learning but it is underpinned by many pedagogical theories. For example constructivist theory, the tasks are framed by open ended questions and so simply to know the facts is not enough the students must be able to use them. When a WebQuest passes John Keller’s ARCS, Model of Motivational Design the students will be much more motivated to complete it. Attention and Relevance come from the choice of topic the more relevant to the students needs the better. Confidence comes from the scaffolding and support provided by the group and the design and the teacher and Satisfaction comes from completing a task with ‘Real World’ feedback.
The webquest is like a complicated recipe and a good result depends on the preparation, a well-prepared webquest can motivate and encourage the students a badly prepared one is simply an excuse to use the Internet in class time.
Why use WebQuests for language teaching?

WebQuests provide a way to introduce the Internet into a conventional classroom setting. The Internet is such a part of most people’s lives today that the idea of education without involving it is becoming more and more outdated.

Well designed WebQuests involve the learners in communication exercises and the sharing and transformation of knowledge these are principle goals of language education and teachers make use of a variety of methods to encourage them. In this way, WebQuests can act as a simple linguistic tool, which the students can follow at their own pace investigating the language via online dictionaries and by actually seeing the words in context.
Students who are not yet involved in the business world can role-play the tasks that they will be expected to perform in the business world in a safe environment.

What WebQuests aren't.

A webquest is not a book that has been years in the writing, publishing and distributing to the learners and teachers, it is an up to the minute resource its use to the student can easily be understood. They, when they are well designed, are not activities where the students can simply copy and paste information or regurgitate half-digested facts in an exam situation. The information they find has to be transformed to answer the question.

INPUT (from Internet) - TRANSFORMATION – OUTPUT (real world document)

Relevance and Business English uses

Webquests are a very good example of an interdisciplinary approach to education. When we are teaching Business English we are quite often actually teaching doing business in English, this is very different to just learning the language for its own sake. Teaching doing business in English involves intercultural knowledge and business skills, which are often out of the reach of the typical language teacher. A well designed WebQuest that has been put together by someone who is aware of other cultures and ways of doing business can open the students eyes in such a way that potential future or past problems are understood and can be avoided. Exposure to websites from different cultures can improve the students ‘Real World’ understanding, as the examples are not from dry textbooks.
Webquests encourage critical thinking skills including, comparison, classification, and analysis of findings. When the questions are well set, the students cannot simply copy the information they must transform it to answer the question. These motivational aspects encourage learners to make greater efforts increase concentration and give them a real sense of a job done for a purpose.

Examples of real world business English skills which can be taught via a WebQuest- CV writing and job hunting and interview skills, email netiquette, marketing a product, environmental purchasing, planning a business trip.

WebQuest production

While producing a webquest may not call for detailed technical knowledge, it does involve the teacher in developing a completely new set of skills involved with computer and Internet usage. For example-research skills, analytical skills, word processing skills, planning and production skills, this can turn out to be a very time consuming business. The resulting WebQuest will then need to be transferred on to a suitable server for online use.
Whilst it is possible to find many already constructed WebQuests on the Internet and simply adapt them to your situation these may also need a large amount of time input to check and update. However, if you are able to make a reasonable investment into the project there are organisations that will develop WebQuests to your specific requirements. See bibliography.

Webquest evaluation
Webquests are good for helping learners to evaluate their performance in a non-threatening way. They give students a way of assessing their own contributions (self-assessment). Where appropriate the teacher can show what is required by including an evaluation step – allowing learners to view this before they embark on the webquest can help them focus on the skills and language that they will be using. Several rubrics to help novice teachers are available on the internet www….

Teachers using WebQuests and modifying existing shared WebQuests will find Tom March and Bernie Dodge’s criteria for assessing the best WebQuests useful.

Webquest trouble shooting
Anachronisms Web resources come and go and some have a risky shelf-life. If the teacher checks all the links just before designing the webquest, trouble should be avoided.
Emergency: As with all ICT activities, a fallback option or flexibility is essential.
Management: Webquests can be difficult to conduct in certain settings. When you are not face to face with your learners you should anticipate possible problem areas if you are going to succeed. Make sure that you can communicate with everyone by email or instant messaging before you start. For large classes or in a row-by-row PC lab where computers are not available around the room, careful classroom management is needed especially in blended learning contexts. The teacher will obviously have to manage the movement between web-based and non-web based activities carefully, which itself is a skill and takes time/experience/training to acquire. But haven't nearly all teachers always had to cope with problems like this in a traditional setting? When WebQuests are carried out at a distance, forum space can be included for asynchronous feedback and email tasks can be used to keep the group working at the same pace and on track.
Language: Some learners may feel that WebQuests lose sight of the language-learning aspect of a Business English classroom. Please remember, the best WebQuests are never driven by neat grammatical areas or airtight vocabulary areas. It will be appreciated that in the end the more realistic mixed use of language is beneficial even if it is daunting for some people at first. The teacher must be aware of this. At the very heart of WebQuest learning is the idea that learners can make their own vocabulary lists, etc. or carry out interesting interactive manageable tasks, and in doing so focus on their own success. Nevertheless, when relevant language support is required, the teacher should know how to give the right feedback.

Dodge, B. (1995) Some thoughts About Webquests .

Rubrics for Web lessons

March, T Design Process

Webquest Portal

Webquest Maker

What's a wiki-for those who keep asking me

Wiki what is that? By Sheila Vine,

In this article, I would like to introduce you to a web tool. I am sure most of you have heard of the ubiquitous ‘Wikipedia,’ the free online editable encyclopaedia. Wikipedia is the most famous example of the use of a wiki. Wikipedia has been criticised in many areas however, it does provide an excellent example of what can be done with wiki technology. However, Wikis used for educational purposes do not have to be anything like as complicated as wikipedia.

The name wiki originates from the Hawaiian “wikiwiki” which translates as “very quick.” Steve Jones (UIC) defines a wiki as “Web-based, Interactive, Kollaborative, and Iterative” .
This ICT tool can be used to exchange, store and contribute to the construction of knowledge collaboratively.

A wiki is a collection of editable pages, it looks like a website but it allows the users to add to and edit the content. Users do not need any knowledge of web page authoring. The “no HTML required” has great appeal; the easy to use font buttons alongside ‘Edit’ and ‘Save’, mean that students who can use ‘Word’ can use a Wiki. The ability to edit content is the main difference between a wiki and a website, because on a website only the owners can edit the information.

The flexibility of the wiki has led to a huge development in the use of Wikis for educational purposes. They are used in a wide range of settings, from schools and EFL learners to the Open University Masters Programme.
Creating your own or a class wiki
Anyone can set up a wiki by using one of the many free services that are available. The leading ones are Wikispaces , and Peanut Butter Wiki negative side to using a free service is that you will often have to accept advertisements on your site.

Wikis can be open to all, others are closed, or password protected, relying on invitations to access, this is dependent on the way the wiki is set up. Because a wiki is web based, interactive, collaborative, and iterative, it changes over time.
Wikis keep a chronological history for every page, so nothing is lost forever, no changes can be completely destructive, and changes can always be undone; this is known as version tracking. This means that, you can revert to an earlier version of the wiki or wiki page by simply accessing the history section and using a fetch-back button.
Another key feature is you can monitor a wiki or a particular page and receive notification of any changes to that page (by email).

How will it help teachers/learners?

Recent years have seen a huge uptake of wikis for educational purposes. The main reasons are related to increasing the opportunities for collaborative constructive authoring. Nowadays the freely available software means any teacher can set up wikis, which allow for two students, a whole class, or multiple classes to work together. This can lead to exchanges and develop a worldwide audience or simply be a useful system for connecting a closed group of learners. A wiki is a great place for learners to start posting their work so that peers and teachers can correct, improve, and discuss ideas online with them. Wikis are not based on hierarchy – all contributors are equal and can be easily accessed at any time from any online computer.
So if your class are preparing a journal article or report, putting any sort of list together or sharing project resources this could be a useful tool.

Try this video link for a simple explanation of a wiki.

What I like about Wikis
 They are simple and quick to set up, which means that the technical side is a minor aspect.
 They add an element of technology to a face-to-face course without stretching the students’ resources and time too far.
 They encourage collaboration and peer correction, which is often missing from ‘normal’ classes.
 They make it easy to set up team and group working.

What I am less happy about
 The advertising pop-ups, which it is possible to avoid by paying for a premium service.
 Once the students start to experiment themselves, the basic design is often a little limiting.

Some ideas of how to use Wikis
 Uploading documents that contain the types of errors your students often make, and setting them the task of editing the documents. Different students could use different colours for example or they could each have their own version on the document on their own page.
 Collaborative story telling - Give the title of a story and let the students continue it sentence by sentence or paragraph by paragraph. You could give them a vocabulary list of words to use. Or set up a beginning and an end for them to work between.
 Set up a page for typical errors, which you could list without identifying the students concerned but using quotes form their work and asking for corrections.
 Make a list of idiomatic expressions or phrasal verbs that the students could add to as they come across them during the course. Individual students could print this off at a later stage.
 Encourage the students to share pieces of writing they are proud of with their colleagues on the course, get the students to vote for the best piece and award a small prize.

Using Wikis can make education two-way; they open up new possibilities for collaborative writing projects and can capture and disseminate knowledge in unexpected ways.
Wiki wiki! What are you waiting for? Encourage your learners to participate! The power of “wiki” technology lies in flexibility and multi-dimensionality.

Thanks to Valentina Dodge and Nik Peachey for some of the information in this article.


A Really simple way to keep up to date

RSS – a Really Simple way to keep up to date

This time I would like to introduce you to something that I took a long time to decide to use and now wonder how I ever managed without it.

I am sure you have all seen this orange symbol on blogs and lists you visit on a regular basis and thought as I often did. ‘What is that for?’ or ‘What does it do?’ Well this article is my attempt to clear up this issue for you.

RSS means Real or Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary - its main benefit to users, is that it provides notification of a change to a particular website, news group or blog. This is done via a behind-the-scenes code, which we do not really need to know about, called XML. This information is then stored in a place where you can access it easily. You read your RSS feeds by means of a feed reader or aggregator. So instead of your email inbox being filled with notifications of changes, you decide when you want to check to see if a change has been made.

The first step is to set up a feed reader; if you use Internet Explorer (IE), there is one already set up for you . If you click on the ‘favorites’ star you will see two boxes underneath - one is favorites and the other is RSS feeds. If you use Mozilla Firefox then your RSS feed reader is in Bookmarks and you simply have to add the feeds.
This is how you add the feeds; if you see either the symbol or this symbol on a site you regularly visit, or the in your browser bar, you can start setting up your feed reader list today. There are also other ways to subscribe to feeds - see the commoncraft video link at the end of this article.
If you click on either or you are taken to the subscribe screen, you click on the ‘subscribe to this feed button’ and a pop up box comes up and you have to click on subscribe. This then clears the pop up and you get a screen where you can go directly to view your feeds.
There are also many online readers, for example Bloglines or you could install an RSS reader like Sharp reader on to your computer. Other possibilities include Juice: and Great News: . But for most people the IE feed reader is adequate. You simply access it from IE and no other program is necessary.

When you want to review your feeds in IE, you click on the favourites star and then on feeds and the feeds appear. You can tell if new information has been added as these feeds appear in bold and you can click on the headline to read the article, thus allowing you to keep up with a lot of different sites on a daily basis in a time saving manner. The other possibilities mentioned have similar ways to access information, you will be able to learn these on their sites.

How can I use this with my students?
If they are using blogs as writing practice, you can check who has added to their blog from your feed reader, without having to type in all the blog addresses. Also if they are researching a project, they can use the feed reader to collect lists of sites, with relevance to the topic they are studying and so they can see if any changes have been made to the site. For example most news websites and newsgroups use RSS.
Or they could use it to see if a fellow student’s blog has been amended, so that they can go to it and comment.

If you work in the English for Special Purposes field, RSS feeds can help you stay up to date with your students’ subject matter, or pick up material relating to new developments. You simply have to search for the topics once, then subscribe to them and watch out for updates on the important websites on your RSS feed reader. This should make your life a lot easier. You can easily set up exercises knowing that the material you are using is right up to date.

What I like about RSS feeds.
• The way my inbox stays just a little bit clearer than it used to do.
• Being able to keep up to date with topics more easily.
• Knowing when a blog has been updated.

What I don’t like about RSS feeds.
• There are still too many sites which do not have the RSS facility.
• The way many people still think RSS is too complicated to use and so don’t use it.
• With the IE feed reader if you have a problem with your computer the information might be lost if windows has to be reinstalled after a computer crash.

Here is my favourite video explanation of RSS feeds

I hope you have enjoyed your introduction to RSS feeds. Happy Subscribing.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

The Times 100

Time for something different

Last week I was looking for some material for a business studies course I am running at a local college and quite by accident I stumbled upon The Times 100.
This is a free resource for business studies teachers, which is great for EFL as well. It contains 100 free lesson plans as well as worksheets and exam packs.
One of the wonderful things about the site, is the different ways in which you can search the content, to get the best case study for your situation. You can search by topic - Finance, Environment, Marketing etc, or by company for a specific type of company.
For the careers teacher for example, there is a page which links to specific job opportunities in the company and then lists the qualifications relevant for those specific types of job.
The companies are all well known businesses and the site allows teachers to link through to the company website for further information.

When you investigate the site, you find even more resources, like the Revision of Theory section where there are excellent detailed pages of notes on specific topics; all these resources are also downloadable.

As for the case studies themselves, they are short - around four pages while still being suitably detailed to interest non-native speaking students or adults. However, they are written for the native speaker student and so the language is of a high level. Each case study is accompanied by detailed teachers’ notes, including key vocabulary and some additional questions to be incorporated, as required.

Teachers can print off the case studies as a PDF, their layout includes relevant pictures, making the style similar to a corporate brochure; so they appear very ‘real’ and so totally unlike the dated case studies in text books. They are produced in a clear type-face and well set out and paragraphed, with plenty of white space for clarity. Important vocabulary is highlighted in bold, for easy reading.

I thoroughly recommend this website. Let me know what you think of it.