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

1 comment:

  1. Hi Sheila,

    Great explanation of the background of webquests and thanks for sharing your knowledge of best practices for this!