Over the past 20 years secondary and primary education have made a number of forays into the digital world with webquests. A webquest is a structured project designed to produce a term paper or major assignment using guides to help students conduct research independently. As an adjunct instructor, and a teaching assistant, one of the problems I have consistently encountered is that despite being web savvy, students have no experience doing formal research, or sifting good data from bad. Most have never read an academic article, or a book review. Thus, I spend a great deal of time trying to find novel ways of teaching methodology as well as content. By removing some of the structure from webquests, I believe they can be adapted for an undergraduate audience, and provide a teaching experience that not only fosters knowledge of content but research method as well.
Webquests are an increasingly popular tool in secondary and primary schools around the country, and increasingly adult education and ESL as well. First and foremost, they are easy to share among faculty, and are excellent for collaborative projects in team teaching environments. They allow students to use digital resources in constructive ways, and can be part of valuable lessons about determining bias and sifting through information on the web. They also provide the teacher with accountability and transparency, since every step of the project is laid out for the students in a format that can be easily accessed.
The webquest, has unfortunately, not made much headway in higher education. This is likely for several reasons. Higher education does not foster team teaching where resources like this are shared. Often it falls solely on the professor in question to develop their own coursework, and professors rarely receive training about resources available to them. Professors tend to view highly structured assignments such as webquests as too simple for college students, or have never been introduced to the concept. Webquests, however, are adaptable enough to service any grade level.
Webquests taught at the gradeschool level all follow a specific format. They focus on a specific topic, such as McCarthyism, which is briefly explained in an introduction. They then have a Process Page which lays out the project requirements in a level of detail appropriate to the grade the project is designed for. The webquest then provides resources that students are required to examine. These usually include specific books, articles and websites vetted by the teacher for the students to read and examine. Finally the webquest generally contains an evaluation section with a rubric explaining how the papers should be submitted and graded.
My idea involves creating a webquest for a survey to 300 level class on Modern American History. This assignment would be valuable for a three reasons. First, it provides a guided method that can introduce students to serious independent research. Second, it provides an easily accessible digital means of presenting a rubric based term paper. Finally, its methodology appeals to the digital learning techniques already discussed in the class.
The specific webquest I would create would be called Political Violence in the 20th Century. Its brief introduction would spell out the definition and include several examples: Sedition Laws, Japanese Internment, McCarthyism, etc. Under the task system, I would define a research question, requiring students to answer it in 5-8 pages, with a double spaced original research paper using Chicago style citation. Resource pages would include links to JSTOR, a select library reading list from the library placed in reserve, as well as a more extensive list of outside resources. Finally, I would provide a rubric and a link to the Turn It In page on Blackboard.
Because this assignment would be a test of students research methods they would be required to submit project proposals with bibliographies earlier in the semester. This would require an extra page, explaining how such a thing should be written. Another advantage of the webquest is that scanned examples of proper bibliographies can be uploaded as a .pdf for students to view. I would likely include several examples of movies, webpages, books, and articles cited so that students would get a feel for how Chicago works.
The question of how to integrate digital resources in higher education continues to be a quandary for faculty. Hours are spent in conferences, and buckets of ink written in journals and periodicals. I propose a simple suggestion, that we use the tools already developed for us.