Who is Tom and Why is he chattering on about WebQuests?

Hi all,

As part of the Quick and Dirty WebQuest PL series on Youtube Playlist, I thought a few (a very few 😉 ) people might be interested in a bit of background about my role and perspective on developing WebQuests. So here’s a backgrounder video followed by links to the WebQuests and articles referred to in the video.

Please subscribe if you’re interested in WebQuests and let me know through the comments section what you’re interested in and I’ll address this aspects.


Links to WebQuests and Articles



Life Cycles QuickQuest (and Invitation!)

QuickQuest #1 – Life Cycles

QuickQuest Mini WebQuests on Life Cycles

As briefly described in an earlier post, QuickQuests are a slimmed down version of WebQuests. This makes the easier to make and use (whether in a classroom or remotely).

What Makes this a QuickQuest, not a WebQuest?

Like WebQuests, the main idea behind a QuickQuest is using rich online resources to engage students in an activity that prompts them to acquire knowledge, think more deeply about the topic and then find personal meaning. The main differences are that a QuickQuest can be completed in 1-3 lessons and done by individual students.  All of these processes are achieved in what’s essentially an enhanced “worksheet”  using Google Docs (and Slides for the teacher). You can get the Life Cycles QuickQuest for free from my TeachersPayTeachers store.

Here’s a peek into the Life Cycles QuickQuest

I invite you to Suggest a Topic!

I’m really happy to create more QuickQuests so why don’t you send me your topic requests! Click this link or the graphic below to fill in a short form that shares your suggestion.

Or use the Form above, comments below, my contact page or Twitter (@NextEraEd) to suggest a topic.




Why WebQuests, An Intro (2020)

What was Old is New Again…

This post is to support online learning about Why and When to use WebQuests. If you think the name WebQuest is too 20th Century, just substitute “Real, Rich and Relevant Problem-based online learning that prompts student understanding and empowers teachers through a scaffolded approach.” Yeah, so that’s why I keep opting for WebQuests….

So as old hat as WebQuests might be for some, new and early career teachers are always, thankfully, joining the profession.  So this post (using the slides below and video conferencing) will start at the beginning, but use activities and thinking prompts instead of texts. You can read the articles elsewhere and they are included of some of the activities.

Yeah, so “Why?”

A great question. WebQuests were created at the dawn of the World Wide Web. Using the Web as a place for learning presented a challenge:

Given the uniqueness of WWW, how does learning need to be structured to ensure success?

A couple other wrinkles came into play:

The Web is a pretty chaotic place to learn, VERY different than textbooks and worksheets. How can we help students become successful learners in such an “ill-structured domain?” The slides go through other elements of the Web.

Please use the comments section below (or contact me) with questions or if you want a similar session with your teachers.

So what about “When?”

When something is a good idea, people are tempted to think it’s always a good idea. WebQuests, as designed, are solutions to the ill-structured aspects of the Web and a great way to promote students’ critical & creative thinking and personal meaning making.  Thus, great for exploring “Big Ideas,” concepts or complex relationships. But not necessary when simple acquisition of information is the goal.  Think definitions for parts of speech or the “Times Table” to 10.

Links to Tom’s Work


New Slimmed Down WebQuest

Time for Re-invention?

As #RemoteLearning #DistanceLearning and #COVIDEdu dominate education these days, I’ve been posting videos on WebQuests as a way to help.  I will continue to do this. Happily, people have been getting in touch to share ideas and needs.  Two main responses come up:

  1. WebQuests? We did those years ago. How about something new?
  2. WebQuests were great. Why aren’t people using them today?

Both responses are understandable. As pedagogically sound as the WebQuest format is, like just about all new ideas, especially in education, what was seen as “paradigm shifts” often become mere “pendulum swings.” We thought we were changing the world from rote learning to deep understanding. But in the bustle of school life, routines can overwhelm any new way of doing things.

The Downsides of WebQuests

That said, I’ve created enough WebQuests and led that many more PL workshops to know that a few things make WebQuests pretty challenging:

  • They take time to create – mostly in two ways: finding rich online resources and designing the group process.
  • Understanding “understanding” – everybody “gets” knowledge. It’s the acquisition of new information. But folks aren’t typically so clear on how understanding requires the use of knowledge. And this “construction of new meaning” goes right to the heart of Piaget’s assimilation and accommodation. We all learned this in Teacher Ed, but it took me a pretty long time to really get it.
  • The class time they take – When you have students check their background knowledge, then divide in teams to take on specific roles, and in these roles, to develop particular mastery before bringing this expertise back to their groups, at which time a jigsaw synthesis must occur, then….  you get the idea. This is why I’ve always see WebQuests as a central, once / semester kind of experience, not daily fare.

But we are in a world where many students are learning remotely, accessing online information. We want them to enjoy Real, Rich and Relevant learning, not copy/paste their way to completion.  So I feel that something – call it whatever – that engages students in this way and prompts them to deeper thinking, while not taking too much time for either teacher prep or delivery – is a good thing.

Enter the … “QuickQuest?”

I really love that the Web is full of great learning resources.  I find them inspiring. People, non-profits, cultural groups, media companies, you name them, put out really amazing content.  We educators are so lucky to be teaching in this era of rich resources (and good bandwidth?). So here’s my approach:

    1. I start with a topic worthy of students (this can be from the gut or curriculum standards)
    2. I take about 30 minutes to search around the Web to see if any Real, Rich and Relevant resources exist for the topic.
    3. If so, I know I’m onto something good and I keep at it.  This usually means a little lateral searching to find things that might extend or deepen how students engage with the topic.
    4. If I’m not finding anything inspiring in 30 minutes, but feel like I’m close, I do more searching. If I feel like the topic’s a dead-end, I’ll call it quits and go with the usual fare.

So let’s see how this works in real life:

I was contacted by a teacher looking for a WebQuest on “Life Cycles” for Years 3-4 science students. I took a look through a database I have of “BestWebQuests,” but didn’t turn up anything. I’d been playing with this mini WebQuest / QuickQuest / PDQ Quest (yes, “pretty darn quick,” but also “pedagogically-driven query”) idea and took the “Life Cycles” request as a challenge.

The result is what I’m tentatively calling a QuickQuest. It’s supported by slides and a student activity page.  You can get the Life Cycles example for free from my TeachersPayTeachers store.

Let’s Hear from You!

Please use the poll, comments below, my contact page or Twitter (@NextEraEd) to

  1. Give feedback about the name
  2. Suggest topics and I’ll see about making “QuickQuests” on them!



Tips for WebQuest Designers

Here’s one for You!

Whether you are studying education to become a teacher, are already in the classroom or are one of those leaders among teachers, if you’re interested in supporting students’ deeper understanding and construction of meaning, here a some tips for you!

This is an overview of all the sections, pointing to the tips page.  Look for the pots and videos focused on each of the sections with examples from published WebQuests.


Links and Resources

Tips for WebQuest Designers – suggestions for each section of the WebQuest template.

David Jonassen – one of my heroes in the field of educational technology and constructivism.


Black History WebQuest: The Past IS Present

Welcome to the Video Tour

An earlier post on the Past IS Present Black History WebQuest gave an overview of the elements and design process I used. The video below is a deep dive so you can take a closer look. You might want to use it with students or be inspired to create something of your own.

What really makes this WebQuest exciting for me are the great short videos available on all six compelling topics and then also really great interactive maps so that students can locate the issue in their own neighborhood, city or state.

The topics are:

  • Redlining
  • Racial Violence
  • Confederate Symbols
  • Gerrymandering
  • Economic Disadvantage
  • Mass Incarceration

The actual Past IS Present WebQuest is available from my TpT store. This is the first out of the many WebQuests I’ve made that I’ve opted to charge for. Let’s see how it goes. I’m happy to get feedback through the comments below or via the contact page on this Website.

Catcher in the Rye WebQuest

“If you really want to know…”

So began Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye. Long a favorite novel of mine to read and teach, I wanted to help students really understand the cultural milieu of the 1950s, when the work became instantly popular.

The great thing about this era in terms of resources available for a WebQuest is that it’s both recent enough to have lots of video recordings of key people & topics, but the footage is old enough to have that otherworldly feel.  Students often assume Holden comes from a world roughly contemporaneous to their own, even with his dated slang.  They also often think radicalism in culture and the arts began with the 60s. So these archival videos bring that world between WWII and the Beatles to life.

In the video below, I take a deep dive into my Some Crazy Cliff WebQuest as a an example for literature WebQuests and also to invite you let me know if you want to use the WebQuest.  As with anything, the resources need a little checking for Link Rot and I’d probably want to make a few tweaks.

As an added bonus, I also creating some Look to Learn Thinking Routine activities related to the main themes of the WebQuest.  You can check these out and use them as warm-up / thinking prompts if you like.

Use the comments below, on the YouTube page or via the contact form on this Web site if you’d prefer anonymity.

The Big Wide World WebQuest

Good News! All the links on the Big Wide World WebQuest have been updated, so it’s ready for use. Right Now! What was particularly great about this updating is that the kinds of links students can use have gotten so much richer since the last refreshing. Site like the Stellarium and Climate Time Machine (as examples) really make this a hands-on and engaging experience for students (and rewarding for teachers and parents.  Let me know what you think – always happy to tinker.


Because people kept asking whether younger students could do WebQuests, I created The Big Wide World WebQuest as a way to immerse younger students in a teacher-facilitated exploration of the world.  Inspired by a son’s school field trip into the local farms and paddocks, I used the WebQuest to engage them in some of the bigger picture aspects of our world (seasons, climate, biomes, animals, plants, culture, etc.).

After watching the video and exploring the site, use the comments below or on Youtube or contact me to let me know if you are interested in using the WebQuest, particularly with students away from school due to the coronavirus. This will prompt me to update the links and give the WebQuest a little refresher with more engaging and interactive resources.


The Parts (What & Why) of WebQuests

The Key Aspects of WebQuests… Described & Illustrated

One way to understand what something is is to look at its “parts.” It helps even more if there’s a discussion of what the “parts” are supposed to do and why.  WebQuests are just the same – and it also helps to see examples. That’s what the following video does.

Web site and articles referred to in the video are listed below.

Links to WebQuests and Articles

Dust-off WebQuests for Online Learning

Let WebQuests Help during COVID-19

As we all struggle to adapt to life in pandemic times, many schools, teachers and parents are grappling with how to provide online learning for students. Lots of great strategies and platforms exist that didn’t 20 years ago when we were in the heyday of WebQuests, so keep using these things (Google Suite, apps, videos, LMS platforms, etc.). But there will come a time when WebQuests are exactly the solution you’re looking for (he says, confidently).  When is this magical time?

You really want to use a WebQuest when…

  1. Obviously, learners have access to the Web 😉
  2. The goal is to develop understanding, not just learn information (e.g., not just memorize or copy/paste). Use the comments link if you want to discuss the difference.
  3. You’d rather guide, than direct, student learning.
  4. The topic is connected to the real world and people often have different opinions or theories about it.
  5. Especially during times of social isolation, you want students to work together and collaborate (even remotely).

How about a refresher on WebQuests?

The video below will take you quickly through the “Parts” of a WebQuest (and why each part is important).  Other videos will elaborate on WebQuest design tips.





Image of dusty computer – from Yinan Chen