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Webquest, Inquiry, and Lincoln’s Views on Technology

Photography, Question, Flickr CC
What Is It?

Webquest is an inquiry model that supports student investigations of web-based materials. Bernie Dodge at San Diego State University developed the strategy in 1995 to help novice learners make good use of web resources (see http://webquest.org).

Rationale

Designed to support inquiry, webquests aim to prompt higher-level thinking among students. The webquest model includes five steps that guide students through the process of locating and analyzing web resources in pursuit of an answer to an organizing question. Students work with multiple sources to answer their question and have to analyze, synthesize, apply, and create. The webquest model also includes assessments that provide students with explicit information about how they will be evaluated.

Description

The webquest process is, on its surface, a very simple system consisting of a five-part structure for guiding students through an inquiry-related activity. Webquests include information in each of five categories:

  • introduction;
  • task description;
  • process for the webquest;
  • description of evaluation; and
  • conclusion

Webquests function as a pedagogical ecosystem of sorts, providing a common language for students and teachers that makes explicit the processes of learning.

Teacher Preparation

To prepare a webquest, teachers must understand the five parts of a webquest. The most important part of a webquest is the task. High quality webquests have an intriguing and clearly focused task or question to prompt inquiry. Much of the work in preparing webquests is locating and vetting web resources and then developing the process for students to engage these resources. Teachers should take great care to locate sources that are developmentally appropriate for their students and are of sufficient complexity to encourage in-depth thinking without leading to confusion or information overload.

In the Classroom

This classroom description provides details on a sample webquest that addresses the question, What can we learn from President Abraham Lincoln about using new technologies to improve our quality of life? Included below for each section of this webquest is:

  • a handout for classroom use; and
  • an explanation for the teacher that describes how this webquest and others might be used in the classroom.

Sample:
Introduction: (See Handout 1)
President Lincoln’s role as commander in chief during the Civil War defined his presidency. From the beginning of his presidency Lincoln was consumed with the war effort. He took office on March 4, 1861, and just 39 days later Confederate forces opened fire on Fort Sumter in South Carolina. The war did not end until five days before Lincoln’s death in April of 1865. Lincoln was a wartime president for 1,458 of the 1,503 days he was in office, so obviously the war occupied a lot of his time and energy. You probably already knew that Lincoln was president during the Civil War, but might not have known that the war took up 97% of the time he was president. Another thing you might not know about President Lincoln is that he was very interested in new technologies. In fact, Lincoln is the only U.S. president to hold a patent. Lincoln lived at a time when many influential technologies were invented. These new technologies brought big changes for people in the middle of the 19th century, just like new technologies do today. For us, technologies such as the computer and cell phone have improved our quality of life. New technologies in 19th century such as the steam engine and telegraph likewise improved the quality of life for people living back then.

Explanation: The introduction to a webquest should initiate a process and introduce themes, general ideas, and concepts to students. The introduction should grab students’ attention. A good introduction should also situate new ideas in prior knowledge while framing the activity within some well-known ideas. This introduction uses the Civil War as a frame and reminds students that the war lasted for almost the entire Lincoln presidency. The introduction suggests to students that new technologies often improve our quality of life. Students are also introduced to the idea that Lincoln was interested in technology, and was the only president to hold a patent.

Task: (See Handout 2)
In this webquest, you will play the role of the current president’s technology advisor. The president has asked you to investigate Lincoln’s historical use of technology to better understand how to make good use of technologies today. You will examine online sources with information about Lincoln’s uses of technology and answer questions about President Lincoln’s use of these technologies.

As a final product, you will write a one-page report presenting recommendations for applying the lessons learned from Lincoln to our uses of technologies today. The question guiding your work is:

What can we learn from President Abraham Lincoln about using new technologies to improve our quality of life?

Explanation: The task in a webquest is a description of learning activities. Often, tasks are organized around authentic or roleplay activities. Webquests should be question driven and thus should incorporate some element of inquiry or discovery. Good webquests are typically focused on creativity, problem solving, analysis, evaluation, insight, complexity, and/or application. In other words, higher-level, sophisticated student engagement is a hallmark of a good webquest. The task should also include the outcome or form of students’ final product. This webquest requires students to apply knowledge about the past to a current context. Students are expected to investigate specific websites to learn more about Lincoln’s views on new technologies. By playing the role of an advisor to the president, students can work in a simulated context while making an authentic application of what they have learned.

Process: (See Handout 3 for websites and questions)
You will need to read materials on the web pages listed below. For each page, you should answer the supporting questions listed below the link to the web page. After you have read materials on all the web pages and answered all the questions, you should prepare your report.

Your report should be a minimum of one page (250 words) and should include the following elements.

  1. Your name and the title of your report
  2. A listing of all your sources
  3. A summary of the information in each source. Use the answers to your questions to write your summaries.
  4. Your recommendations for the current president. Remember, you are writing recommendations for the current president. You should include recommendations for promoting and using new technologies to improve our quality of life. You need to explain to the president what we can learn from Abraham Lincoln about new technologies. You can include any historic or current events that you think will be useful in making your recommendations. In sum, your recommendations should be relevant, creative, and reflective of the experiences of President Lincoln.

Explanation: The process step of the webquest model describes the specific activities that students will engage when conducting their webquest. The process must be detailed, sequenced, and well organized. Process in a webquest should look a lot like procedures in a lesson plan, only the process should be written for the students.

In the process include:

  • a listing of specific websites or web pages and directions for how students are to use these resources;
  • directions for how the final product should be assembled; and
  • specific directions for completing the final project.

The process for this webquest is focused on students’ readings five web pages and answering 10 questions to support their reading. The web pages vary in length and complexity. The shortest is from Union Pacific Railroad and is less than 350 words. The longest, Lincoln’s 1857 lecture, is almost 3,500 words. Students may not have time or the ability to read all of the text in Lincoln’s address. As an adaptation, this webquest suggests that students read at minimum the first four paragraphs. For this webquest, the final product is a report to the president of the United States making recommendations for promoting and using new technologies.

Description for Evaluation: (See Handout 4 for rubric)
Your final product will be evaluated using this rubric. Make sure you read the criteria carefully.

Explanation: Evaluations in the webquest model are designed as rubrics. Each rubric includes criteria for completing the activity, which is listed in the far left column and performance levels along the top row. In each cell are descriptions of the specific measurement of quality related to the given score. The criteria for this webquest include two content items and a writing criterion. You might have more detailed criteria, but will probably want to limit the criteria to five or six total.

Conclusion: (See Handout 4)
This webquest focuses on the historical uses of technology by President Abraham Lincoln, with an eye on the present. One of the reasons we study the past is to help us make decisions in the present. Think about how events in the past help us better understand and act in the present. No matter what recommendations you make to the president, remember that the past is only a guide. It is impossible for the past to repeat itself, so our best bet is to make wise use of information about the past given the unique circumstances of the present.

Explanation: The conclusion is a summative statement that ties the webquest project together and provides additional motivation for students to complete the work. In most instances, students will read the conclusion before they complete their work. Sometimes, they may read the conclusion before they begin the work. For this reason, conclusions should not include the “answer” to the webquest. A good conclusion might also include a prompt for students to learn more. In the conclusion to this webquest, students are reminded that history can be used to help us in the present, but we must take care with making these applications.

For more information 

For more information about the webquest strategy and collections of webquests please see these resources:

Other related web inquiry and webquest resources:

  • Web Inquiry Projects
  • Margaret M. Thombs, Maureen M. Gillis, and Alan S. Canestrari, Using WebQuests in the Social Studies Classroom: A Culturally Responsive Approach (Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2008)

For additional webquests about President Abraham Lincoln visit Questgarden. Click search and enter Lincoln. Here are a few specific examples.

For more on Lincoln’s uses of technology:

  • Mr. Lincoln's T-Mails
  • Lincoln Telegrams
  • Robert V. Bruce, Lincoln and the Tools of War (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois, 1989) (for an excerpt, click here)
  • Jason Emerson, Lincoln the Inventor (Carbondale, IL: SIU, 2009)

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