Adapting and Enhancing
Existing WebQuests

Creating a WebQuest from scratch might seem like a daunting task, no matter how enthusiastic you are about the format. It takes a certain level of technical skill, familiarity with the subject matter, and time to round up appropriate links. Fortunately there are thousands of WebQuests in existence out on the web. How many? Try typing the word WebQuest into Google and see what you get.

Most of those WebQuests were developed by humans in a hurry just like you. Because of their work, you no longer need to begin with a blank screen before you.

The purpose of this page is to walk you through the process of taking advantage of the WebQuests that others have already done. The steps can also be seen in the form of a diagram.

Step 1: Choose a Standard or Topic

The design of good learning begins at the end. What do you want your learners to know and be able to do at the end of the experience. It's tempting, especially with the allure of the web, to launch headlong into looking for flashy web sites and dreaming up activities to engage your students. That can come later. As a starting point, you need to get clear about your goals.

In most U.S. states these days, that means identifying a curriculum standard. In case you don't have your state's standards memorized yet, you can look them up in Education World's excellent standards page. A few clicks away from the top page you can find recommended national standards (e.g., Math, Social Studies) or by states or provinces (e.g. California, Missouri, Texas, Alberta).

Choose a standard that you think will lend itself to the use of information from the web and which will require understanding, analysis, synthesis, problem solving or creativity. Don't try to make a WebQuest out of a standard that merely asks for low-level recall.

Step 2: Search for Existing WebQuests

Where do you find good WebQuests? Your first stop should be the matrix of examples on the SDSU WebQuest site. There are hundreds of WebQuests there that have been selectively chosen from submissions and mining other sites all over the web. Many of these lessons, however, have not been updated since their debut, and their links are slowly going bad. These would be prime candidates for a makeover by you. To help you locate what you're looking for, use the search engine at the site and limit your search to the matrix.

To cast your net more widely, use the Advanced Search window at Google and type in as specific a set of terms as you can. If you simply look for the word "WebQuest", you'll come up with over 300,000 pages to look at. Since you probably don't have time for that, tighten up the search. If you were looking for WebQuests about the Boston Tea Party and were also hoping to hit a few curriculum standards having to do with persuasive writing and speaking, you might do a search like this:

As of this writing, this particular search netted over 60 WebQuests. How many did you find for your topic?

Step 3: Determine if You Can Use One As Is

3A. It may well be that someone exactly as creative and brilliant as you have already developed the WebQuest you're looking for. If that's the case, there's no sense reinventing that wheel. If you can use it without changing a thing, go ahead and do it and skip the next seven steps.

3B. Another possibility is that you'll find a quest that needs only minor adaptations. If the process requires a lab and you don't have one, or the textbook used in your room is different than one mentioned in the lesson, then perhaps you can get by with a change page. That is simply a web page to accompany the existing WebQuest that describes how to modify the lesson to make it work in your setting. You may need two such pages, actually, one for students and one for other teachers.

Back to Square 1. A third possibility is that you've found absolutely no WebQuests that hit the topic that you had in mind. That seems increasingly unlikely based on the sheer number of WebQuests being born every month, but it might happen. If that's the case, consider going back to Step 1 and picking a different standard to work on. (Or jump off of this page altogether and create your own WebQuest from scratch.)

On to 4. The fourth possibility is the one that this page is designed for: you've found one or more existing WebQuests that teach what you're interested in but they aren't quite right for your situation.


Step 4: Select Those with High Potential

So now you've got one or more existing WebQuests that intrigue you that aren't exactly what you need. How do you decide whether it's worth fixing up?

An ideal WebQuest would have (among other things) these qualities:

  1. Links are all working and up to date.
  2. Pages are attractively laid out and free of spelling, grammar and technical errors.
  3. The Task is engaging and requires higher level thinking.
  4. What is learned aligns well with your standards.
  5. The readability level and tone matches well with your students.

How do you determine whether there's enough there to work with? As a rule of thumb, follow the 60% rule. If 3 out of 5 of the desirable qualities are there, then it's probably worth the effort to go for the other 40%.

Step 5: Identify Changes Needed

So how much work is this going to be? The next step is to go through each lesson in detail and stack them up against some idealized WebQuest that takes full advantage of the format. To do that, print out a copy of the WebQuest Evaluation Rubric and give a score to each candidate for adapting. A perfect score on the rubric is 50.

Take note of each dimension on which the candidates fall short. From this, generate a to-do list for each lesson.

Step 6: Get Author Permission

As you know, just because something can be easily accessed on the web doesn't make it free. Unless the author of a WebQuest has already explicitly given permission for others to modify and repost their work, you need to ask.

How do you track down the authors? Sometimes it's simple. They've put their e-mail address on the lesson and the address still works. Often, though, WebQuests are written by University students who have since moved on to new realms. If that's the case, try contacting the faculty member who taught the course. To find that person, try trimming back the URL to find a directory of other WebQuests created in that course. The faculty member will either help you find the author or give you assurance that your re-use of the lesson is OK.

In writing to the author, tell them who you are and what you're about, and what appealed to you about their lesson. Share with them the preliminary list of things you'd like to do to bring their WebQuest up to the next level. Tell them also that you would like to include the following statement which also appears in the templates for all new WebQuests.

"We all benefit by being generous with our work. Permission is hereby granted for other educators to copy this WebQuest, update or otherwise modify it, and post it elsewhere provided that the original author's name is retained along with a link back to the original URL of this WebQuest. On the line after the original author's name, you may add 'Modified by (your name) on (date)'. If you do modify it, please let me know and provide the new URL."

Past experience tells us that 99 times out of 100, the author will be happy to grant you permission. Be sure to thank them in the Credits section (and add a Credits section if it doesn't already exist.)

What if you can't find the author? There are two ways you might go. The prudent approach is simply to pick another WebQuest to work on. A less cautious response would be to act now and apologize if needed later. If you take that path, include a statement in the WebQuest discussing how you tried to get hold of the author and inviting them to write to you. State that you'll take the page down if they object. Chances are, they'll be happy to see their work revived.

Step 7: Download the WebQuest

For simple one-page WebQuests, the process of capturing the file is fairly straightforward. Even if Internet Explorer is your preferred browser, launch an up to date version of Netscape or Mozilla, go to the site and look under the File menu in your browser. Choose Edit Page and you'll have a copy of the page you're looking at, including all graphics, ready to edit in Netscape Composer, Mozilla, or the web editor of your choice.

For complex web documents, particularly those that use frames, you will find it easier if you use a specialized piece of software to capture the pages. For Mac OS X, there is Web Dumper. For Windows, there are WinWeb, Offline Commander and the freeware HTTrack. For the commercial products, you can usually download a demo version and try it out.

Step 8: Modify and Enhance

Now it's time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. With your To-Do list at hand, tackle the changes you've already identified. Here are some additional resources that might prove helpful to you:

Fine Points - a set of 14 small changes that make a big difference in how professional your pages look

Sources of graphics - need pics? This page will link you to clip art that's free to use.

WebQuest Design Patterns is the new preferred way to create WebQuests from scratch. Look at this page for ideas on how to modify the Task, Process and Evaluation sections into a coherent whole.


Step 9: Evaluate and Revise as Needed

At some point, you'll need to get an outside opinion about the changes you've made. It's good to do this in stages.

Peer review for mechanics: Corral your spouse, neighbors and dog into looking at your page for the kind of errors that spell checkers miss. Ask for feedback on aesthetics.

Peer review for content: Have another teacher, especially one from the appropriate grade or content area, look it over and make suggestions.

Learner tryouts: Test it with real learners in a real setting. Where do they get confused? How long does it take? Were all links working and engaging? Did they need help in making sense of what you exposed them to? Watch carefully and revise accordingly.

Take careful notes on all this feedback and decide what changes need to be made. When all revisions are in place, score your new version with the WebQuest Evaluation Rubric. How many points did you gain?

Step 10: Publish and Share

Now that you've done all this work, let's get the new improved lesson out there where others can take advantage of it. The best place to showcase your work is in the matrix of examples on the SDSU WebQuest site. which gets up to 7000 hits a day.

Then sit back and be prepared to receive fan mail from other teachers you'll never meet. And maybe, in a few years when your links begin to go bad, you'll get a note from someone offering to spiff up your work. Just say yes.

Copyright 2002 by Bernie Dodge. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit educational institutions to link to, reprint and make use of this material. Write for permission to translate or otherwise modify and repost.