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Webquests - an experiment
by James Frith
- 1

Recent years have witnessed an explosion in the use of personal computers in all walks of life, coupled with the almost overnight influence of powerful communication tools in the internet and email. These developments have obviously had a profound effect on mainstream education and I think it is only a matter of time before we experience significant changes in the world of ELT as a whole (1). For this reason, I feel it prudent to try to be prepared.

But why should ICT have such an impact? Computers have the potential to be an extremely learner-centred resource. Firstly there is an unlimited amount of authentic material available on the internet, along with published games and a number of rapidly improving ELT sites, which means that there is something to suit every student’s needs and interests. Because websites are updated daily, the information is also far more topical than a coursebook can ever be. But it is not just the variety that is appealing. In addition, computers combine visual, audio and kinesthetic stimuli. Motivation can also be provided through providing tasks which mirror those performed in the real world. For example, using email and chat and even designing websites provide real purposes to language use. With sufficient training, I believe that computers offer the student a gateway to genuine autonomy in language learning across all four skills.

Exciting though this sounds, my experiences with ICT in the classroom have until now been somewhat limited. I have experimented with research homework in which students have, for example, compared tabloid and broadsheet reporting styles; I have used the ‘BBC Learning English’ site to work on vocabulary from the news; I have worked with pages and texts from the internet in a similar way to which I would work with any other text, but I have always felt I am not doing justice to the vast possibilities available. I have felt in need of guidance as to how to best exploit the medium.

I also feel concern about the possible pitfalls. My knowledge of computers is limited and as such I do not feel confident in overcoming technical difficulties. Whilst on the negative issues, it is important to highlight the practicalities of cost, space, connection speed and software which I imagine will be the most important obstacles, in schools around the world, to the implementation of computer-based teaching in the near future.

When I mentioned to a colleague that I was interested in looking into ICT for my experimental practice paper, he thrust an article on ‘webquests’ into my hand. Was this what I had been looking for? In the article, Brabbs (02:39) describes a webquest as: ‘a project which uses the internet as its main source of information’. He goes on to describe the step-by-step process which involves a task modelled on a real life one. Enthused by the fact that I seemed to have found something which brought together the advantages of ICT which I mentioned above, I found an online course being run by Gavin Dudeney and Nicky Hockly called ‘The Internet – Collaborative Tasks and Project Work’ and enrolled.

1. Although my experience has taught me that ICT is already widely used on ESL and EAP courses in the UK, for example.

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