Tablet in HandsI’ve been doing a lot of reading and writing about webquests lately, since I launched Rockin’ Webquests. I thought it’d be interesting, then, to dive into the research a little bit. This is an area where I’ve heard a lot and been told a lot, but I don’t know that I’ve read much of the research literature supporting it.

In today’s article, Chang experiments with using the webquest model to guide an outdoor learning experience on a mobile device. It’s an intriguing idea.

Here’s the full citation for the article:

Chang, C., Tzung-Shi, C., & Wei-Hsiang, H. (2011). The study on integrating WebQuest with mobile learning for environmental education. Computers & Education, 57(1), 1228-1239.

The Experimental Unit Design

Let’s start with the research design. This is a design based study, and I really like the concept.

The goal was to teach students about the environment. They posited that a webquest would be a good way to enact a project based learning task, based on their prior research and their lit review. However, they also wanted to include an outdoor learning component (i.e. a field trip).

So they created three groups. In one control group, students received traditional instruction. In a second, students used a webquest in a computer classroom. In a third, students spent some of their time at “the treasure house” in the school and used the webquest on a mobile device.

Most of the methodology is laid out pretty clearly. They explain what the tasks were for the webquest, and they explain the components. The most lacking part, though, is some description of this “treasure house.”

What is it? How long did the students spend there? They worked on three tasks (a learning sheet, a presentation, and a website). Were they in the treasure house the entire time, or did they go there to collect data and then return to the classroom to finish their projects?

I’m a little bit confused.

Their Analysis and Findings

They collected data in the form of a pre-test and a post-test, as well as student performances on the individual webquest tasks. There were a lot of numbers, and I’m not a huge fan of quantitative studies. But, they found a significant improvement in the first task (the learning sheet) for the experimental group. In the other tasks, there was no significant difference between the group that used the webquest outdoors and the other webquest group.

This makes me ask a couple of questions. Was the learning sheet the part that most concerned the outdoor experience? As near as I can tell, it is. In that case, it seems that that should be the area where students would benefit the most from the treasure house.

Second, how precise are these values that you’re comparing? They’re basically comparing rubric scores for the students’ projects. Is that really an accurate measure of what they learned?

Sure, an assessment should show us that a student learned something. They’re demonstrating learning. But the number they get doesn’t equate to a level of learning. A full score on a rubric is a perfectly satisfactory project, but three students could give very different projects, learn very different things, and all get full credit on the rubric.

I can’t help but think that you’d get much more useful data if you had interviewed the kids. Have a couple focus groups and talk to them about their experience using the mobile devices in the field. Were they useful? Did they enjoy it? Was being out and about helpful?

After all, aren’t those the questions you really want to answer?

My Takeaways – Webquests on Mobile Devices

My takeaway from this article is that a webquest on a mobile device is a pretty cool idea. I’d never thought about it.

For example, let’s say you take kids to a museum. You could let them explore. You could give them a scavenger hunt worksheet to complete. Or, you could guide their learning with a webquest.

Structure the task before hand, introduce it, provide some extra resources for them to browse, and let them loose in the museum (or where-ever the field trip is). This is a perfect application of a webquest, because you can’t be there to guide each group. You need the device and the website to do it for you.

My main concern would be that 95% of webquests are ugly, poorly designed, and probably would not render well on a mobile device. They might work out well on a full size tablet (an iPad or a 10″ Android tablet), but they’re going to look horrible on a smartphone or a mini tablet.

I’m working on a guide to creating your own webquests that I’m going to publish on Rockin’ Webquests later in the month. I hadn’t thought about it before, but I’m wondering now if I need a section on mobile browser, mobile design, and responsive themes. Hmm…