Journal reference: Computer Networks and ISDN Systems, Volume 28, issues 711, p. 1307.
1Center for LifeLong Learning and Design
2Boulder Valley Schools
Corrina Perrone1, David Clark2, and Alexander Repenning1
Department of Computer Science and Institute of Cognitive Science
Campus Box 430
University of Colorado, Boulder CO 80309
(303) 492-1503, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
fax: (303) 492-2844
6500 Arapahoe Rd
Boulder, CO 80301
(303) 447-1010, firstname.lastname@example.org
fax: (303) 492-2844
1Center for LifeLong Learning and Design
2Boulder Valley Schools
At the Center for LifeLong Learning and Design, our use of technology in education has focused on blending constructionist systems, in the form of interactive simulations, with the support of network media, such as the World Wide Web [1,9]. Constructionism, based on the constructivist ideas of Piaget that stress that knowledge is constructed from a child's experiences in the world, proposes that people best construct new knowledge when they are engaged in personally-meaningful tasks . In contrast, a more traditional, instructionist approach in the classroom treats a student as an empty vessel to be filled with facts. Ideally, these approaches should be combined, for on their own, they each lack a crucial element of the learning process. Instructionist methods often neglect the hands-on practical experience that constructionist methods stress, and constructionist methods stress de-contextualized doing with little or no intervention or presentation of fundamental material.
Simply turning students loose on World Wide Web browsers combines the worst of both of these approaches. Students are exposed to a huge information space of instructionist material with no focus. In this way, the technology becomes a step back, rather than a step forward. Current Internet browsers were designed for the cross-platform distribution of multimedia information, and this useful feature is often an impediment to comprehensive, interactive, participatory applications for education. The majority of sites on the web have been developed for commercial or entertainment reasons, and allowing students to websurf in class may entertain them, but learning is questionable. The challenge for technology in the classroom is to provide a high level of engagement and to support the learning process as well  .
This paper presents a system called WebQuest, describes the roles of teachers and students using WebQuest, presents our experiences in classes of various K12 grades, and outlines our plans for future development.
Educational games are usually more successful in an entertainment or game context than an educational one. A few, such as SimCity®, Carmen San Diego®, and various Multi-User Dungeons/dimensions (MUDs/MOOs) have been used effectively for education [2,3,14] . We have combined an Internet Scavenger hunt, or quest, with an interactive simulation game to create a software package called WebQuest. WebQuest is an educational game for K12 classrooms, designed to help students gain internet research skills while researching answers to questions relevant to current classroom curricula.
WebQuest attempts to go beyond games like Carmen San Diego® by allowing players to author games as well as play them. This means that not only can students take on the role of player in the game, but that they can change roles from player to author, designing and constructing quests (consisting of a questworld, and questpages, which will be explained below) for themselves and other players. Additionally, quests are linked to real WWW sites, and not only pages provided by the game's authors.
MUDs/MOOs-where MOOs are object-oriented versions of MUDs-allow the notion of authors and players. However, sometimes these roles are distinct, in that a player must acquire a certain level of proficiency before s/he can progress from player to author. Currently, MUDs and MOOs are text-based. Therefore, they may be accessible to the web, but all interaction within them is done within the bounds of the game, and textually. WebQuest allows the entire WWW to be used as a resource within the game, and includes multimodal authorship. Quest authors build rich visual quests that incorporate sound as well as text, graphics, and even programmed behaviors.
SimCity® includes complex construction and simulation components, beautiful visual feedback, and sound. The focus in the game is learning by doing--players are authors. Authors can even change the visual appearance of the game objects. They are limited, however, by simulation behavior. If, for example, one wishes to add bikepaths to SimCity, which are not included, it cannot be done. The simulation acts as its creators intended, and may not be affected by players of the game. Although students learn valuable concepts of complex, hidden causal relationships, they must adapt information from outside the game to the game itself, and can not change the game based on their learning of related material. In WebQuest, authors can build questworlds that differ radically from those provided, in both appearance and behavior, and are encouraged to incorporate research resources on the WWW into their quests as they construct knowledge.
Participation in a design process provides rich opportunities for learning [4,16] Learning happens by active participation in the formulation and construction of personally meaningful artifacts  In this case, artifacts are quests created by WebQuest teachers or students who wish to be authors. Designing a quest gives authors ownership and control of a questworld, and allows them to integrate knowledge about a quest's theme with knowledge acquired from the WWW and knowledge about game construction. The presence of an audience has an effect on the learning process. The artifact is framed, executed, reflected upon, and perhaps revised with the audience in mind. By combining an interactive simulation game and the WWW, we enable learning by acquisition, but also by design, construction, and reflection. Learning by players and authors in WebQuest is summarized in Figure 1.
|Player|| - navigate |
- collect objects
- solve quests
- feedback to quest authors
| - WWW research skills |
- theme knowledge
| - engaged in game|
- interest in theme material
|Author|| -authoring questworlds |
- create questpages
- construct the quest gameboard, new game objects and their behaviors
- incorporate feedback from players
| - design skills|
- programming skills
- navigation skills
| - audience: to share new quests with others.
- to build new things that contribute to, or extend the game
- to surpass previous quests
Each agent has sensors and effectors that allow it to communicate with the user or other agents. Sensors include mouse, keyboard and microphone input. Effectors can be used to animate agents, send messages to other agents, to play sounds or even to speak via voice synthesizers. WebQuest features a number of predefined agents including knights, musketeers, paths, and trees (Figure 2). For WebQuest, Agentsheets was extended to use AppleEvents to control the Netscape Navigator WWW browser. This capability was added to the behavior of various game objects, such as scrolls, so that the connection between the game environment in Agentsheets and the WWW environment of Netscape Navigator would be as seamless as possible to the students and teachers using the game, and still not diminish functionality from either of the systems. For more information about Agentsheets, see: http://www.cs.colorado.edu/~l3d/systems/agentsheets/.
WebQuest was created to be a constructionist learning environment. There are two kind of users. Authors are users creating worlds such as in figure 2. A world represents a quest containing little puzzles that need to be solved by the players of the game.
The player sees both the game environment (Agentsheets), and the WWW browser (Netscape Navigator) on the screen at the same time. They choose their game identity from a palette of Renaissance characters (figure 3), and place it onto the gameboard. The gameboard is the visual representation of the questworld, and contains a maze of roads winding through trees and over and around rivers and lakes. It is filled with dragons, greedy ferryboat men, and other objects, such as rocks, trees, doors, jewels, ships, purses of money, and keys. Each of the gameboard components has associated behaviors and attributes that the player discovers as the game proceeds. Attributes of game objects can be connections to questpages, which are WWW pages that contain questions that must be answered to obtain an object for later use.
In figure 2, the student's character is the knight navigating the path around the lake. Minimal information is provided at the outset, and clues about how to play are obtained by trial. The player wanders around the gameboard by using the cursor keys, exploring objects and actions which give hints about what is required to progress to the next level. A player soon learns that keys open the doors that separate a dragon from the playing field, and that keys are obtained by answering the questions posed by scrolls. Players can accumulate wealth, sail ships to other worlds, find jewels and other objects-each earned by research contributing to the knowledge about the theme of the quest.
Max, the teacher of a middle school science class is about to teach a module on the Solar System. Traditionally, he would simply hand out information, assign reading, and write or draw additional material on the blackboard. After giving his lectures and discussing the reading in the science book, he would give his students a test covering the material, and then the class would proceed to the next subject-plants and photosynthesis. He knows the Solar System is a unit that can be particularly interesting to students, and that photographs from the Hubble Telescope and the Galileo space probe have not yet made it into textbooks but are available on the WWW. He decides to incorporate these new photographs, and other sites with planetary information by using WebQuest to teach the Solar System module. This way, the students can use the WWW to find these various sites and share them with the class. Max splits up the class into teams of 4. Each team is given a specific subtopic, related to the Solar System for which they will have to create a learning quest. One team works on planets and motion.
Using Internet search engines available, such as Yahoo and others, the authors quickly find two URLs of interest. The first site is called "Views of the Solar System", and the second is called "Solar System Live". Browsing these two sites, they discover that one has a great deal of information on the planets in the solar system, their moons and characteristics, and the other contains an interactive display that, when given a date and time, will illustrate the position in orbit of all the planets in the solar system. Using these pages and the information they contain, they formulate a list of topic-related questions that other members of the class will need to answer to solve PlanetQuest. Students type this information into the Agentsheets environment, and an HTML file (questpage) is automatically created for them by the system in their game folder.
After much discussion, the group decides to make the dragon's question something that must be discovered by navigating several links into the "Views of the Solar System" website. Going back and forth between the gameboard they are developing and that website, they formulate what they believe is a suitably hard question and finally, the dragon is programmed with this question, and its answer. When the teacher announces that the class time is over, this group is busy adding a ship and guardian ferryman to finalize the gameboard. They save their work, and eagerly look forward to the next week, when they will trade quests with another team, who is working on a quest about stars and galaxies.
Players learn to navigate the web for research, i.e. clicking on links to travel to a different site to search for information. In addition to containing the question, a questpage (figure 4) may provide hints about the source of the answer to help players get started. They then need to navigate to a relevant site on the web to gather the particular piece of information that will answer the scroll. In figure 4, below, a player from the stars and galaxies group reads a scroll in PlanetQuest. This opens Netscape to the proper questpage. To obtain the key, the player must identify the four major moons of Jupiter. The answer can be found at the site "Views of the Solar System". Links are provided to the Yahoo Search Engine, the Boulder Valley School District Home Page, and a hint clue links the page directly to the "Views of the Solar System" site. The player decides to select that link as a starting point and after some browsing, finds the "Moons of Jupiter" page. When the player tries to grab the key beneath the scroll, she is prompted for the answer, and types in "Callisto", "Europa", "Io", and "Ganymede". The system announces that she has successfully obtained the key.
Armed with her key, she decides to immediately go to the dragon. When she tried to open the door the first time, she learned she had to obtain a key before the door would open, so this time she knows that she can get past the door. The dragon's question, however, is a hard one. "Where is the Long Valley Caldera?", it asks. Since the dragon is not connected to a questpage, she is not given any clues about where to find the answer. Indeed, she does not even know what a "caldera" is. Deciding the answer must be connected to one of the scrolls on the gameboard, she goes to the next one, and opens it.
This questpage (see figure 5) asks the Right Ascension of the planet Mercury at the time of the Signing of the Declaration of Independence. To acquire this key, she must not only research Right Ascension of the planet Mercury for that date, but learn how to fruitfully interact with a WWW form as well. The Solar System Live Web Page (see figure 6), gives a picture of the alignment of the planets at any requested date and time. Other pages from that site show the definition of Right Ascension, as well as other celestial coordinate, or ephemeris, data and the ability to track comets and asteroids. After several attempts, she is able to answer this scroll correctly, but is no further toward answering the dragon's question, because she did not find any caldera information at the Solar System Live site. She remembers that she still has the first scroll however, and opens it to return to the "Views of the Solar System" website. After browsing through almost every page in that site, she finds the definition of "caldera" and the location answer she is seeking. Triumphantly, she finishes the quest.
The students were delighted with the design features, and even more thrilled to learn they could create their own quests. A few quickly discarded the worksheet provided and began creating their own playing environments. These students progressed from creating scenarios connecting roads and rivers in ways that were similar to the initial worksheet, to radically new ideas, such as groups of islands that had to be navigated with ships. One even disregarded the notion of a game, and used the palette elements to create a piece of computer art.
The ability to control their environment by building gameboards and navigating their own way to quest answers on the WWW was a large contributing factor in the students positive learning experiences with the program. While some explored the design elements, two students teamed up to look for ways to cheat and gleefully announced their discoveries when they came up with ways to circumvent the answer checking mechanism and obtain game objects without researching the answers. (This bug in the system has since been fixed.)
Others delved into the web and moved fluidly from web page to web page in search of the answers. These students were proud of the fact that they were able to reach the dragon and answer its question honestly to pass onto the next level.
Although the students in the third category modeled the results we were hoping for, we were constantly surprised at the discoveries and creations by the students who fell into the former categories. In all cases, we had to pull the students away after the hour and a half session was over. There was no shortage of creative suggestions for ways to make the game do what they wished. "We need a chainsaw", "It would be cool if you could fall into traps", and "I want to make a dungeon, I need some steps" were just a few of the comments we received. Additional classroom use is scheduled for March 1996 to further test WebQuest's authoring interface.
We noticed that a possible gender split occurred at this level, as well. All ten reacted favorably to the game, except the two girls in the group, who thought it was "ok". Further testing needs to be done to determine why this happened, and what might be changed in the game to encourage girls to participate. Two of the students are now involved as authors of a quest game for the middle school students to play. These authors will chose a theme, develop questpages and the questworld, and participate in giving their quest to the middle school students.
Local networks can enable rich communication in a classroom. Computers are often very close together, and collaborators can communicate verbally or reach over and point at the screen of their own or another's machine. An Agentsheets extension called Common Ground allows students to take advantage of this valuable face-to-face communication. Rather than sharing one computer, students can work on a task, design and manipulate graphical objects and behaviors, observe and participate in the creation of a shared artifact and construct knowledge in a social setting through multiple computers, effectively making WebQuest a MUD.
WebQuest has been combined with the Agentsheets Common Ground to create a MUD environment where groups of students can both play and design quests together. We have worked on designing a quest specifically to encourage the collaborative process in the classroom, whereby multiple students solve the quest by collectively searching the web, and communicating with each other to answer a question, posed by a dragon, whose solution can not be found on any single web page.
Further work in WebQuest will progress further along these lines. We will test our collaboration mechanisms, and implement the WebQuest Explorium, which will be a repertory of completed quests, new game objects and their behaviors, author profiles, results from student tests, as well as other help and hints for both playing and authoring quests.
David Clark is a technology instructor at Platt Middle School in Boulder, Colorado, USA. He also serves as the Webmaster for the Boulder Valley School District (http://bvsd.k12.co.us) and is the author of "The student's Guide to the Internet" (Alpha '95, 2nd edition due in August '96).
Alexander Repenning is a research assistant professor and member of the Center for Lifelong Learning and Design at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He has worked in research and development at Asea Brown Boveri, Xerox PARC, and Hewlett Packard. Repenning has also been a consultant for Apple Computer Inc. His research interests include education and computers, end-user programming, interactive learning and simulation environments, human-computer interaction, and artificial intelligence. Repenning received his Ph.D. in computer science and the certificate of cognitive science from the University of Colorado in 1993. Repenning is a member of ACM (SIGCHI).