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Library Scavenger Hunt Postmortem

Last July I blogged about wanting to create a library game for our new student orientation at City Tech this Fall. As is all-too-common over the summer, time got the better of me and I didn’t have a chance to create the game I’d initially wanted to. Which is okay! What I did do, instead, is create a smaller game — a scavenger hunt — to playtest some game concepts I might want to include in a bigger game, with an eye towards expanding the game for Fall 2013 (or maybe even Spring 2013).

For the full-fledged game I want the overarching goal to be to solve a mystery about the history of City Tech:

– because the game needs content, and learning more about the college is something that’s (hopefully) interesting and relevant to all students, regardless of their major, career aspirations, and outside interests
– because lots of other academic library orientation games use this basic structure, and it seems to be a successful model

One side effect of a game centered on a mystery about the college is that it could go a small way towards making students feel more connected with the City Tech community, which I think is always a good goal at a commuter college.

That’s my overarching goal, but this is a game about learning to use the library, so what are the library-related goals? I’d like students to learn:

– the basic layout of the physical library
– our main service points and what you can do there
– the basic layout of the library website
– where to ask for help when they need it

It’s tempting to try and shove some other goals in there — how use the databases to find peer-reviewed articles, e.g. — but I think that’s too much for a game that should ideally be completable in one hour or less. We’ve got other opportunities to teach students research skills and information literacy competencies, and I think we should keep the orientation simple and straightforward.

For the smaller game I decided on a scavenger hunt primarily as a way to test some of the game moves that require students to be in the library. I wanted students to be able to complete the hunt in no more than 30 minutes. I needed the clues to fit on one sheet of paper with enough room for students to write their name and contact info to submit their completed game forms for a prize drawing (the prize was a $50 gift certificate to the City Tech Bookstore). We promoted the game by handing out game forms at the New Student Orientation Info Fair as well as by leaving a stack of forms with a sign on a table just outside the entrance to the library. The game was available for the first 3 weeks of this semester, and students returned their completed game forms to a box at the Reference Desk.

Coming up with questions for the scavenger hunt that would meet as many of my game goals as possible was more challenging than I’d anticipated. I wanted students to walk around the library and see what we have to offer, but it wasn’t initially clear to me what they should do when they got there. My first draft of the scavenger hunt asked students to provide some information about each service point, for example, how many staff members work there or how many computers are available. But a colleague wisely pointed out that those questions were, well, pretty lame. We brainstormed a bit more and came up with a new idea: we’d include a floorplan for the 2 floors of the library and ask students to label library features on the map. It was a bit of a scramble to come up with an editable image file of a floorplan, but ultimately I was able to find something usable (if rough — I’d certainly rework it in the future).

I’m pleased to say that most of the students who submitted the game form were able to successfully complete the scavenger hunt. Most of them correctly labeled the library locations on their maps, located a book on the shelf and found the call number of the book next to it, and answered a question about the Student Services page on the library website. However, the number of students who entered was… on the low side. Of the 500 copies of the game form we handed out, only 9 students submitted their completed forms to enter the prize drawing. (Sigh.)

So, what happened? I’d guess that the biggest factor is interest: despite the prize drawing, it just may not seem all that interesting to students to spend 30 minutes on a library scavenger hunt. In some ways this gets at the heart of the library orientation issue: we’ve got so many great services and resources for students as they move through their college careers, but if they’ve never encountered an academic library before they may not realize how much we can help them.

I also suspect that we let the game run for too long. Students who picked up the form right before classes started may have put it away thinking that they didn’t need to worry about it, since the game ran for 3 weeks, and ultimately may have forgotten about it. I also missed getting the form ready in time to be included in the student orientation folders, which would have been another opportunity to recruit players (especially those who didn’t stay for the Info Fair on orientation day).

Regardless of the low participation rate, I think the library scavenger hunt pilot this semester gave me some good information about how to create a library orientation game. I’m looking forward to continuing to iterate on these ideas in the future (and I welcome any suggestions or feedback!).

A Library Orientation Game?

With the summer speeding along its merry way I’ve been thinking a lot lately about student orientation. At City Tech we have what I assume is a common scenario for student orientation at commuter colleges with large student populations: students have one day for orientation during which they need to learn about the entire college and their proposed program of study. The library is but one stop on a whirlwind campus tour so we only have a few minutes with each group of students (and our campus is fairly compact). We’ve created a great handout for students that goes into their orientation packets, but there’s a limit to what we can fit on one 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper, and probably also a limit to the amount of attention that students will give to all of those papers in their orientation folder (even those printed on bright yellow paper). And at a commuter college there’s no guarantee that all students will be able to attend orientation.

Given all of these limitations, the library orientation for students seems like the perfect opportunity to create a game or use game mechanics. Orientations cover the nuts and bolts of library use: hours, layout, services, resources. These are things we know students are likely to need at some point during their college careers, but unlike with course-related research instruction, it can often be difficult to reach students with orientation-kinds of information at their point of need. Here’s an example from last semester: one day as I stepped out of my office I encountered three students sitting on the floor studying. Of course I let them know that they could use one of our group study rooms, which they were happy to do. Those rooms seem so obvious to me — they’re adjacent to the stairs that students walked up to get to the space where they sat on the floor — but clearly the students hadn’t noticed them.

Some kinds of games, like scavenger hunts or those that require players to solve a mystery, seem to lend themselves well to an orientation context, and there are lots of examples of librarians who have created orientation games along those lines. Other libraries have gone further and come up with more extensive games. At Ohio State librarians created a game called Head Hunt in which students are asked to virtually visit 11 library locations on campus to search for clues to find out who stole the head of the university’s mascot. Librarians at Cal State U at Fresno crafted a game called HML-IQ that took place over six weeks designed to both orient students to the library and included basic information literacy instruction as well.

Many of these library orientation games culminate by awarding students small prizes for completing the game, and some include a drawing or raffle for a larger prize like a gift certificate or small digital device. Other than the opportunity to learn about what the library offers that can be useful to students, there’s no real incentive for them to play an orientation game. So prizes sound good to me as they could provide an additional enticement for students to play.

There are lots of parameters to consider when creating any kind of game. How long should gameplay be? I’m thinking no more than an hour, because if the game runs longer students might lose interest or feel that they don’t have enough time to play. Should students be able to check in and out of the game over a period of days or weeks, or should the game be played straight through from start to finish? If there’s a prize we’ll need to set some time limits on the game, and I’d guess that students would be more likely to play at the beginning of the semester (or even before the start of term) than later. How can we balance game moves that require students to physically be in the library with those that can be accomplished online? (Which I assume we want, because we have services and resources available in-person and online and want students to know about both.) And, perhaps most importantly: how can we create a game that can be reused from semester to semester with only minor modifications (and associated time commitments) required by librarians?

I’ve got lots on my plate this summer so I’m not sure whether I’ll be able to do anything more than start thinking through the answers to these questions. But I’ll report back when I’ve got something more concrete, and would be interested to read suggestions or feedback in the comments.

Image credit: Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library

“Learning Through Quests and Contests: Games in Information Literacy Instruction”

Games Network member Maura Smale (I’m her!) just published an article about using games in information literacy and research instruction in the latest issue of the Journal of Library Innovation. The article reviews the ways that games-based learning has been used to teach information literacy in a variety of settings, from digital to non-digital games, in classrooms and online, and discusses benefits of games-based learning in library instruction for students and librarians. JOLI is an open access journal, and if you’re interested you can read the article on the journal’s website.

Image credit: Ewa Rozkosz