How do you orient students to to the library? Put them in a classroom and show them the website? Walk them around in a giant herd, pointing out the important spaces? That’s how we at North Carolina State University Libraries were doing it, too. And we were finding ourselves a little disappointed. Wouldn’t it be better, we thought, if we could get the students out into the library, actually engaging with staff, exploring the spaces, and discovering the collections themselves?
Background & Rationale
We had long felt that classroom-based library orientation had inherent flaws and we had tried several alternatives, including a scavenger hunt. Although the scavenger hunt was popular, it was not sustainable: it took a significant amount of work to hide paper clues around the library before each hunt and the activity could not be scaled up to meet the needs of over a hundred ENG 101 classes per semester. So, we focused our efforts on enhancing traditional classroom-based instruction and creating online tutorials.
In 2011, I held a focus group with several instructors in the First Year Writing Program, and the message was clear: they believed that students would benefit from more face-to-face library instruction and that instruction should be more active and engaging. This confirmed my gut feeling that, while online tutorials can be very effective at delivering content, they do not necessarily promote our “affective” goals of reducing library-related anxiety and fostering confidence in using the library’s collections and spaces. After classroom instruction, we distribute a short survey that asks students if they remain confused about how to find information, about whom to ask for help, about how to navigate the physical spaces of the library, or anything else. The most common response by far – from 44% of surveyed students – was that they still didn’t feel comfortable finding their way around our large library, which is in fact four merged buildings. We needed to develop an activity that would simultaneously teach students about our collections and services, introduce them to critical library staff, and help them learn their way around the library’s spaces.
It was with this feedback in mind that two colleagues — Adam Rogers and Adrienne Lai — and I revisited the idea of the scavenger hunt in March 2011. Since the last scavenger hunt attempt in 2010, mobile devices and the cloud based apps that run on them had become mainstream. If we could develop a scavenger hunt that relied on mobile technology, such as iPod Touches, and which didn’t rely on students finding paper clues throughout the library, we might be able to sustain and scale it.
We first investigated out-of-the-box scavenger hunt solutions such as SCVNGR and Scavenger Hunt With Friends, which were appealing in that they were self contained and provided automatic scoring. However, we did not have a budget for the project and discovered that the free versions could not meet our needs. Furthermore, apps that rely on GPS coordinates to display challenges and questions did not work reliably inside our building.
Ultimately, we decided we needed to come up with something ourselves that would allow students to submit answers to scavenger hunt questions “mobilely”, automatically calculate scores or allow us to score student answers rapidly, and enable us to display results and provide feedback at the end of the 50 minute activity. Our eventual solution made use of traditional approaches to scavenger hunts, in the form of paper maps and clue sheets, alongside novel cloud-based technologies such as Evernote and Google Docs.
The Scavenger Hunt in 50 Minutes
0:00-10:00: A class arrives at the library classroom and is greeted by a librarian, who introduces the activity and divides the group into 3-5 teams of about 4 students. Each team gets a packet with a list of 15 questions and an iPod Touch. The iPod Touches are already logged into Evernote accounts assigned to each team.
10:00-35:00: Teams disperse into the library to discover the answers to their 15 questions. Some questions require text-based answers; others prompt students to submit a photo. We ask them to introduce themselves to and take a photo with a librarian, to find a book in the stacks and take a photo of it as evidence, and to find the collection of circulating DVD’s, among other things. Each answer is submitted as an Evernote note. While students are exploring the library, a librarian monitors the teams’ Evernote accounts (which have been shared with our master account) and scoring their answers using a GoogleDocs spreadsheet. Meanwhile, another library staff member copies student photos into a PowerPoint document to run while students return at the end of the hunt.
35:00-50:00: At the end of 25 minutes, students return to the classroom, where a slideshow displays the photos they took, the correct answers to the questions, and a URL to a short survey about the activity. After all team members have returned, the librarians reveal the teams’ scores, declare a winning team, and distribute prizes.
The scavenger hunt has been very popular with both students and faculty. In the two semesters we have been offering the hunt (Fall 2011 and Spring 2012), we have facilitated over 90 hunts and reached over 1,600 students. 91% of surveyed students considered the activity fun and enjoyable, 93% said they learned something new about the library, and 95% indicated that they felt comfortable asking a staff member for help after having completed the activity. Instructors find the activity worthwhile as well. One ENG 101 faculty member wrote that the “activity engaged students… on a level that led to increased understanding, deeper learning, and almost complete recall of important library functions.”
Lessons Learned & Adjustments
After almost 100 scavenger hunts, we have learned how to optimize this activity for our target audiences. First we discovered that, for our institution, this scavenger hunt works best when scheduled for a class. Often, however, one instructor would schedule scavenger hunts for three consecutive sections of a class. In these cases, we learned to use only half our iPods for the first session. In the second session, while the second half of the iPods were in use, the first half would be refreshed and made ready for the last group of students.
In the very early scavenger hunts in Fall 2011, students reported lagginess with the iPods and occasional crashing of Evernote. However, since some critical iOS and Evernote updates, this has not been a problem.
Finally, after an unexpected website outage, we learned how dependent our activity was on the functionality of our website. We now keep an ‘emergency’ version of our scavenger hunt questions in case of another outage.
More details about implementing the NCSU Libraries Mobile Scavenger Hunt are available on the NCSU Libraries’ website.
About Our Guest Author: Anne Burke is Undergraduate Instruction & Outreach Librarian at NCSU Libraries. She holds an MSLIS from Syracuse University and an MA in Education from Manhattanville College. She like to explore new and exciting ways to teach students about information.