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Designing and testing a web-based
board game for teaching
information literacy skills and
testing a board
Received 1 August 2008
Accepted 10 August 2008
School of Information, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
English Department, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
School of Education and Human Services, University of Michigan-Flint, Flint, Michigan, USA, and
Brian J. Jennings, Beth St. Jean, Victor Rosenberg, Xingxing Yao and Robert L. Frost
School of Information, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA Abstract
Purpose – This paper seeks to focus on the design and testing of a web-based online board game for teaching undergraduate students information literacy skills and concepts. Design/methodology/approach – Project team members with expertise in game play, creative writing, programming, library research, graphic design and information seeking developed a web-based board game in which students used digital library resources to answer substantive questions on a scholarly topic. The project team hosted game play in a class of 75 undergraduate students. The instructor offered an extra-credit incentive to boost participation resulting in 49 students on 13 teams playing the game. Post-game focus group interviews revealed problematic features and redesign priorities. Findings – A total of six teams were successful meeting the criteria for the instructor’s grade incentive achieving a 53.1 percent accuracy rate on their answers to substantive questions about the black death; 35.7 percent was the accuracy rate for the seven unsuccessful teams. Discussed in detail are needed improvements to problematic game features such as ofﬂine tasks, feedback, challenge functionality, and the game’s black death theme.
Originality/value – Information literacy games test what players already know. Because this project’s successful teams answered substantive questions about the black death at accuracy rates 20 points higher than the estimated probability of guessing, students did the research during game play which demonstrates that games have merit for teaching students information literacy skills and concepts. Keywords Reference services, Library instruction, Video games, Design and development, Information literacy
Paper type Research paper
The authors thank the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation and Trustee David H. Stam who provided the support that enabled them to develop the Defense of Hidgeon game, sponsor and evaluate game play, and give monetary awards to game winners.
Library Hi Tech
Vol. 26 No. 4, 2008
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Undergraduates are rewarded when they master the core concepts of the academic disciplines. Simultaneously, they must master a series of skills that includes studying, time management, test taking, oral presentation, information literacy, and more. While these skills cross all of the disciplines, the skills themselves are not the focus of learning and rewards. As a consequence, students tend to ignore the academy’s informal opportunities for skill-set development and suffer the consequences. The purpose of the Storygame Project was to design, develop, and evaluate the potential of computer-based gaming for teaching incoming undergraduate students skills-set knowledge, speciﬁcally library research skills that are a key component of the information literacy skills-set.
This paper focuses on the design and testing of the web-based board game called Defense of Hidgeon: The Plague Years. The game teaches incoming undergraduate students information literacy skills, speciﬁcally, the general-to-speciﬁc model for conducting library research (Kirk, 1974). The project team recruited a class of 75 undergraduate students to play the game, interviewed them at the end of the competition, and analyzed game activity logs to ﬁnd out how often they played the game, what game features they used, what they learned about library research, and what improvements they would suggest for this game and information literacy games generally. Based on student game play and post-game interviews, four premises for the design of the Hidgeon and information literacy games are offered. Literature review
When students arrive at the academy, they are operating for the ﬁrst time in the same rich, deep, diverse information environment that faculty use to extend the discipline’s frontiers of knowledge. Knowing little about the breadth, depth, and authority of college and university library collections, new students cling to the convenience and familiarity of Google, unaware of its many limitations such as its lack of comprehensiveness, credibility, and objectivity (Fast and Campbell, 2004; Head, 2007). Relying on the web, students are not reaping the direct beneﬁts of producing better scholarship and the indirect beneﬁts of learning how to become experts in their chosen domains.
Students are expected to conduct research, but faculty are reluctant to cede class time over to librarians teaching research skills (Hardesty, 1995; Breivik, 1998; Hrycaj and Russo, 2007). Librarians offer many non-credit venues – workshops, short courses, virtual reference assistance, web-based instruction pages, walk-up service at the information desk – to teach students about conducting research (Cox and Lindsay, 2008); unfortunately, most students avoid these approaches because they want customized, just-in-time assistance (Tiefel, 1995; Markey et al., 2005). Traditional approaches to teaching incoming students information literacy concepts are not reaching them. Our solution is to design, test, and evaluate games that students play while using domain-expert tools for resource discovery and management. We choose games because what people are doing when they are playing good games is good learning (Gee, 2003, p. 199). Johnson (2006, p. 31) praises games for their ability to help us “ﬁnd order and meaning in the world and make decisions that create order.” Squire and Jenkins (2003, p. 29) promote games for good learning because they “encourage collaboration among players and thus provide a context for peer-to-peer
teaching and for the emergence of learning communities.” Gee (2003, p. 26) argues that “games are potentially particularly good places where people can learn to situate meanings through embodied experiences in a complex semiotic domain and meditate on the process” and presents three dozen learning principles that are built into good games (pp. 207-212).
Recognizing the popularity and potential of games for good learning, librarians have begun their experimentation with games by adding them to library collections and hosting game play competitions (Levine, 2006; Nieburger, 2007). There are a handful of efforts focused on building and deploying custom games to teach players information literacy concepts (ACCD, 2006; UNC, 2007; Poynter, 2008). While these games enlist familiar features such as boards, dice, teams, turns, prizes, etc., they merely test players about what they already know. This paper describes a research effort to design, develop, and test a new online game genre in which students do library research to make progress in the game.
Information literacy concepts
Teaching incoming undergraduate students how to navigate and choose from the maze of print and online resources in research libraries was the information literacy problem we wanted the game to solve. Knowing it would be difﬁcult to break students of their traditional patterns of searching Google and the web, the research team sought a model that expected students to get a basic understanding of their topics from the web, put their attention on library-supplied ﬁnding tools, familiarized them with tool names, scope, and functionality, and gave them practice choosing tools that enabled them to achieve increasingly deeper levels of understanding on a topic of interest.
For inspiration, we turned to the general-to-speciﬁc (GenSpec) model and updated it with electronic resources and the web (Kirk, 1974). The updated GenSpec model advised students to start their research with broad overview tools such as general and discipline-speciﬁc encyclopedias, handbooks, and histories so they develop a general understanding of their chosen topics. Next, the GenSpec model advanced students to ﬁnding tools – bibliographies, abstracting and indexing databases, and catalogs – for speciﬁc information on their topics upon which they can build a solid foundation of understanding. Finally, the GenSpec model advanced the few students who want to specialize and achieve depth in their chosen topics to forward-chaining tools – citation indexes – to ﬁnd the latest cutting-edge research. A pervasive presence in the GenSpec model was ready reference sources such as dictionaries, glossaries, and biographies to enable them to answer fact-based questions that occurred to them throughout the research process.
Designing an information literacy game
The team’s initial efforts beneﬁted from an anonymous donor who wanted to support initiatives that promote learning, discovery, and practice in venues where students live, play, and socialize. After we gained conﬁdence in our design, we proposed the Storygame research project to the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation that funded game development, play, and evaluation, and modest awards to student game winners.
testing a board
Making the much-needed breakthrough in game design
Initially design progress was slow and tedious because team members with one type of expertise expected members with a different type of expertise to take the lead. The project team eventually arrived at two promising ideas: game play in which students engage in bibliography building and game play in which students use digital library resources to answer substantive questions on a scholarly topic. The project team pursued the latter because it was doable given the project’s limited time and staff resources.
To break the logjam, project principals drafted a vision statement for the question-and-answer idea that situated game play on a web-based game board and formulated game rules and objectives. Game objectives were few and simple – avoid “intellectual bankruptcy” by maintaining a positive portfolio of game assets and be the ﬁrst team to answer a certain number of substantive questions for the six resource types in the GenSpec model, i.e. web, encyclopedias, books, edited works, journal articles from online databases, and published research from the ISI Web of Science....