Teaching scholarly research skills to undergraduates via online game

January 11, 2011, University of Michigan

Most undergraduates enter college with limited experience in scholarly research. Academic libraries may be unfamiliar to them and library databases unknown territory.

Although 95 percent of 18-29 year olds use the Internet, according to a Pew Internet survey from May 2010, their knowledge of information resources often doesn't extend much beyond Google and .

A team of researchers headed by professor Karen Markey and associate professor Victor Rosenberg at the University of Michigan's School of Information set out to address this issue by developing a game that teaches university-level scholarly research skills. Bibliobouts is an online, social activity that teaches players the skills they need to research academic papers. The game is generating enthusiasm among both students and educators and in 2010 won its developers the University of Michigan Provost's Innovation in Teaching Award.

The latest version of the game has just been released for classroom use for winter 2011 and fall 2011. The creators are inviting instructors and librarians to try the game in classes where research and writing projects could be improved with greater information literacy.

Bibliobouts can be incorporated into the syllabus of any course where critical research skills and information literacy are needed, developer Markey said.

"BiblioBouts is discipline-, institution-, and class-rank neutral. Even advanced research teams can employ BiblioBouts to quickly identify, rate, and choose the best sources on their object of study," she said.

The game is played in four bouts, with each bout devoted to one aspect of the research process: collecting sources; selecting the best sources; rating and tagging opponents' sources; and compiling a final bibliography of best sources from a pool of everyone's source. In playing the game, students score points to advance through various levels from "novice" to "grand master marksman," with their rankings displayed on the game's home page.

In the final bout, the class builds a "best bibliography" from the top ten sources in the citation pool. All players finish the game with a high-quality bibliography they can use to produce their paper. They have also gained research skills that can be immediately applied to other college classes. Search results are captured and stored in Zotero, a free Web-based tool developed at George Mason University that allows users to collect, organize and cite their sources.

Catherine Johnson, reference/instruction librarian at the University of Baltimore, included the game in her Introduction to classes in 2009.

"My students were primarily freshmen who hadn't done much substantive research before the start of the semester. The game helped students move beyond Google and explore a wider variety of available resources for research. Bibliobouts gave them the tools to use library databases and helped them identify high quality sources through evaluation," she said.

Barry Fishman, U-M professor of education, used the game in his Video Games and Learning course.

"Bibliobouts helped me motivate my students to do library research for their final projects and papers," he said. "Without the game, it was a struggle to focus them on literature searches and reviews. With the game, they were finding sources even I didn't know about. Bibliobouts effectively tapped into students' competitive nature."

To date, 300 undergraduate students in 12 classes at four universities have played Bibliobouts. Student evaluations cite numerous benefits of the , including increased self-confidence in performing research, developing expertise in using Zotero, and finding more information than they would have on their own. In addition, said it helped them overcome the tendency to procrastinate, exposed them to library databases, and revealed where to go for sources after exhausting , Wikipedia, and the Web.

Explore further: Teaching communication and information literacy skills

More information: A demo is available at www.bibliobouts.org . To play, enter demo@bibliobouts.org for e-mail ID and "demo" for password

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