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Digital/Physical Library Scavenger Hunt

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Library bookshelves
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Brief Assignment Overview: 

For the first time in my admittedly short teaching career, I created and oversaw a library scavenger hunt for my class this semester. As critics of the activity have argued, the library scavenger hunt is at risk of purposelessness, particularly if it’s not designed with clear pedagogical or research goals in mind. I really wanted my students to familiarize themselves with the physical space of the library and practice the digital research skills we’d engaged in previous classes—so despite my concerns, I proceeded with the controversial exercise. Overall, it was a success, but it’s certainly an activity whose contours you’d want to tailor to your particular class. 

Type of Assignment: 
Assignment Length: 
Pedagogical Goals - Writing: 
Pedagogical Goals - Digital Literacy: 
Required Materials: 
  • Scavenger hunt worksheets, enough for each student (should be created by the instructor prior to the class; see "Suggestions for Instructor Preparation")
  • Computers for student research (since the exercise takes place in the library, using the library computers works just fine or even better)
Timeline for Optimal Use: 
Full Assignment Description: 

There are a variety of ways an instructor could set up for this activity, but here's what I did (and found successful): 

We met in our regular classroom, where I distributed my twenty-question worksheet and broke them into teams (see "Suggestions for Instructor Preparation"). After everyone had a chance to read over the sheet, we walked over to the PCL together, whereupon I showed them where I’d be waiting on the ground floor in case they had any questions or when they were ready to submit their worksheets. I emphasized that they needed to submit their worksheets by the end of the class period, whether or not they were finished. Thanks to our 75-minute class period, they all had plenty of time to complete their work. 

I did not require my students to stay with their team members at all times. I said they could remain together, or they could split up if they found it more efficient to do so, as long as they each turned into me a worksheet with answers that matched those of their teammates, to prove that they'd discussed their findings with one another. 

For the first portion of the following class period, we reviewed their findings and discussed the commonly missed answers. 

Suggestions for Instructor Preparation: 

First, I would strongly recommend having discussed digital research strategies and research goals for the class prior to this activity. We had already done these things, which was helpful because the digital research components of the exercise were much-needed practice but not first-time efforts (which undoubtedly saved time), and because they had a better understanding of why exactly I'd be encouraging them to find resources about Nigerian history, for example, when we were discussing a coming-of-age novel set primarily in Lagos (Chris Abani's GraceLand). 

More immediately prior to the library scavenger hunt day, the instructor should create the scavenger hunt sheet. Because my own questions were so tailored to our specific class, I don't want to lay out our exact set of questions here, but here are some of the types of questions I found most productive: 

  • Questions about relevant library resources. For example, I asked them how they'd obtain a copy of a certain book of which I knew UT didn't have a copy. Some of them already knew about Interlibrary Services, others decided to ask someone at the Help desk, etc. 
  • Questions for which the answers could be found either digitally or physically. For example, I asked them to decide which chapter of a particular history book seemed like it would offer the most relevant context for a story we'd been analyzing in class. I chose this book purposely both because it was pertinent and because I knew it was available both via Google Books and in hard copy at the library. In our subsequent class discussion, we compared/contrasted strategies for tracking down digital vs. physical resources. 
  • Questions that require students to consider the library's physical layout. That is, I asked them to find a particular book (the collection of short stories from which we had read) and then identify two others on nearby shelves that seemed relevant and interesting. A lot of them later indicated that even if they'd tracked down a book at the library before, they'd never thought to look around for pertinent titles in the area. 
  • Questions that require just one extra step of Googling and/or that are solveable by using a series of different research strategies. For example, I asked them to find an article in Research in African Literatures about the novel we were reading. (I knew the journal had published several articles on the novel over the last ten years or so.) Most of them didn't know what Research in African Literatures was, but they all came up with an appropriate article, some because they'd Googled the journal title, others because they used library databases, and so forth. The various strategies they deployed to answer this question led us to an especially fruitful conversation later.

Ideally, the instructor should also assign teams in advance of the scavenger hunt. What worked well for me was to create an even distribution of English/Rhetoric majors, students with different class standings, etc., among the teams. 

The instructor should also take into account questions of student mobility, disability, etc. I conferred with my students beforehand to make sure that the walk from the classroom to the library and the movement around the library was not at all burdensome for them. 

Instructions For Students: 

You have until the end of the class meeting to complete the library scavenger hunt worksheet. If you have any questions over the course of the scavenger hunt, you are welcome to come find me, but of course I can't give much away. You do not have to remain physically with your team members, but if you choose to split up research tasks, you must reconvene at the end to discuss your answers with one another. When you submit your worksheets, I will check to make sure that your sheets all have matching answers, to confirm that you've gone over everything with each other. 

Evaluation Suggestions: 

I scored their worksheets after class. The teams earned between 16.5 and 19 points out of a possible 20 points, so I was pretty happy with that result. 

We also had a follow-up class discussion during our next meeting, which was a good opportunity to compare/contrast their various research strategies and to review the answers to commonly missed questions. 

Notes on Reception, Execution, etc.: 

My students seemed to enjoy and learn from the activity. Among the gains they later mentioned were that they had mostly never thought about looking around the shelves for similar titles, that they got a better sense of the library's layout, that they were less anxious to ask for help from a librarian, and that they learned from each other's research strategies (ex. brainstorming different search terms). It also didn't hurt that getting out of the classroom for a day seemed like a novel experience for many of them. 

Course Description: 

Violence, social inequality, anarchy, authoritarianism, poverty, disease, natural disaster, manmade disaster: what makes a place truly dangerous, and for which people? And how can books that merely depict dangerous places seem so threatening that they themselves are deemed too risky for certain audiences? With a broad understanding of what might constitute “danger,” we will investigate these and other questions through reading banned fiction set in dangerous places around the world.

The primary aim of this course is to help students develop and improve the critical reading, writing, and thinking skills needed for success in upper-division courses in English and other disciplines. They will also gain practice in using the Oxford English Dictionary and other online research tools and print resources that support studies in the humanities. Students will learn basic information literacy skills and models for approaching literature with various historical, generic, and cultural contexts in mind.

This course contains a writing flag. The writing assignments in this course are arranged procedurally with a focus on invention, development through instructor and peer feedback, and revision; they will comprise a major part of the final grade.

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