Winning the information game (part 2)

Creative connections between sources are at the heart of what makes academic research intellectually stimulating and vital. We’ve seen in part one of this series that I’m not convinced that games can teach developing researchers how to make this connections. At the end of the day, I want the students I’m teaching to be able to do more than just jump through hoops and, to put it extremely bluntly, the genius of video games as a teaching tool is that they make jumping through hoops engaging and fun. Video games are a great tool for encouraging players to persist at jumping through hoops until they build skills through repetition.

So this is where information literacy librarians can really use games in their teaching. The overall process of research does not really resemble a video game. However, the individual skills and processes used by expert researchers can be trained and reinforced using techniques borrowed from video games.

Some examples:

Source Evaluation: one of the things I want to see beginning researchers include in their work is an evaluation of the sources they use to build their arguments. At a beginning level, “peer reviewed = good, popular publication = bad” is a start, but eventually I want to see them consider context and the use they are putting the source to. So using level design techniques, librarians can structure lessons to focus on simple evaluation early and then require more nuanced justification of source choices in more advanced lessons.

Advanced database searching: a key to developing from a beginning researcher to a capable student is moving beyond simple keyword searching. Game designers teach players to move beyond simple strategies by throwing in boss, or really tough opponent, that requires the player to change tactics to advance. Librarians can borrow this technique and give google-centric researchers challenges that require them to use subject headings, take advantage of organized metadata, or do citation analysis. At very least librarians can use game bosses and shifting tactics as a metaphor for why keyword searching can’t find everything.

So while the entire research process may not resemble a video game, game techniques for building skills, encouraging persistence through failure, and providing an engaging context will come in extremely handy for developing skilled researchers.

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