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A Scavenger Hunt Exercise to Teach Research Methodologies

Stockholm Library

This semester I’ve been assigned to teach one of my program’s core courses: an introduction to research methodologies. This is the second time that I’ve taught the class. My first time teaching research methodologies didn’t go so well. My students looked listless and unengaged the entire semester. Wanting to learn from that past experience, I’ve decided to try out a whole bunch of different approaches to teaching the class this time including getting students involved in more hands-on activities. I’m sharing a recent activity I tried out which went amazingly well.

Students were assigned to read the first chapter of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, a useful introduction to the rationale for writing a research paper and overview of the types of resources available to them. They then had to submit five discussion questions on the reading that occurred to them as they were doing the reading, planning to simply do a combination of lecture and discussion in the classroom. When I looked over their questions before class began, I realized I had two choices: (1) I could answer all these questions for my students in lecture/discussion form, or (2) I could set them loose in the library and the Internet to answer the questions on their own.

I decided to go with (2). I cut and pasted twenty six of the student-generated questions onto a Word document, divided my fourteen students into two groups and gave each group thirteen questions for each group to complete. I assigned each group a group leader who was supposed to direct discussion and a notetaker who was supposed to collate all the group’s findings. The groups were given an hour to roam around the library, speak to librarians, find out where resources such as microfilm were, and find various research guides on the Internet. After the hour, they all got up in front of the class as a group to present their findings for the last fifty minutes of class. Students were  also to report on their research process that led them to these answers and how reliable their sources were. I also indicated that each member of the group needed to understand what every term of their answer meant (e.g. What is an annotated bibliography), as I would ask them to explain the term to the other group. The other group had to ask questions—if they didn’t, I would ask questions of them!

The activity went a lot better than I had expected. My students were running around the library all smiles, speaking to our helpful librarians and students outside of our class for help, and returned completely energized instead of feeling groggy from sitting listening to a lecture. The resulting discussion was also highly energetic. My students were much more engaged because they had just been involved in actually trying to find the answers on their own instead of having their teacher answer the questions for them. Additionally, our discussions went into a lot greater depth than I expected—we discussed different ways of defining primary and secondary sources, as well as disciplinary differences in terms of writing style. We also discussed an extremely important research question—how does one ask a good question? We did this by analyzing the ways in which some of the questions had been written, and how we could improve them. One of my students emailed me after to tell me how much she had enjoyed the activity for that day.

In summary: this “Scavenger Hunt” activity went extremely well because it focused much more on “doing” than passive listening. I really appreciated how extremely helpful our librarians were to them as well as the library community in general. Because of this hands-on activity, my students got to learn how to work together as a team, how to navigate group dynamics quickly, as well as get to know the librarians and where resources which they normally would not touch were. I’m thrilled by the results of this exercise and hope it will be useful to ProfHacker readers as well.

Have you tried any scavenger hunt activities in your classes? How did they go?

Image from Ian Schmidt on Flickr

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