Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Playing Games to Improve the Quality of the Sources Students Cite in Their Papers

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Playing Games to Improve the Quality of the Sources Students Cite in Their Papers

Article excerpt

This study seeks to determine the effectiveness of the BiblioBouts information literacy game for improving the quality of the sources undergraduate students cite in their written papers. BiblioBouts was incorporated into a second-year English class of 45 students in which about half played the game from start to finish (i.e., players) and the other half failed to play all or part of the game (i.e., nonplayers). The authors hypothesized that the quality of the sources players cited in their papers would improve as a result of playing BiblioBouts and players would cite more scholarly sources in their final-paper bibliographies than nonplayers. About 90 percent of the sources players' cited in their in-game bibliographies were scholarly sources. When players transitioned to their final papers, the percentage of scholarly sources they cited in their final papers dropped in half (44.6 percent); however, it surpassed the percentage (35.2 percent) of scholarly sources nonplayers cited in their final papers. The authors suggest that players put scholarly sources into play and cited them in their in-game bibliographies knowing that they would earn high scores for their actions. The authors also raise the question of whether the second-year students in this class and whether underclassmen generally understand scholarly sources well enough to integrate them into their papers. BiblioBouts players benefited in several other ways including being exposed to many more sources than they would have found on their own, becoming familiar with the library portal and its many available databases, and mastering citation management software for saving online sources' citations and full-texts.

When undergraduate students arrive at the academy, they are operating for the first time in the same rich, deep, diverse information environment that faculty use to teach the knowledge of the disciplines and to extend the frontiers of knowledge. Bereft of expert knowledge of the disciplines, many students need guidance about where to start and what expert research and discovery tools to use. As a result, students fall back on their habitual patterns: Google, Wikipedia, and the web. (1) When they have exhausted this comfort zone, they do not know what to do next. This point of need is precisely when students are most receptive to information literacy instruction.

Our approach is to meet students online where most library research now takes place and put an online tool into their hands that teaches them how to conduct library research while they go about the business of completing their assignments. This tool is the BiblioBouts information literacy game.

BiblioBouts is unique. It exposes many students to expert research and discovery tools for the first time and requires them to use these tools repeatedly. The game is institution-neutral, discipline-neutral, and class-rank neutral (starting with college freshmen and up). BiblioBouts is best suited to courses in which students complete research-and-writing assignments. Game-like features such as a leader board, levels, badges, and scoring log motivate students to continue playing, giving them opportunities to gain valuable practice performing a wide variety of information literacy tasks and to increase their understanding of the underlying information literacy concepts. Put students into a game situation in which they perform a technical reading of a source to assess its scholarly nature or judge the completeness of cited source and they will perform the task repeatedly because they want to watch their score increase, their name climb the leader board, and their trophy-case fill with badges.

Our information literacy research has embraced games because into good games are built principles of learning. (2) For example, games allow players to follow hunches, get results by trial and error, and engage in self-discovery. Games reward players who exceed minimum-level expectations, they stimulate players' competitive spirits, and they publicly acknowledge the skillful actions of game leaders. …

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