This week I had three back-to-back freshman comp classes with two different professors. These classes were scheduled with only a week's notice, so I was limited to the changes within the Secret Agents game that I could do. Still, I think the changes I did do were effective. The first was to add a few animations to make it more game-like. These were simpler than I hope they will be in the future, and were very reminiscent of Carmen Sandiego. I changed the story from the students being secret agents that break into an information mainframe (the library) to an intruder has broken into the mainframe and the students (still rookie agents) have to get to the resources before he does and catch him. I also made the Boolean and truncation exercises interactive, which was lacking previously. I believe these changes were a leap in the right direction.
As my office-mate suggested after observing one of the games last fall, I followed the game up with a 10-question quiz using "clickers." I was able to save the results for my records, and make sure the students were leaving with a clear understanding of the basics. Two of the three classes had no problems with the quiz, the third class had two questions that required further clarification. The last question asked if this game was a fun way to learn about the library. 75% of the first class said yes to this question, 62% of the second class said yes, 53% of the last class said yes. This last class was a talkative group, and there was chatter that they didn't like having to physically get up and move around the library, otherwise they would have said "yes."
When doing a more traditional instruction session, you often feel like one class goes very differently from another. But as an instructor, that could have been because of you. I often feel that I improve the second time I have to do the same class back-to-back. However, the game stays constant, and the differences between the classes and even between each group continues to surprise me. The range of scores varies, the time it takes students to complete the game varies, and obviously their opinion of how much "fun" it was varies. Perhaps earlier classes were not as physically lazy as the last group, or perhaps their desire to be nice to me influenced their answer. Who knows?
I had another co-worker observing me today. She had further advice on how to make these more effective including clarity of questions and improving the introduction. We also discussed incorporating the librarian at the desk. I think I will have them go to "The Librarian" (code name, of course) at the desk to receive their next mission, which will be to find a particular print journal. This would associate them with an additional librarian and force them to locate the reference desk (which we call the Research Help Desk).
This furthers the point that games cannot be effective when they are solely computer-based. Students must interact with the physical library, and traditional instruction methods must be mixed with the technology based ones. Digital game-based learning in the library classroom can take the best of both worlds and use the advantages of each to create something truly spectacular. I think what I've done so far is really good, and with suggestions from librarians and students will one day become great.... though I will always require them to go up to the stacks to find their books!