Occupying the Library, Battling the Undead - Library Orientation with SCVNGR

Posted on October 23, 2012 at 6:20 PM

After reading about the successful SCVNGR-based library orientations at schools like Oregon State University and Boise State University, we were excited to use SCVNGR to build a fun and educational library orientation trek for our students at Ohlone College, a community college in Fremont, California. Over the course of a one-year grant, we tried two different "themed" iterations of the trek during the fall 2011 and spring 2012 semesters, had a lot of fun, learned a lot, and got a lot of food for thought about the potential of instruction through technology-mediated play.


Our Goals (or, in the parlance of our college, desired "Student Learning Outcomes") included:


  • Raising awareness about the library, its services and resources,
  • Providing a basic physical tour of the library,
  • Providing a small but meaningful dose of library instruction, and
  • "Marketing" the library as a technology-enhanced space where traditional resources co-exist with cutting-edge social media.



Our Treks:

The first semester our library trek was themed "Occupy the Library." All the tasks in this trek were related to exploring various library locations, learning about our services, and gaining basic "information competency" skills, such as finding a book or locating an appropriate database for research. Our prizes were modest but fun: lunch with a popular professor, a bookstore gift-certificate donated by another faculty member, "swag" from our college bookstore.


Sampling of challenge photos by our “Occupy the Library winners


The second semester we expanded to two treks, one for each of our campus libraries. One campus trek was Vampire-themed, and the other Zombie-themed. Tasks were similar in each trek, tweaked slightly to reflect the peculiarities of that particular theme's undead culture, and to highlight unique services at each campus. For these spring semester treks, we had even better prizes, including four iPod Shuffles.




The treks were a successful experience in many ways. General campus interest in and enthusiasm for the game were high. Students who participated seemed to enjoy themselves, and reported learning things about the library they had not known. The photo challenges were especially fun for students to do (and for us to receive)! For example, one challenge in our Vampire slaying trek let students know that screaming for help in low, conversational tones was allowed everywhere in the library, except in one location (our silent zone) and asked students to snap pictures of themselves silently screaming there.

In the Silent Zone No One Can Hear You Scream


Unfortunately, however, despite big eye-catching signs in heavy foot traffic areas, despite publicizing the events on our library and college social media channels, and in our campus newspaper, and despite having college faculty announce the treks in their classes, our participation numbers remained low throughout the year (we had 48 players the first semester, and only 25 at two locations the next). Students who did play uniformly reported it was “fun” and “cool,” but the game didn’t generate its own traction; the majority of our players were those whose instructors assigned the trek to them as an extra credit activity.


Our theories as to the low turnout:

Students at our college, which is not residential, are very busy and "on task." In general there is not a lot of socializing on campus and not much time for anything not directly related to educational goals. If we were to try this kind of thing in the future, we would want to tie it in with the campus “Welcome Day” at the beginning of the academic year, an event where a large number of students are captively engaged in orientation projects, and not yet busy with class work.

Despite our location in the San Francisco Bay Area on the fringes of Silicon Valley, students at our college are not as "gadget-rich" as the college-age demographic is generally assumed to be. A large percentage (70%) of students did the trek using our paper version. A number of students who didn’t have smartphones started the game in text (SMS) mode, and quickly bailed out, presumably for financial reasons, when they realized they would be receiving a large number of texts. We don't have campus-wide survey data to support this impression, but many students told us they didn't have cell phones, or didn’t have a current cell phone plan, and very few seemed to have smartphones.


We suspected coming into the SCVNGR game that this type of social activity would be a bit of a hard sell for our campus culture. We are very grateful to SCVNGR for allowing us a one-year grant to experiment and see whether this model would work as an instructional tool for us. We believe that, given more collaboration with other campus departments (such as our counseling & campus activities staff on Welcome Day), given the continual march towards more universal adoption of “smart” mobile devices, and maybe most of all, given a less dire and stressful economic climate where students are not as obligated to stay ever goal-oriented, checking off necessary educational tasks with little time left over to explore or experiment, this type of game-based social and mobile activity could prove successful for Ohlone College Library in the future. In the meantime, we look forward to continuing to hear about SCVNGR successes throughout the educational spectrum!


Kathy Sparling, Systems & Technical Services Librarian at Ohlone College in Fremont, CA.

Categories: Library, Orientation

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