Gaming the library: using game-based learning in libraries

Willie Miller discusses the use of game based learning to design innovative library instruction.

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Game-based learning research stretches back decades but the explosion of easy to use technology has now made video games accessible and affordable tools for education.

Gamification offers new tools for librarians to use in creating instructional and promotional products targeted at millennial users. Using games for library instruction and marketing can be a relatively painless way of engaging a wide range of new library users.

Resistance to creating games for instruction and marketing is easy to understand. In 1998 Rieber, Smith, and Noah wrote "The commonsense tendency to define play as the opposite of work makes it easy to be skeptical that play is a valid characterization for adult behaviors" However, there is a large and growing body of research that supports the efficacy of games in teaching and learning.  Games "create intrinsic motivation through fantasy, control, challenge, curiosity, and competition" (Squire, 2005).

The Missing Project

Another obstacle to game design is lack of expertise. Serendipity intervened to provide librarians at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) University Library in Indiana, USA with the opportunity to collaborate on a game design project. An urban research university, our students are regularly encouraged to make impact outside of the classroom. Two Informatics students, Suraj Choudhary and Stephen Goforth, under the direction of Professor Steven Mannheimmer created a choose-your-own adventure video game set in the library.

Associate Dean, Bill Orme, and I took this as an opportunity to work with the students and Professor Mannheimmer to develop a new game directed at informing users about the resources, services, and processes of the library. From our perspective, there was a list of items with which we wanted our users to be familiar or experienced. We worked with student-designers to create The Missing Project, a month-long, episodic adventure following a senior, Desmond, as he attempts to find his iPad in the library on the day of the most important presentation of his undergraduate career. Our intent was to infuse the game with information normally presented in introductory instruction sessions on library services.

Players of this complex game had online puzzles and in-real life actions needed to move from level to level, and it took over a year to plan. We used YouTube videos linked together with embedded annotations in objects in the videos to create the game. Library Technology Analyst, Andrew Smith created copies of library systems for the game to give players, for example, the experience of chatting with a Reference Librarian without actually using staff time to do so. Through these experiences, players demonstrated skill in using library services with assessments built into the game, rather than in a formal instruction session.

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