A whole new game: digital games, information literacy and the school library
Key concepts: game based learning, digital games, critical thinking; information literacy, transliteracy and information literacy as meta-literacy, information behaviour, school libraries, games, play and learning.
School libraries are moving beyond recreational gaming within their spaces to integrate digital games into teaching practice. This experiential case study looks at how digital games and digital game based learning (DGBL) may be used to teach concepts of information and digital literacies as part of the school library program. As O’Connell (2012, n.p.) notes, school libraries need to “provide materials for motivation, differentiation, collaboration and connections necessary for 21st century learning”. Learning is an integral feature of game playing (Tikka, Kankaanranta, Nousiainen & Hankala, 2009) while digital games also engage and motivate students (Moline, 2010). Games allow students to explore, try, fail, and learn from mistakes in a safe environment (Burkhardt, 2014; Gee, 2005; Shapiro, 2014; Van Staalduinen, 2011). As the growing literature attests, librarians, across the educational continuum, are uniquely placed to promote literacies and learning through digital games (Adams, 2009; Hovious & Van Eck, 2015; Gee, 2012).
The study seeks to investigate students’ learning experiences in terms of learning outcomes and principles informed by information literacy models such as Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process in conjunction with The Seven Pillars of Information Literacy core model (2011) and the new ACRL Information Literacy Framework (2015). While the latter two were produced with higher education in mind, they are still significant resources for the K-12 sector, promoting a deeper understanding about the nature of key threshold concepts in information literacy for the novice learner (ACRL, 2015, p.2, 10).
Following in the footsteps of Liu, Cheng & Huang (2011, p.1908) this study aims to inquire into the following research questions:
- How digital games influence students’ learning experiences and motivation?
- Can digital games lead to deep understanding of information literacy concepts?
The research into theories and principles of games and gaming indicate a strong relation between play, games and learning (Navarrete, 2013; Turkay, Hoffman, Kinzer, Chantes, & Vicari, 2015; Van Eck, 2006). Play is how we learn and interact with the world, encouraging imagination, creative thinking, problem-solving, social skills and critical literacies (Powell, 2013). These same skills, alongside others such as systems thinking, are central to digital games (Gee, 2013, Minchin, 2011; Shapiro, 2014; Squire & Steinkuehler, 2005; Van Eck, 2015).
Gee demands teachers consider themselves designers of learning (Thorn, 2013). He asks how can learning, with or without using games, be made more game-like since game playing embodies many learning principles educators actively encourage (Gee, 2005). In addition, Gee advocates that librarians adopt a mentorship role for students beyond books to include digital media (Gee, 2012). As the literature indicates, librarians have become active supporters of digital games. School libraries are spaces where students recreational game play and informal learning is encouraged. Games incorporating the development of multimodal literacies are included as part of library services and within the school library program (Burkhardt, 2014; McCabe & Wise, 2009; Moline, 2010; Powell, 2013; Smale, 2012).
Part of our core responsibilities as teacher librarians is the teaching of information literacy. Literature acknowledges that “students overestimate their ability to engage with information in a critical and literate manner” (Kirkwood in Beetham & Oliver, 2010, p.162). Yet there is also recent recognition that students today have a greater role and responsibility in understanding the world of information (ACRL, 2015) beyond the linear skills to ‘locate, evaluate and use effectively the needed information’ (Beetham & Oliver, 2010, p. 156). So much so, that teaching information literacy skills is as important as teaching more traditional literacy content domains (Mathews & Squire, 2009).
Information is now seen as a dynamic entity that includes multiple forms of literacies (Mackey & Jacobson, 2011). Information literacy has been reframed as a meta-literacy to incorporate multiple modalities (Mackey & Jacobson, 2011; O’Connell, 2012). Students are expected to be ethical and critical thinkers, collaborators and creators in participatory digital environments (Mackey & Jacobson, 2011; ALA Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, 2015). For teacher librarians, this requires adapting to emerging technologies and envisaging a new role that moves beyond traditional instruction to a facilitative, interactive role with students at the center of the learning experience (Arnab, Berta, Earp,De Freitas, Popescu, Romero, & Usart, 2012; Burgess, 2015; Mackey & Jacobson, 2011). Interestingly, Gumulak and Webber (2011) note that while knowledge creation is central to information literacy frameworks, it is less frequently included in library programs. It is therefore, welcoming to see librarians adopting constructionist gaming approaches where games are designed by students for specific learning benefits (Kaffai & Burke, 2015) using digital games such as Minecraft and other live action strategy games (Hill, 2015; Powell, 2013).
Both the revised SCONUL model and the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education move beyond the linear skills to include a holistic approach addressing knowledge practices and dispositions i.e. affective, attitudinal or valuing dimensions of learning (Goldstein, 2015; Kutner and Armstrong 2012; ACRL, 2015). Implementation is developmental and systematic, at point of need, over an extended period and at a variety of levels (ACRL, 2015; Mackey & Jacobson, 2011).
The Kuhlthau Information Search Process (ISP) was adopted for this case study as it was suitable for a K-12 educational setting. The librarian was also particularly interested to explore student feelings (affective) related to game playing. Would students proceed through a similar continuum as they progressed through the game, as they would if engaged in an information search process? As Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari state, “learning is an emotional as well as a thinking and acting process” (2007, p.15).
The case study evolved as a small provocation to quickly implement digital games into the school library program. As Miller (2014, n.p.) stated, we need to “continually reflect on the learning and push ourselves to try new things for the sake of our students, their engagement, and their achievement.”
Foremost, educators need to analyse and make informed choices to explicitly link digital games, curriculum goals and learning outcomes, which are then shared with their students (Arnab et al., 2012; Beavis, Rowan, Dezuanni, McGillivray, O’Mara, Prestridge, & Zagami, 2014; Shelton & Scoresby, 2011; Van Eck, 2006). Prior to choosing the games, the teacher librarian spent time exploring and playing the games to consider their suitability to meet the expected information literacy outcomes, for age appropriateness and engagement (Miller, 2014). As one student, commenting on why games are good for learning, wrote in the final survey:
Yes but you have to find the games that engage the student(s) because students want to play games and Teachers want to teach.
Furthermore, a variety of teaching strategies, models or situations is needed as “not everyone responds the same way in learning situations” (St-Pierre, 2011, p. 78) nor is DGBL “appropriate for all outcomes, all learners, all the time” (Van Eck, 2015). Based on this premise, the librarian focused on using different resources, including the use of instructionist digital games, to explicitly teach evaluating sources. This is an essential skill for students, as active users of information, to engage in critical thinking and to develop understandings of basic indicators such as authority and credibility (ACRL, 2015, SCONUL, 2011).
Initial activities required students to understand what constituted appropriate resources for their information needs and purposes. Web evaluation was then introduced with a video and whole class discussion on a hoax website. The school’s upper elementary libguide, a curation tool, was also used to scaffold student learning. With the introduction of Keystone Museum, students engaged in the discovery process of the game (Liu et al., 2011). As van Meegen & Limpens (2010, p. 284) note “a game is a learning tool by which students start acting right away and explanations are only given when needed.” Students were allowed to repeat the game experience. A second quiz game, using the Kahoot app, was also played to review key concepts.
Students need to be aware of why they are learning and when to use what they have learned (van Meegen & Limpens, 2010). This is even more significant when using digital games as students often do not connect strategies they use within game play with the information search process, i.e. such as choosing the most appropriate information behaviour to meet their needs (Gumulak & Webber, 2011). For this reason, the introduction, and debriefing during and at post-play is critical to ensure students remain focused on the learning outcomes (Gumulak & Webber, 2011; Habgood & Ainsworth, 2011). The librarian used class observations, open-ended conversations about the nature of the game, informal reflective notes and an online survey to gather student feedback.
This experiential case study involved an elementary Year 5 cohort of ten classes (219 students: 113 boys and 106 girls) at an international school in Singapore. Within the school, there are multiple nationalities, including students with English as additional language (EAL).
The teacher librarian conducts weekly 35 minute information literacy sessions with upper elementary students within a classroom setting. The research skills and strategies introduced by the librarian, are then reinforced by the classroom teacher (who is part of the collaborative team). This scenario is very familiar to librarians who have a short period of time to teach students information literacy skills (van Meegen & Limpens, 2010; Smale, 2012; Rush, 2014).
Students have access to 1:1 iPads. However, Keynote Museum was played using MacBook air laptops (with mouse if preferred). For Kahoot, students used iPads.
Keystone Museum was developed as a web-based tool to introduce five web evaluation criteria (Bellamy, 2010). This game was assessed by the teacher librarian as being suitable for upper elementary and secondary school students as well as the intended higher education audience.
Keystone Museum uses a variety of multimodal features such as static animations, sound effects, text and voice, and students are challenged to obtain five jewels (keystones) as they discover how to evaluate websites. Each doorway invited the students to a brief, engaging and fun challenge before they would be allowed to compare and evaluate different sources of information. Students needed to progress through the five scenarios before they could claim the end prize. Those who finished the game had their names entered into a draw (extrinsic motivation), similar to the original intention of the game developers. However, students did not consider this an important draw-card to the game. Students had to critically think about web evaluation skills such as coverage, authorship & objectivity, currency, credibility and accuracy.
A Kahoot quiz allowing students to play and compete against each other, was also created. Images and sound generate engagement. Games are displayed on a shared screen and students have a countdown of 20 seconds to respond to questions. Kahootallows teachers to gather feedback both during the game and from useful statistics on overall class achievement and individual results. Following the games, students then transferred their understanding to evaluate six websites using the CARRDS framework.
Assessment of learning experiences and the games
Students were comfortable as self-directed learners in navigating the layout of Keystone Museum. As Moline (2010, p.5) recognizes, they all believed “they had the ability to learn… and to ultimately succeed in their gameplay through their own efforts”.
A game is based on the principle of trial and error (van Meegen & Limpens, 2010; St-Pierre, 2011). Students would keep trying until they had achieved the goal (the gems). While feedback is provided as the game continues, you have to repeat the separate ‘museum rooms’ if you make a mistake and need to begin again. Some students lost their gems upon exiting and had to restart the game from the beginning. One student suggested in the survey that while the game was “Absolutely awesome, (but) they could of created more levels, and saved each level so when we turned the computer off it would still keep all of the levels we have done”.
Gumulak & Webber (2011, p. 249) note how players prefer “to work hard, read, reflect and go back many times to the same level”. This persistence in solving problems within the game was a common observation among the Year 5 cohort, often with students helping each other and using different cognitive processes as they discovered the rules and mechanics of the game. As Markey, Leeder & St. Jean (2011, p. 47) comment, games are a “cognitive playground offering safe exploration of ideas and skills [which] encourage collaboration and peer-to peer teaching”. In the survey, students admitted the importance of the collaborative, social environment for learning:
Yes I was given tips by my friends which helped a lot, especially in the web evaluation game.
Yes. It was very helpful to work with a friend because they help me when I was stuck and worked together to figer out.
I found that talking and working in a group is a good way to efficiently work through the activities.
Yes it was fun cooperating with friends during all activities (except for kaboot.it because it’s too short to talk about).
I talked with my friends during the activity and it really helped me to understand the activity, since we were doing it together
While Keystone Museum was engaging, there were technical issues. In the first session, generally only half the class were able to access the game at a time, due to loading and lagging issues, which was noted as a negative aspect of the game in the student survey. In following sessions, this did not seem to be so much of an issue with the majority of students able to access, load, play and finish the game. Chrome was found to be a better browser to use than Safari. Time ‘in the game’ and to spend in extended learning activities was also an issue due to the 35 minute sessions, technical and external disruptions (NAPLAN testing) over the period of the study (Bate, MacNish & Males, 2014; Van Eck, 2006).
However, when in play, both games facilitated ‘the flow experience’ where students were in “a state of complete absorption or engagement” (Van Staalduinen, 2011, p.101).Keystone Museum in particular showed the students proceeding through a similar continuum as the Information Search Process (Kuhlthau, 2008). Feelings of uncertainty as they learnt the mechanics of the game, optimism and confidence as they started to engage with the game, confusion and frustration when technical issues arose or they were challenged by the activity, then again a sense of satisfaction and confidence as they achieved and progressed through the game.
Kahoot was engaging and intrinsically motivating for the students. The quiz game promotes Bloom’s taxonomy of comprehension and evaluation as students demonstrated knowledge (or lack) of key concepts. During the game, the teacher librarian was able to stop to either clarify, give or elicit feedback to/from students based on the chart of correct/incorrect answers. The performance results (table 1) reveal evidence of learning, while students saw the game as fun, felt they had learnt something and felt positive playing the game.
So, can digital games and game based learning influence students’ learning experiences and motivations and lead to deep understanding of information literacy concepts? The games certainly brought variety, fun, motivation and engagement to the Year 5 information literacy sessions. What was also reaffirmed was how digital games allow students to explore, try, fail, and learn from mistakes in a safe environment:
Yes because it teaches you things in a different way and it’s fun and you can also explain it to friends so they understand overall it’s a fun way to learn different things safely.
Students developed understanding of both web evaluation as well as engaged in metacognitive reflection of digital games and learning as revealed in student voices:
Yes I believe games are good for learning because they engage children to learn while it being fun easy and interesting.
Yes they are because are incorporating games with learning and it develops reading and comprehensive skills by reading.
Yes because it shows a different learning ways.
I thought it was good because extended our thinking of the internet. The games also helped me to understand if information is incorrect or not.
Wether a website is relyible or not. That if sites don’t have the name of the author it could be trustable or nontrustable.
However, as Markey et al. (2011) lament there are very few games available that successfully target information literacy skills, especially those that extend the game into multiplayer, social, collaborative and interactive environments. There is an obvious need to design games that will help students to know how to act in our information-rich world (Burkhardt, 2014; van Meegen & Limpens, 2010). It also behoves school librarians to consider how to extend meta-literacies within the school library program so students are collaborators and creators of game making. This is a call for a whole new game!
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Student survey questions
Please complete the following survey. Do digital games provide learning and engagement?
On a scale of 10 how would you rate Keystone Museum (Web Evaluation) game? (1 being low enjoyment, 10 being high enjoyment)
On a scale of 10 how would you rate the Kahoot Quiz (Web Review) game? (1 being low enjoyment, 10 being high enjoyment)
On a scale of 10 how would you rate the Written CAARDS activity where you had to evaluate websites? (1 being low enjoyment, 10 being high enjoyment)
Did you ask friends for help to play the game, talk to each during the games and activities? Was it helpful to do so?
Please comment on the positive and negative elements of playing the games.
What did you learn from these games and activities?
Do you think games are good for learning? Explain.