Scavenger hunt and other methods for getting into systems

Much of what we do involves enabling academics (and students) to become familiar with particular technologies. Sufficiently familiar to think about how they can use it in their learning and teaching. We’ve had to do it with Blackboard and we’ll have to do it with Second Life.

The aim of this post is to reflect upon some methods of doing this.

The recipe method

Some of this sort of work is reduced to the “recipe method”. Sessions become the presentation to the poor participant of long lists of recipes. e.g. if you want to do X then you do step 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.

The benefit of this approach is it is simple to present and often is the quickest way for the participant to do something. The drawback is that they develop no real understanding of how the system works so are unable to problem solve or extend their understanding into new and more useful applications.

It can also be incredibly boring.

Understand the model

The approach I prefer and have started experimenting with involves trying to give the participants a work model of the system and give them opportunities to experiment.

It works on the assumption that any technology has an underlying model and a set of affordances. Things it can do easily.

An example I use to illustrated this is the
Introducing the book video. Which shows how early uses of the new fangled “book technology” had some problems. (In writing this post I notice that someone has posted a modified, english language version.

The point is that very few (if any) people within Universities today would have any problems doing anything with a book because they understand the underlying model. It’s second nature. They can problem solve, develop new uses and take their understanding to different types of printed material.

The aim of a session should be to attempt to allow the participants to develop this type of knowledge for a computer system.

How do you do this?

This should actually be titled “how have I tried to do this recently?” as it attempts to summarise the rationale behind my recent attempts. These have followed these major steps

  • Show the “introducing the book” video – explain the need to develop models of system (slide 6 and 7)
  • Become familiar with the language (slides 8-38 or so)
    This was probably too long. But during these slides the students had a list of terms which they were meant to fill in as a group (2 or 3 folk) – a sort of term bingo. With the winning team getting some small prize (usually chocolate).
  • Introduce the model (slide 26-40)
    It’s not done well in the slides, but the aim is to connect the model of the system with something that is familar. In this case, a Blackboard course site is organised in much the same way as a set of folders on a computer. This would be better illustrated with small activities involving the students.

    In a subsequent similar session, not yet online, I tried to connect the notion of “breadcrumbs” back to their understanding by having a slide of Hansel and Gretel and explaining the origin of the term “breadcrumbs” back to something many of them already knew.

  • Scavenger hunt (slide 40)
    Having been given the overview the question now is how to get the participants to test and apply that knowledge. The approach here is a scavenger hunt. In the same teams as the term bingo the students were given a set of items to find on Blackboard. These items were connected with their use of the system – e.g. the Social Work Blackboard course sites. The items were chosen to require them to apply different aspects of the model that were introduced.

This type of activity works best when

  • There is a time for the participants to play
  • The scavenger hunt has been designed to be specific to their needs or preferences
  • The hunt is done in a small group. Hopefully so that they can back up each others limitations and make each feel a bit more comfortable.

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