The light bulb went off when Dr. Yolanda Wiersma was chatting with her son, who had recently returned home after his first year away at university.
“He is not usually talkative about his courses and he started talking about an assignment he did in his introductory geography class,” she said. “It was a scavenger hunt in the library. And right away, I thought, ‘What a cool idea.’”
First-year biology assignment
Dr. Wiersma brought the idea of a scavenger hunt to her colleague, Dr. Tom Chapman.
They both teach Biology 1002. The course is the second of two introductory biology courses typically taught to first-year students at Memorial.
The professors say they owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Laura Jean Cameron, a professor of geography and planning at Queen’s University, who shared the scavenger hunt template that she designed for her courses at the university in Ontario.
Working from the template as inspiration, Drs. Wiersma and Chapman wandered around the Queen Elizabeth II Library (QEII) on the St. John’s campus in early August, chatting with librarians and library staff as they went.
They began coming up with questions and challenges specifically designed for their course and to help students get to know the QEII.
Questions and challenges such as: Name a town crest hanging in the library’s lobby that has an invertebrate on it.
And: Using a map found in the library’s map room, find the Mi’kmaq word for puffin.
The professors also planted clues around the building for students to track down, such as a yellow envelope taped to the inside of a shelf, identifiable by a silk dieffenbachia plant resting on its surface.
Primary literature, not Google
Dr. Wiersma says they designed the scavenger hunt to get students more comfortable asking questions, seeking research help and exploring the different services and spaces in the library in a fun and engaging way.
“We wanted them to move away from Google search and into the primary literature in biology,” explained Dr. Chapman.
To do that, students need to know how to navigate an academic library.
“Very few students come to the library to explore for the sake of exploring,” said Dan Duda, map librarian at the QEII. “They come with a specific purpose and intention, but through this exercise, students discovered so many different aspects of the library.”
“We also did something cheeky,” Dr. Chapman said with a laugh. “We made them go find our books.”
The result was more than 400 students arriving at the Centre for Newfoundland Studies with instructions to check out their professors’ books, read a page and then answer a question.
“At first we were just going to get them to go in and identify something on the wall . . . and then we talked more about what undergrads might benefit from knowing,” said Dr. Wiersma. “We realized every book by every faculty member is housed there.”
The Centre for Newfoundland Studies collects all published material relating to Newfoundland and Labrador, including works published by Memorial University faculty, students, staff and retirees.
Completion of the hunt is worth five per cent of the students’ total grade; 365 of the 407 completed the hunt. The feedback was positive, the professors say.
First-year science student Liam Porter says he discovered some surprises during the activity.
“There were some interesting Parliament records downstairs that stretch back a number of years,” he said. “I also enjoyed talking to the staff of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies. They were very helpful.”
‘Libraries have changed a lot’
It turns out that Drs. Chapman and Wiersma had a few things to learn about the facility, too.
“There were places in the library I have never been,” said Dr. Chapman.
The Makerspace, the Virtual Reality Room and the Digital Media Centre were all surprises to the biology professors, who readily acknowledged their experience with libraries is very different from today’s students.
“My perception of how to use the library as an undergrad is very much coloured by my own experiences as an undergraduate,” said Dr. Wiersma. “Libraries have changed a lot in the last 25 years. As scholars and researchers, we use it constantly, but we use it in a certain way.”
Plans for next time
The professors say they would like to build on this year’s scavenger hunt to incorporate even more library expertise.
They also say they will create new questions, clues and tasks so the adventure will be different for each course they teach.
“We were trying to make our students aware of all the resources,” Dr. Wiersma said. “And while they may not use them for this assignment, or this year, they know they are there, and they know the layout of the building, even if it is just discovering nice little nooks to come and study.”