Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Innovative online game teaches scholarly research skills to undergraduates

Most undergraduates enter college with limited experience in scholarly research. Academic libraries may be unfamiliar to them and library databases unknown territory. Although 95 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds use the Internet, according to a Pew Internet survey, their knowledge of information resources often doesn't extend much beyond Google and Wikipedia.

A team of researchers headed by Karen Markey, professor of information, and Victor Rosenberg, associate professor of information, set out to address this issue by developing an online game that teaches university-level scholarly research skills.


Try it out

A demo of the Bibliobouts game is available at To play, enter "" when prompted for an e-mail ID, and "demo" for the password.

Bibliobouts is an online social activity that teaches players the skills they need to research academic papers. The game is generating broad enthusiasm among students and educators, and in 2010 won its developers the U-M Provost's Innovation in Teaching Award.

The latest version of the game has just been released for classroom use for the 2011 winter and fall semesters. The creators are inviting instructors and librarians to try the game in classes where research/writing projects could be improved with greater information literacy.

Catherine Johnson, reference/instruction librarian at the University of Baltimore, included the game in her Introduction to Information Literacy classes in 2009.

"My students were primarily freshmen who hadn't done much substantive research before the start of the semester. The game helped students move beyond Google and explore a wider variety of available resources for research. Bibliobouts gave them the tools to use library databases, and helped them identify high-quality sources through evaluation," she says.

According to Markey, Bibliobouts can be incorporated into the syllabus of any course where critical research skills and information literacy are needed. "BiblioBouts is discipline-, institution-, and class-rank neutral. Even advanced research teams can employ BiblioBouts to quickly identify, rate, and choose the best sources on their object of study," she says.

The game is played in four bouts, with each bout devoted to one aspect of the research process: collecting one's sources, selecting one's best sources, rating and tagging opponents' sources, and compiling a final bibliography of best sources from a pool of everyone's source. In playing the game, students score points to advance through various levels from Novice to Grand Master Marksman, with their rankings displayed on the game's home page.

Barry Fishman, professor of education, used the game in his Video Games and Learning course.

"Bibliobouts helped me motivate my students to do library research for their final projects and papers," he says. "Without the game, it was a struggle to focus them on literature searches and reviews. With the game, they were finding sources even I didn't know about. Bibliobouts effectively tapped into students' competitive nature."

In the final bout, the class builds a Best Bibliography from the top 10 sources in the citation pool. All players finish the game with a high-quality bibliography they can use to produce their paper. They also have gained research skills that can be immediately applied to other college classes. Search results are captured and stored in Zotero, a free Web-based tool developed at George Mason University that allows users to collect, organize and cite their sources.

To date, 300 undergraduate students in 12 classes at four universities have played Bibliobouts. Student evaluations cite numerous benefits of the game, including increased self-confidence in performing research, developing expertise in using Zotero, and finding more information than they would have on their own. In addition, students say it helped them overcome the tendency to procrastinate, exposed them to library databases, and revealed where to go for sources after exhausting Google, Wikipedia, and the Web.

Bibliobouts is funded by a three-year grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and received early support from the Delmas Foundation. Instructors interested in learning more about the project or incorporating it into their classes are encouraged to contact the Bibliobouts team at