What my students learned during an Internet Scavenger Hunt

Flickr photo by 10ch

Can you really find EVERYTHING on Google? Of course not. Yet, time and time again I have observed the extent to which students (and non-students) overly rely on search engines to find information. In fact, I have had young people basically tell me that if they can’t find the answer on Google, then it just can’t be found. Don’t get me wrong, I use Google daily (hourly?), however I also recognize its limitations and often utilize other tools and resources in order to gather information. I wanted to challenge my students to think beyond Google and force them to creatively find answers.

Thus, to kick off the social media courses I’m teaching this semester, I challenged my students to an Internet Scavenger Hunt. I told them it would not be possible to find all the answers by simply using search engines, several students rolled their eyes and expressed their doubts. I told them that in addition to Google they could utilize any resources or tools they could think of. Some of the questions were basic trivia questions that they could find through a search engine. However, I also included a bunch of questions that required the use of multiple resources and tools including, but not limited to: Wikipedia, Twitter, Yelp, Google Scholar, Google Maps, their classmates, their phones (to make calls), Google Flights, View Source,  Facebook, me, Amazon, Google Goggles or other image search apps.

The rules were simple:

1. Get into groups of 4-5, make sure there is at least one laptop or tablet and at least one smartphone in every group.
2. You can use any tool or resource you can think of, there really isn’t a way to “cheat”.
3. You can ask me yes or no questions that I may or may not answer.
4. The team or teams that gets the most correct answers will be rewarded.

I kept repeating that the team or teams with the most correct answer would be rewarded. I also included questions that encouraged teams to talk to each other. After about an hour of struggling through questions, one of my classes suggested they work together as one large team. At first some of the students were resistant to share their answers and others were concerned that might be “cheating”, but eventually the whole class agreed. One student took the initiative to start writing answers on the board. As a class they disagreed about different answers, which meant they had to prove their answer and convince the class that their method or resource was better than another. By the end, this class had answered 77/80 questions correctly. This was EXACTLY what I had hoped they would do – work together! They will be reading Rheingold’s Net Smart this semester and I was able to use this simple exercise to introduce concepts and examples of collaboration and collective intelligence.

Interestingly, my other class worked much more individualistically; even within their teams many divided up sections and worked alone rather than collaboratively. Most of the teams in my second class only answered about 50/80 questions; the winning team answered 69/80. I don’t know yet what the difference was, but the dynamics were very different between the two classes.

I also included questions that had no “right” answer – they were either opinion questions, or questions that could be interpreted in many different ways. This allowed us to discuss the value of “truth” and “validity” in a multimediated participatory culture.

There were questions that were much easier to answer by utilizing offline resources such as asking me for a copy of the class syllabus, polling the class about Twitter followers and each others’ last names, or calling businesses to make specific inquiries. Again, I wanted the students to think beyond the internet and remember that “traditional” resources are sometimes more efficient than always relying on their phones and laptops.

Additionally, a lot of the questions simply could not be found on Google, but rather they required students to search primary sources. For example, I asked them how many times The Beatles Wikipedia page had been viewed in the past 30 days and who had contributed the most edits to the page. I was trying to get them to move away from search engines and instead consult primary sources of information.

I also included many images of logos, obscure flags, and people; no one group recognized any of the images without help. Some teams used Google Goggles or other image search tools, which were helpful to varying degrees (I purposely made sure all the logos could be identified with Google Goggles). Some students were not aware such tools existed. Instead of helping them search for the answers, I encouraged these teams to search for tools that would help them find the answers.

Very few students (3/50) thought to post the pictures or questions to their Facebook or Twitter or call a friend to get help. I kept dropping hints, but most of the teams did not think to seek help from their respective (online) social networks. I used this as an opportunity to talk about collective knowledge and tapping into our social networks. I was able to introduce them to the idea that social media are tools and resources we must learn to utilize effectively.

Overall I think the exercise was a huge success! The students enjoyed it (one class more than the other) and they learned how to use new tools and resources. More importantly, I think the exercise exposed the ways we tend to “think inside the box” so it helped some students to discover new and creative information-seeking practices. The students who got the answers to particularly difficult questions were proud of themselves – they did not come into the class knowing how to find the answer, but through trial and error, alongside creative and critical thinking, they found what they needed.

The different classes and teams took a variety of approaches to seeking the answers and some were more successful than others. By the end of class I think all of them were thinking more critically about information-seeking practices, collective knowledge, social networking, and collaboration – topics we will continue to discuss and practice throughout the semester.

**Please feel free to modify and use the Internet Scavenger Hunt for your own purposes. I also welcome feedback and suggestions based on your own experiences.**

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