Teaching research skills – an epic adventure

This is a guest post by Daisy Abbott, a researcher in game-based learning and teacher of postgraduates at the School of Simulation and Visualisation at The Glasgow School of Art. Her current research focusses on game-based learning, in particular, serious games in a Higher Education context. Daisy’s blog can be found here.

Screenshot of the landing page for Creative Thinking Quest which reads: Welcome to the Creative Thinking Quest. Before you start, would you like to contribute to research on using quests like this for learning? If so, please click here for more information and a survey. You may want to bookmark this survey so you can find it again when your quest is over, however if you reach the end you will find another link there. Now start your Quest! Beware, this quest is not for the faint-hearted! Dare you proceed?
Screenshot of the landing page for Creative Thinking Quest

My recent work has focussed on developing game-based learning tools – the Creative Thinking Quest – that help to mitigate some of the problems faced in the teaching and learning of research skills, and that help to create excitement and embedding of information through play (Abbott, 2019, 2020).

Join me on my quest to navigate the dangerous lands of teaching Research Skills!

The landscape…

Digital badge from the Creative Thinking Quest interactive learning tool.

According to some, Research Skills courses are courses that “instructors hate to teach and students hate to take.” (Kollars & Rosen, 2017, p.333). It is widely accepted that research skills are essential for students to master in order to progress both in their studies and in the workplace. But, as the quote above implies, there are challenges in motivation for students undertaking research skills training (Earley, 2014). There are further challenges in situating the academic research skills taught, within students’ real world contexts (Ryan et al., 2014) which can lead to a lack of engagement with learning materials. 

These issues are accentuated for postgraduate researchers, who are expected to quickly develop and practise applied research design skills as they undertake independent research. Good research design requires the researcher to combine specialist knowledge, skill-based competencies, and their own aptitudes, so the use of learning methods that enable new learning to be processed, combined with prior knowledge and applied in practice, improves both engagement with the subject, and learning outcomes. 

Choose your path!

Digital badge from the Creative Thinking Quest interactive learning tool.

The Creative Thinking Quest is an interactive learning tool in the form of a digital Choose Your Own Adventure. It was created using Twine but embeds a range of other playful learning tools such as ThingLinks.

Learners take on the role of adventurers who meet a wizard who guides them through choosing an appropriate ‘quest’ based on their personal situation, research learning wish list, and how developed their project ideas already are. The quest then presents a series of fictional obstacles (rivers to cross, magic mirrors, and so on) which are used to engage the player in a variety of learning activities relevant to the stage of project design they are currently at. 

The activities progress through brainstorming, idea refinement and scoping, to the specifics of the project’s objectives, and its outcomes and impacts. The activities all produce written results which are encouraged to be captured in a ‘Quest Scroll’ and digital badges are awarded at relevant points along the way.

The main characteristics of the ‘Quest’ approach to learning design can be summarised as:

  • Active, exploratory learning, closely linked to a specific and situated project idea
  • Personalisation of learning activities to support players as they progress
  • Increasing motivation using a (deliberately slightly silly) fictional narrative
  • Use of gamification techniques (digital badges) to increase motivation

Equip yourself wisely!

Digital badge from the Creative Thinking Quest interactive learning tool.

Although the quest was designed specifically for my own Master’s students, anyone can use it if they want a highly structured and scaffolded method for producing a rigorous research project proposal. Each quest activity equips the learner with a transferable skill, e.g. creative idea generation methods, analytical techniques, and design tools. Although the quest was designed primarily for research skills learning, I took care to expand the quest’s use to a range of purposes, including the design of creative projects for a funding bid.

Join me, noble adventurer!

Digital badge from the Creative Thinking Quest interactive learning tool.

The quest is currently being tested so that I can refine and improve it. Please find it here, try it out, share it with your researchers, and give me the most precious treasure: your feedback! 

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