Beach balls, Koosh balls, and better searching

Detail of beach ball

We play in the summer.  We can also play during library instruction.

Bonnet, Herakova, and McAlexander (2018) tested two different active learning techniques, one involving a beach ball with different sources written on it.  In a game of hot potato, students choose a source and discuss its usefulness for their public speaking assignment (p. 502).  Once the students know the source type, they can think of where to find it.  The Searching as Strategic Exploration frame mentions matching the tool to the task (Association of College & Research Libraries, 2016, Knowledge Practices subsection).

Smith (2018) has students brainstorm words to describe a Koosh ball.  Then students search for the item on Finally they compare their search terms with the description in the patent.  In database searching the right terms matter (ACRL, 2016, Searching as Strategic Exploration section, Knowledge Practices subsection).  Since the same applies to online shopping, learners can apply a real-world skill to their research.

Of course gamification isn’t right for all circumstances.  Bonnet et al (2018) note that students made similar gains with a more standard active learning exercise.  The technique matters less than do the intended outcomes and instructor preferences (p. 506).   Still, why would we ignore another way of reaching students?  Here’s wishing you some more play as we prepare for the new semester!


Association of College & Research Libraries. (2016). Framework for information literacy for higher education. Retrieved from ACRL website:

Bonnet, J. L., Herakova, L., & McAlexander, B. (2018). Play on? Comparing active learning techniques for information literacy instruction in the public speaking course. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 44(4), 500–510.

Smith, J. (2018). What is this thing? Koosh balls and search terms. Retrieved from Project CORA website:


Image Credit: By Susan Adams from Dallas-ish, TX, USA (IMG_0254.JPG) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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