How to create scavenger hunts for online learning

Scavenger and treasure hunts are a great way to increase learner engagement, in face-to-face, blended and even online learning formats. There is actually a difference between scavenger and treasure hunts, although the names and formats tend to overlap. Treasure hunts tend to be about finding and solving clues to reach a final destination (the treasure). A post on treasure hunts will follow, but this one is about scavenger hunts, which tend to involve participants hunting for items on a list. They may collect the items themselves or capture evidence that they have located them.

Scavenger hunts can open up a number of learning opportunities, not just around the topics on the curriculum, but in developing professional, academic and interpersonal skills, such as independent learning and research, teamwork, communication, and self-efficacy. Furthermore, like treasure hunts, scavenger hunts may be used to support a broad range of learning objectives, study levels, and learning contexts. 

The hunting locations and the objects gathered may or may not be directly related to the learning objectives. For example, every series of The Apprentice (UK) features a scavenger hunt task, where the two teams of candidates must find and purchase items from a list. The aim is not to evaluate the candidates’ geographical knowledge or range of product recognition, even though the task sometimes takes place in another country and some of the items are quite obscure. Rather, apart from the obvious entertainment value the format brings, the task develops and reveals leadership, communication, teamwork, problem solving, negotiation, and financial literacy skills. This example shows how versatile and rich in learning opportunities hunting-style activities can be.

Another benefit of the scavenger hunt is that it can take place in online, offline, and blended learning formats. During the Coronavirus pandemic, such adaptability has been a particularly valuable way to maintain remote learner and staff engagement, while responding to constant changes in the learning environment or workplace.

Learning design strategy

A successful scavenger hunt will be based on a great learning design strategy:

In any learning design initiative, it is generally best to start with a clear set of learning objectives or intended outcomes before deciding on an activity format. For a scavenger activity you either want to maximise the scope of potential learning opportunities, or focus on achieving target learning outcomes. Ideally, you will leave decisions about where the hunt will take place or what will be hunted until later on. 

When you have outlined or established learning objectives, decide how such objectives might be developed and measured. Focus on the verbs in your objectives, using Bloom’s Taxonomy to find alternatives if need be. These strategies can help to determine the type of scavenging space and methods needed. You might want to tie in broader objectives, like digital literacy or communication skills, to extend the scope of learning opportunities.

Next, decide what knowledge, skills, and behaviours you would be looking for to indicate that learning objectives had been met. The evidence your learners gather in the scavenger hunt should indicate that they will have practised or achieved them somehow in the process.  

Finally, select the tools you will need to host the hunt. There are lots of digital tools out there, which you and your participants could potentially use to facilitate the hunt and evidence gathering. Make sure they are safe, appropriate, accessible, and compliant with your organisation’s policies before setting anything up.

Here are some example scavenger hunts, which both use online tools but could be adapted as blended or face-to-face versions:

Example 1: Familiarising learners with a new environment

The following activity is particularly suitable for employee onboarding and student induction, but there are many other potential uses. By adding game rules or using certain technologies, the hunt could also be used to demonstrate digital literacy or independent learning skills. The environment to be explored can be physical, digital, or a combination.

We have asked our demo student to familiarise themselves with the town of Forres. To demonstrate that they have explored the town and learned a little about its features, they must find locations where a visitor could do various activities, i.e. play, remember, shop, eat, drink, learn, look, listen, and relax.

As evidence of their findings, our demo student chooses to post images and descriptions of each location to a Linoit canvas, which they embed with some reflections in their student blog (a WordPress.org site hosted by Reclaim Hosting). 

This sort of activity is great for adding visual interest to portfolios and journals. A learner could capture sketches or photos from an actual visit, but for remote learners, screengrabs from Google Street View could be used, as shown here.

Example 2: Finding information and analysing documents

This next example can be implemented using various learning platforms, including Moodle, Blackboard, Canvas and WordPress. The evidence gathering is facilitated using H5P, an authoring tool, which is free and relatively easy to learn. We have used an English Literature topic to demonstrate an information-based scavenger hunt, but the format could be adapted for any learning objective that requires learners to find and analyse information from texts and repositories.

The learner is asked to locate examples of poetic devices from a range of sources, with commentary on how they chose them, and with appropriate referencing. 

You are welcome to download this H5P object and adapt it for your own hunt (click the “Reuse” button at the bottom of the object). Alternatively, you can create your own, by creating an account on H5P.org, or using an H5P plugin within your own learning platform. There are a number of alternative H5P activity formats, which you might choose to use instead to suit your activity goals.

Our example was created using the H5P documentation tool. We have suggested a scoring system, but that’s optional, and it would be up to the instructor how this should be implemented. Learners could self-evaluate and add the exported file to their portfolio, or submit it through the VLE for marking. 

Our document does not provide an entry box for the learner’s name. This could easily be added, but it could be intentionally blank to facilitate anonymous peer marking and feedback (the instructor would need to number the submissions so that they could be identified and returned to each original learner after marking by their peers. 

More examples

Scavenger hunts can be used for a variety of purposes and learning contexts. Here are some more example use case ideas:

  • Tourism and hospitality staff/students explore an area to give recommendations of attractions and facilities to guests.
  • Staff explore a facility to locate first aiders, kits, fire exits, extinguishers, alarms and other safety features.
  • Students explore physical and digital libraries to locate books, journals and related facilities.
  • Learners hunt for historical references and examples around a city e.g. use of famous figure names, types of architecture, postcodes.
  • Just for fun ice breakers / team-building – e.g. teams race to find objects that begin with letters to spell out a word.
  • Learners search their home, local businesses, or the wider internet, for products that originate or are manufactured in a region, or according to certain standards e.g. Fair Trade.
  • Learners record and mix sound samples according to a list of a criteria (e.g. material, location type) to create a soundtrack for a digital artefact.
  • Participants seek out and capture the alphabet, or spell a word using photos/sketches of items that are shaped like letters.
  • Learners seek examples of objects, facilities, or spaces that could or should be adapted for disabled workers, customers, or learners.
  • Participants explore information repositories, for definitions of academic or technical terms.
  • Learners find examples from menus of restaurants, or household food items that meet specific food standards e.g. allergy advice.
  • Healthcare students/practitioners find local support groups and recreational services for patients and carers.

Hunting grounds and evidence

To help you see the scavenger hunt opportunities in your learning environment, consider the contexts and conditions under which the hunt could take place, and the variety of targets and types of evidence you might use.

Here are some suggestions to consider:

Contexts and conditions

Your scavengers could explore:

  • personal and domestic spaces, outdoors, their workplace, a campus, specific facility, or postcode area;
  • online, offline, mobile device, radio, TV, blended, digital app, or specific digital space e.g. network drive, staff intranet, learning platform;
  • the space around them during a face to face or video conference e.g. Zoom, Microsoft Teams;
  • different space sizes – object, room, building, park, fridge, atlas;
  • using specific equipment, BYOD (bring your own device), or off grid only (verbal communication, Yellow Pages);
  • while following rules e.g. not allowed to talk, only use sign language or foreign language, can only travel by bicycle, no maps/GPS allowed, using only keyboard/assistive technologies;
  • on a small scale using an object e.g. a document, an anatomical model, a piece of equipment, a map, an image, or items under a microscope;
  • through a virtual tour, Google Maps and Street View, VR/AR experiences, or Google Earth; or
  • while on a coach trip, train journey, boat trip, walking tour, cycle route, or even a fairground attraction.

Evidence gathering

Your scavengers could gather:

  • photos, sketches, screengrabs, videos, screencasts;
  • extracts, quotes, or references from literature, websites, broadcasts and publications;
  • selfies or images of themselves in locations, or interacting with found objects;
  • codes and numbers e.g. passwords, contact numbers, coordinates, registration numbers;
  • answers to questions e.g. how many stars are on the flag? What is the code for the door?;
  • links to websites, videos and other web objects; and
  • physical objects e.g. plant cuttings, tickets, or “passport” stamps.

Submitting evidence

Your scavengers could share their evidence by:

  • using an online assignment tool in your learning platform;
  • posting to a forum or newsfeed e.g. Yammer;
  • posting to a social media site or class blog;
  • updating their personal blog with evidence;
  • giving live updates on a messaging platform or app;
  • creating an artefact e.g. slideshow, vlog post;
  • using a digital bookmarking, notice board or collaborative tool
  • e.g. Wakelet, Pinterest, Linoit, Pearltrees, Padlet, Miro; or
  • labelling a map or diagram.

Happy hunting!

We hope you find this post useful and interesting. We will be following up with a treasure hunt post and others very soon!

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Pedagogy

Pedagogy is generally defined as the art, science and craft of teaching. The first pedagogues were Greek slaves who were responsible for caring for and instructing their masters’ children. In fact, the Greek origin of the word means ‘to lead the child’.

So, pedagogy may also be considered to be about nurture and pastoral care, as well as teaching. Despite the reference to children, the term is used fairly comfortably in adult education contexts. However, andragogy, which translates as ‘to lead the man’, may be used to refer specifically to the teaching of adults.

A number of related and derivative terms may be used to define particular fields of pedagogical interest, including digital pedagogycritical pedagogy, and heutagogy.