From the Fall 2014 newsletter
For the second year in a row, the Lloyd Sealy Library doubled as a Time-Traveling Detective Agency to solve a cold case using real historical sources. Forty-five first-year students worked in 17 teams to solve the Murder Mystery Challenge, led by Peer Mentors from the Student Academic Success Programs (SASP). The teams built up their library research skills as they solved each clue—finding a 1921 New York Times article about a Midtown murder, for example, or hunting down a book in the stacks by call number. Student feedback rated the activity highly. Responding to the survey afterward, one student wrote, “It was a fun and educational experience, although I think having the Challenge in the library might have possibly distracted other students at the library by piquing their curiosity as to what we were up to!” Another student wrote that she wished the Challenge had more clues. On a scale of 1-4, students rate the fun level as a 3.75.More importantly, students reported that they learned library skills—“I learned how to navigate the library,” “I learned how to do an APA citation,” and so on—and the work they turned in supports their claim.
Basic library research skills were covered: finding a newspaper article; finding a scholarly article; finding a source in the article’s footnotes; searching for a book in the library catalog; finding the book in the stacks; and citing a book correctly in APA format. In addition, bonus questions asked students to find a secret message hidden within the APA citation and to post photos on various social media channels of their team looking “sleuthy” with Lil Jay. (See photos at left.) In total, the most points students could get was 125. Eleven teams scored over 100 points — not bad for junior gumshoes! We awarded prizes to the top 3 tiers of the point spread. Prizes included Amazon gift cards, a VIP lunch in the Faculty Lounge, Starbucks cards, movie passes, and New York Times swag.
This fall’s Murder Mystery Challenge was an improved version of last year’s. Revisions were based student feedback. In 2013, students felt the Challenge relied too much on using computers, as they had to read clues on a special website, find information online, and input their answers in a page-by-page web form. This year, the clues and answer fields were included in a colorful printed packet, along with some “hint” materials, like a map of the library. As with most library research in the 21st century, many clues did instruct the students to find information online—but encouraged the students to take turns at the computer. Using a paper packet felt more like completing a scavenger hunt than filling out a form. In addition, teams had 4-5 students last year, but some students felt left out because there wasn’t enough for everyone to do. So this time around, students worked in teams of 2-3, which created a more intimate and intense setting for team learning.
The Murder Mystery Challenge was created as an event for first-years in partnership with SASP. It was organized by Robin Davis, Marta Bladek, Nancy Yang (SASP), and Shelley Germana (SASP). Robin Davis wrote the Challenge using a real 1922 trial transcript held in the library, and prizes were sponsored by the Faculty-Student Engagement grants from the Division of Student Affairs, paid for through the Student Activity Fee and with support from the Office of Student Life.
Keep an eye out next fall for the Murder Mystery Challenge!