"How did you do that?"

"How did you do that?" "How did you get there?"

Two questions I've heard many times by students, either in an instruction session or at reference interaction. I usually chalk these comments up to us not presenting the material well or the student just not paying attention. But after my experience yesterday trying to turn our library staff into DS fans, I realized that part of the equation, part of their response, is a lack of context.

After watching one technically endowed co-worker stumble through the menus in a game and put the student's reaction in context. The navigation and logic of using the game and playing were foreign. And it took some trial and error in order to feel more comfortable and to start understanding. I know I'm guilty of diving into a database (I try not to over explain too often) and I've seen others start off with basic assumptions as well. What if the students do not have the context to for those basic assumptions?

I assumed the navigation of the game was straightforward, it was for me. I even had another co-worker state he got stuck trying to enter a door (in New Super Mario Bros.). I assume - enter a door in a 2D space, press "up." But I've done that since the 5th grade. Some librarians have been searching and constructing search strategies just as long. Even those new librarians still can enter with certain basic assumptions. If a librarian can get stuck in navigating an electronic interface (in the game) why can't a student (in the database)?

What can we do?

I'm going to take some time before the spring semester starts and look back at how I present the various interfaces to first year students and try to determine what assumptions I project. Now here's the tricky part - don't solve the problem by explaining the assumptions. It's nature, I want to. I would give them an overview of the interface, but in no more than 2 sentences. Then using game strategies, I want to let students explore, discover their barriers and work together to try to overcome them.

I want to give the students some quick time (2-3 minutes) to dive in and explore on their own. Then pull then back and use examples from their results, problems, and successes to have them teach each other (with my additions of content, explanation and analysis). They are going to hit challenges, just like the staff did with the interface, but the class can help them work through it. Granted I'll want to add in content to help the students with quality and evaluation and other IL skills. But navigation is different. Navigation needs context... or a willingness to explore and discover boundaries.

I think that having the librarians struggle to navigate through the game was a good & uncomfortable experience. If you have non-gaming librarians and staff, force it on them. Have them work through those few moments of awkwardness. Then let's all remember that during our next instruction session.

Nothing like walking a mile in their shoes. Or playing a level with their controller.