Behind the scenes tour of the archive

Submitted by Tanja Kostić

The approach is based on combining two concepts:
Hands-on learning: learners acquire knowledge and skills by doing, rather than by seeing or listening; learners engage in some physical, tangible learning practice through experimenting, hands-on solving or discovery learning. This learning method provides learners with real-life work experiences.
Scavenger hunt: a game in which players are given a list of tasks to complete/objects to find
within a particular period of time. The scavenger hunt part motivates learners in a way that they feel eager to learn and complete
different tasks and challenges. In order to complete them, they need to move around, interact with their environment and actively engage in various learning exercises.

Download Method Guide

In which way is this method alternative?

When a game or competition is involved, learners become more engaged in learning experience. Instead of simply observing and listening about a given subject, learners actively engage with the subject matter, acquire new knowledge and skills, solve a problem or create something.
Main benefits of the approach:
– Incredibly engaging and dynamic
– Knowledge is actively created, instead of passively consumed
– Results in a physical creation
– Gives learners experience of doing something real
– Combines fun, competition and learning
– Combines individual and team work.

In which context was the method developed?

The approach was created and tested in an archival institution
Objective: Learn about the digitization of the Archives
Participants: 20 children (age: 10-14)
Start: Children are divided in two groups. Each group gets a list with tasks to complete.
Accompanied by organizers (two per group), they visit different locations of the Archives, and, with the guidance of staff, complete the tasks. Each task corresponds to one stage of the digitization process:

  1. Go to the stacks, take a cart and find a box which contains documents* for digitization / learn about the classification inventory system;
  2. Take the box and bring it to the pre-dig lab, all the files in the box (one per participant) need to be prepared for scanning: fasteners removed, corners unfolded, tears mended / learn how to perform basic preservation and conservation treatments;
  3. Go to the scanning lab, scan the prepared documents and take a USB stick which contains images of the scanned documents / learn about the technical aspects of digitization;
  4. Go to the post-dig lab, open the scanned images and find scanning errors / learn about the digitization quality control standards;

Finish: every participant gets a certificate of completion of the digitization process.

The approach was a huge success with both children and staff. Parents and children were really delighted and we got a lot of good feedback. We also got a few requests to organize the same experience for the parents themselves.
* The term “documents” refers here to copies of documents specially made for this occasion. No original documents were used in the challenges.

Settings and participants the method is best suited for

This method can be used in any setting and is applicable to everyone providing it is well planned and thoughtfully constructed.

Requirements for applying the method

The specificities of the archival context where the method was applied required extensive planning and careful preparations:

  • As only highly trained professionals can handle original documents; only copies of documents could be used in the challenges. To make the learning experience as realistic as possible for children, the copies were made to look authentic, old and damaged (full colour print, fasteners and paper clips attached, little tears and folds made, etc.).
  • The complexity of the digitization process required involvement of many professionals (at least 15 people): pre-dig specialists, scanning operators and post-dig experts.
  • The work with children required assessing risks and taking full responsibility for the safe handling of tools and equipment (removing staples, using hot irons, scissors, etc.).
  • Scavenger hunts imply the intense pressure to “beat the clock” (challenges are to be completed within a particular period of time). The time pressure can have a negative affect to the learning process. Therefore, it was necessary to set a realistic timeframe according to the complexity of tasks and give children enough time to learn and acquire new skills (e.g. children had 10 minutes to find an archival box and 30 minutes to prepare their documents).

The context in which this method was developed

Hands-on-learning refers to a theory of education expounded by American philosopher, educator and social critic John Dewey all the way back in 1887. It is based on the idea that we learn more when we actually “do” the activity. It is a learning-by-doing approach, meaning learners must interact with their environment in order to acquire new knowledge and skills.

Scavenger hunts probably have ancient roots but they got widely popular in the 1930 in the U.S. Scavenger hunts are regularly organized by educational institutions from the 1980s, a notable modern example being the University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt (“Scav”), founded in 1987. In the academic version of this popular game, students search for information, resources, or experiences. McCain (2007) found several benefits of using scavenger hunts for instruction and learning purposes, providing they are carefully and strategically constructed.

Relevant testimonies

External (a thank-you-note from a parent of one of the participants):
“Thank you very much for this amazing experience for my daughter. She really enjoyed the activity and came back to home explaining in detail how to restore a document, how to digitalize them, the storage of the archives… after her explanations all the family would really love to do the activity!! […] Thank you again and Congratulations. You did a great job!”

– Internal (feedback from a supervisor)
“When Tanja conceptualized and then executed a behind-the-scenes tour for the “Futur en tous genres”, she was able to give the children more than just a show and tell of the work we do. The participants were able to practice carrying out the same work that the pre and post-digitization teams do.”

Additional references

John Dewey on Education: Selected Writings, 1964
The University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt The Hunter Games by Patricia Max, The New Yorker,
June 25, 2012: McCain, C. 2007. Scavenger hunt assignments in academic libraries: Viewpoints vs reality. College and Undergraduate Libraries 14(1): 19-31.