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Instructor FAQ

This FAQ is intended for instructors who want to know more about adding BiblioBouts to their courses.

If you are interested in administering games, please note the funding for BiblioBouts ended on September 30, 2012. Thus, we are no longer able to support requests for new games. If you are currently a game owner, you will be able to access all data, statistics, and evaluation reports for ongoing and completed games for some time to come but you will be unable to create new games. We regret that we cannot grant game-owner status to new requesters. The demo BiblioBouts game will be available for the foreseeable future. (Note: The demo game is not working due to incompability problems with Zotero. Instead, consult section 14, "Step 12," on pages 12 to 24 of Interim report #5 for a description of game play.) If you have questions, please contact us at info@bibliobouts.org. Thanks to so many participants who contributed to the success of the BiblioBouts Project!

The FAQ discusses 4 points:

A.       Introduction to BiblioBouts

B.       Is BiblioBouts Right For Your Course?

C.       How Do I Prepare Before Game-Play Starts?

D.       Give Me Bout-by-bout Details for In-Class Discussions!

The BiblioBouts Project team encourages instructors to play the game along with students and engage them in the discussions this FAQ describes; however, students report benefits from playing BiblioBouts regardless of the extent of instructor participation and class discussion.


A. Introduction to BiblioBouts     

Students play BiblioBouts while they research their assigned papers. BiblioBouts is composed of a series of mini-games or bouts that introduce students to a specific subset of skills within the larger skill-set that structures the overall library research process.

The bouts of BiblioBouts give students experience and hands-on practice with these research tasks:

    1. Closer bout: Choosing the best sources on a broad-based topic.

    2. Tagging and Rating bout: Evaluating their classmates' sources with regard to content, credibility, and relevance.

    3. Best Bibliography bout: Deciding the specific topic that their papers will discuss, and, using the wisdom of the class as a foundation, choosing the best sources for writing their papers from the pool of sources that all players contribute to the game.
Game winners are students who meet instructor-set caps, exceed instructor-set quotas, agree with their classmates on content tags, relevance and credibility ratings, and contribute the sources that large numbers of students add to their best bibliography at the end of the game.

Before the game begins, we recommend instructors invite librarians to class to demonstrate library databases to students and show them how Zotero works. BiblioBouts expects students to sign onto the game with relevant sources in hand on the broad-based topic. To accomplish this, students use Zotero to save their sources in the form of online citations and full-texts. How many sources students find online and save into Zotero is up to them, but instructors determine how many sources a student contributes to the game by setting the quota for the Closer game.

BiblioBouts begins with a video that demonstrates how to play the game. Librarians can also demonstrate how the game works and introduce students to the various information literacy concepts they will encounter during game-play such as citation, abstract, bibliography, full-texts, etc. Instructors should consider building on the librarians' presentations, telling students what scholarship, research, and expertise means in their discipline. After the game ends, students have access to everyone's sources through the BiblioBouts Post-Game Library where they can search for sources that support the arguments they are making in their papers.

BiblioBouts is discipline-neutral so it is meant for any college course in which the instructor assigns a research-and-writing assignment. We believe that instructors who are concerned about the quality of the sources students cite in their papers are the ones who will be most interested in BiblioBouts.

BiblioBouts resides on our server. We authorize instructors as game administrators. You set up a game by filling in a web-based form that includes email addresses of students who will be playing the game and setting each bout's cap or quota. BiblioBouts uses email to send your students an invitation to join the game. Students register for BiblioBouts. A successful BiblioBouts registration means that the student has met the cap that the instructor has set for the Closer bout, and that students can start to play BiblioBouts.

Play the BiblioBouts Demo Game

To familiarize yourself with BiblioBouts, play the demo game. Using the Firefox browser, navigate to http://bibliobouts.org, enter "demo@bibliobouts.org" (minus the quotes) into Email and "demo" (minus the quotes) into Password. The demo game expects only one person to be playing it at a time -- if you are playing and the game ignores information you have entered, it is because someone else is playing the demo game at the same time. Also the demo game has set up for the University of Michigan (U-M) so you won't be authorized to download some full-texts or use the U-M Library's database portal. When you create a game for your students, you won't have these authorization problems.


BiblioBouts is supported by a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Library and Museum Services (IMLS). There is no cost to you or your institution for playing BiblioBouts. 

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B.      Is BiblioBouts Right For Your Course?

1.  What kind of course assignments work best for BiblioBouts?

BiblioBouts is the perfect accompaniment to course assignments that require undergraduate students to find, read, and synthesize published literature about academic topics and write a paper or annotated bibliography. Assign students a single broad topic that will be the subject of the game. To help students find relevant sources online and save them to Zotero, add to your assignment a description of the broad-based topic and suggest keywords and databases that are likely to yield useful information. Students then play BiblioBouts, contributing to a shared collection the best sources they found on the topic, evaluating and organizing the sources that their classmates found, and choosing the very best sources for their assignments from the shared collection of everyone's sources.

2.  What are examples of course assignments that instructors have assigned their students?

Here are 3 different examples. One instructor assigned his students the topic "How to write a business plan for a new Web 2.0 technology." Students found relevant citations and full-texts in ProQuest, ABI Inform, and other databases and used them to write their papers. A second instructor assigned her students the broad topic "Intercultural Communication." Students found relevant citations and full-texts in ProQuest, Communication Abstracts, and PsycINFO and used them to write a paper that compared their real-life experiences with research findings on the particular intercultural communication subtopic. A third instructor assigned his students the topic “How climate change has brought about a particular adaptation in a particular human population.” Students found relevant citations and full-texts in ScienceDirect, ProQuest, Africa-Wide Information, and other databases and used them to write a research paper.

3.  Should I incorporate BiblioBouts game play into my course syllabus?

Definitely! When students get credit for playing BiblioBouts, they take the game seriously. Not only do we recommend that instructors incorporate BiblioBouts game play into their syllabi, we encourage you to incorporate a student’s final score into their grade for the course. The game’s highest scorers will be motivated students who contribute citations and full-texts that other students select for their best bibliography, meet the game's caps and exceed its quotas, and agree with fellow students on ratings, tags, and the best sources for their papers. Use BiblioBouts’ Admin feature to assess the game-play performance of individual students vis-a-vis all students in the class. Admin displays an Evaluation Report with a link to the Evaluation Report FAQ that tells how you can use the leader board and Evaluation Report data to grade your students' game play.

4.  What other concepts does BiblioBouts teach?

Students who play BiblioBouts experience library research as a set of tasks that are discrete from other learning tasks and are even discrete from each other. We want students to be able to distinguish the different tasks in research and to come to appreciate how they fit together. Instructors could lead students in a discussion of the important concepts that students encounter by playing the game. What constitutes "research" in your field or discipline? How can your students determine whether the author is an expert on the subject at hand? What literary content characterizes serious research in the field (e.g., scholarly journal articles, reviews of the literature, software reviews, editorials, etc.)? How does one distinguish between a consumer magazine and a scholarly journal? Consider asking librarians to be on hand when you talk about these topics because they have lots of experience telling students about them. 

5.  Do all students have to research the same topic?

Yes. Instructors assign students one broad topic. Students find information that addresses the broad topic. They also specialize, contributing information on subtopics or aspects of the broad topic. Students learn from evaluating resources, comparing their evaluations with their opponents, and gain exposure to many more sources than they would have found on their own.

6.  Why is BiblioBouts game play limited to one topic?

A game that features multiple topics would require more effort from each individual to make up for fewer players. Also, such a game would be split into several separate games resulting in wide scoring variations, uneven game play, and different experiences overall. With everyone working on the same broad topic in BiblioBouts, students have shared experiences in a community of learners and no one has built-in advantages or disadvantages as a result of different game topics.

7. How can BiblioBouts accommodate the specific topics that interest students?

When students play the Best Bibliography bout, they specify the specific research question that their written papers will address. Presumably, their specific topic will be covered by the broad topic that their instructors choose at the start of the game. Students also select the 3 big ideas that their papers will discuss by choosing from an alphabetically-arranged browsing list of big ideas that players generated during the Rating & Tagging bout, and choose the best sources for their Best Bibliography on their specific topic. When players submit their Best Bibliography to BiblioBouts, the game produces a prospectus that lists the topic of their written paper, the big ideas they plan to discuss, and a list of best sources that they will use to write the paper. Consider asking students to share their prospectus with you and give them feedback so they produce better papers.

8.  Should I play along with my students?

Definitely! You can seed the game with good, bad, and mediocre full-texts, see how your students evaluate them, and whether they choose them for their best bibliographies. You can monitor the full-texts students have found especially in preparation for classroom discussions.

9.  Can students do their research for BiblioBouts on the web?

Yes. BiblioBouts expects students to search the web for relevant material on the broad topic in play; however, students are now beginning their mastery of an academic discipline. It is important that they be steered away from the web, Wikipedia, and Google towards library databases that cover what the best scientists and scholars are writing about the broad topic in play.

10.  Will students cite scholarly papers?

Only if you tell your students to do so; otherwise, they will search and cite what they find on the open web. Give your students a quota, for example, “you must cite a minimum 5 citations of which 2 citations can come from the web.” Also, give your students help by telling them the names of scholars, scientists, professionals, and practitioners who are researching and writing on the broad topic in play and keywords and phrases for searching relevant subtopics or aspects of the broad topic. Also, tell them the names of databases in which they can expect to find relevant information. If you want your students to cite research, give them instruction in how to identify research in your field and show them examples.

11.  Who can instruct students on the best databases for the broad topic?

Invite your institution’s librarians to demonstrate database searching for the broad topic. The librarians will be more than happy to do so. Ask them to demonstrate Zotero too.

12.  What does Zotero do?

Zotero is a free, open-source citation management tool that helps you to manage the information you find online and in library databases. Find a web page or citation you like, click on the text icon in the URL address window, and Zotero automatically imports a bibliographic citation and, for many databases, downloads its full-text into your computer. Zotero also outputs citations into dozens of different formats, e.g., APA, Chicago Manual of Style, MLA, etc. Zotero allows you to store full-text PDF articles on your personal computer and share them with others. “Once you get the hang of Zotero, it’s really awesome!” exclaimed a BiblioBouts game player. (Note: Zotero only works with the Firefox browser, the same browser students must use to play BiblioBouts).

Zotero works best with these databases, automatically importing citations and downloading full-texts:

ABI Inform ERIC OvidSP
Academic Search Premier Factiva Project Muse
ACM Google Scholar ProQuest Research
BioMed Central IEEE Xplore PsycARTICLES
BioOne Informaworld PubMed
Cambridge Scientific Abstracts InfoTrac College Edition Sage Journals Online
CINAHL InfoTrac Onefile ScienceDirect
CrossRef Ingenta Connect Scopus
CSA Illumina JStor SpringerLink
Ebscohost LexisNexis Wiley Interscience
Emerald Medline Web of Science
Engineering Village OCLC FirstSearch

13. Why can’t BiblioBouts do what Zotero does?

BiblioBouts relies on Zotero’s exceptional collection-building functionality. Zotero saves the sources students find online and in library databases, it builds a citation for each saved source, and it allows students to take notes on the full-texts. The sources players add to Zotero are duplicated at BiblioBouts so players have access to the sources everyone in class puts into play. Additionally, students gain valuable experience using Zotero, a skill that they can use for future library-research efforts.

14.  Is BiblioBouts game play limited to what is online?

Yes. Students search the web and library databases for information on the broad topic in play. When you choose the broad topic, make sure there is sufficient information online through your library’s portal. Ask your college librarians to help you research candidate broad topics. Eventually your students will go to them for help so give them a head start by helping you research a host of broad topics.

15.  Do you have a BiblioBouts Demonstration Game I could play?

Using the Firefox browser, play the demo game at http://www.bibliobouts.org. Enter "demo@bibliobouts.org" into "Email" and "demo" into "Password" (minus the quotes).

16.  What are the benefits of playing BiblioBouts?

Here are benefits cited by BiblioBouts game players:

  • BiblioBouts gives students experience using Zotero. Students say they will use Zotero in the future to manage the citations and full texts they find online.

  • Students evaluate their classmates’ sources, they see how their classmates evaluated their own sources, and from the evaluation practice BiblioBouts gives them, they learn what criteria are important for evaluation and how to apply such criteria during the evaluation task.

  • When students play BiblioBouts, they experience the research process at a well-planned pace. They aren’t doing everything at the last minute. The game helps them reflect on what they are doing as well as gives them repeated practice with the various steps of the research process.

  • Students get exposure to much more scholarly literature than they would through researching on their own.

  • Students like the community-of-learning aspect of the game. They work together on a shared bibliography instead of working alone. In fact, students want the game to have more social aspects -- which we are adding to the game as quickly as we can.

  • Students leverage their hard work with their fellow classmates’ hard work. When students like the citations and full-texts their classmates have contributed to BiblioBouts, they appropriate them for their papers.

  • At participating institutions, students earn money evaluating BiblioBouts. They can come to a pizza-and-pop luncheon and earn $25 for participating in a focus group interview. They want to help our research effort.

17.  Will I be expected to participate in the evaluation of BiblioBouts?

We invite instructors to participate in the evaluation of BiblioBouts. We have limited resources so we cannot accept everyone's invitations. If you have a large class (over 35 students) and want to participate, please contact us at info@bibliobouts.org. We will contact you by email and phone and tell you what to expect from the evaluation. For a sneak preview of evaluation activities, see the project's Evaluation Plan. In short, project members will interview you by phone or in person before game play begins, asking you questions about your course, its learning objectives, the assignment that will accompany game play, and the expectations you have for students’ completed assignments. After the game ends, team members will do a follow-up interview asking you questions about the impact of BiblioBouts on student learning, improvements to the game, pre-game preparations, and game play. If you want your students included in the evaluation, it would be much more complicated because it could require your institution's IRB approval.

18.  Will the students in my class be expected to evaluate BiblioBouts?

No, because of the complication of your institution's IRB approval. Instead, we work with librarians at participating institutions who have received approval from IRB to conduct research with students. Students complete pre- and post-game questionnaires that ask about their previous information literacy instruction, their perceptions and experiences playing the game, and their suggestions for improving it. Librarians also conduct focus group interviews with students, and students who volunteer for these interviews are served pizza and pop luncheon and earn $25.

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C.      How Do I Prepare Before Game-Play Starts?

19.  What should I do before my students play BiblioBouts?

Partner with a librarian. Discuss broad-based topics that you would like your students to research. Ask the librarian to search online for sources on your selected topic. Be prepared to switch topics in the event that the amount of online information is scant.

Play the demo BiblioBouts game to become familiar with its three bouts and Post-Game Library. See question #15 for signon instructions.

Contact us at info@bibliobouts.org with your questions.

20. How do I synchronize BiblioBouts with my syllabus and the research-and-writing assignment I give to my students?

Into both assignment and course syllabus, add BiblioBouts telling students that game play makes up a percentage of their final grade. (Usually this percentage is from 5% to 10% of their final grade.) The BiblioBouts Project team has instructors with experience incorporating the game into their courses so contact us at info@bibliobouts.org with questions including requests to review your assignment and syllabus.

Schedule the librarian to come to class to introduce students to your library's database portal and show students how to use Zotero. Librarians can also help students register for Zotero, save a citation and a full-text to their Zotero collection, and synchronize to the Zotero server so they have access to their Zotero collection from any computer.

In your syllabus, schedule one week for your students to find sources online and save them to Zotero. Add to your syllabus the minimum number of sources students should find. Be prepared for the students who wait until the last minute to complete assignments -- there may be a furry of technical questions regarding Zotero as students transition to BiblioBouts. See the table below and its scheduling recommendations. In short, schedule one week for students to find sources and save them to Zotero, schedule two weeks overall for playing BiblioBouts, and schedule one more week for students to write their papers. While they write their papers, they will be able to consult the BiblioBouts Post-Game Library to find more sources to support the arguments they make in their papers.

Register for BiblioBouts. Then contact us to authorize you as a game owner. Sign onto BiblioBouts' Admin interface to create a game. You will set caps for the Closer and Best Bibliography bouts, set quotas for the Tagging & Rating bout, add your class roster to the game invitation list, and publish the timetable for the beginning and ending dates of individual bouts. When you are done filling in the timetable, it should be synchronized to your syllabus and the research-and-writing assignment you give to students.

In the table below are listed pre- and post-game activities, the three bouts of BiblioBouts, the tasks per activity or bout, and suggested times for activities and bouts.

Pre- or post-game activity




Library databases and Zotero In class, the librarian introduces students to the library's database portal, relevant databases, and Zotero
1 day
Collect sources Search the web and library databases for sources that address the broad-based topic and save them using Zotero.
7 days
Closer bout Choose your best sources on the broad topic and put them into play.
2 to 3 days
Rating & Tagging bout Check whether your opponents' sources have full citations and full-texts. Evaluate their trustworthiness and usefulness vis-a-vis the broad topic in play. Tag them for the big ideas they discuss, what they are, and who created them.
7 days
Best Bibliography bout Specify your paper’s specific topic and choose the best 10 sources for your Best Bibliography. Presumably, you will use these sources for your paper or project.
2 to 3 days
Write paper Post-Game Library While students write their papers, they can consult the Post-Game Library to find sources that support the arguments their papers make.
5 to 7 days

21.       Does the evaluation component of BiblioBouts require IRB approval?

The BiblioBouts Project received IRB approval for the evaluation of BiblioBouts on July 6, 2009 from the University of Michigan. It has exempt status. In addition to the U-M, BiblioBouts is being evaluated these institutions: Chicago State University, Saginaw Valley State University, Troy University, and University of Baltimore. Some institutions accepted the U-M IRB approval and others required us to submit a follow-up IRB application to their institution's IRB. The BiblioBouts Project team works with instructors and librarians to write and submit follow-up IRB applications at your institution. Please contact us directly about your concerns pertaining to IRB approval. You do not have to participate in the evaluation to play BiblioBouts in your classes.

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D.      Give Me Bout-by-bout Details for In-Class Discussions!

22.       What in-class discussion would help my students before they play BiblioBouts?

Before your students play BiblioBouts, they will be searching the web and online library databases to find relevant citations and digital full-texts on the broad topic in play and saving them to Zotero. This would be the right time to engage them in a discussion on these topics:

  • Becoming a disciplinary expert. Students are at college to begin mastery of disciplinary knowledge. Instead of getting surface-level information from Wikipedia, Google, and the web about disciplinary topics, students now need to become experts and use the information resources that experts use. Becoming an expert means using library databases that provide access to information written by practitioners, scholars, and scientists in the academic disciplines and professions.

  • Using library databases. Invite your institution’s librarians to demonstrate database searching for the broad topic. The librarians will be more than happy to do so. Ask them to demonstrate Zotero too. Zotero helps students save and manage the information they find online.

  • Suggesting library databases and keywords. Such suggestions will help students find relevant retrievals on the broad topic in play. Although librarians will help, students seek direction from their instructors in this regard.

  • Distinguishing between surface-level information and scholarly information. Because BiblioBouts requires students to submit sources and evaluate their opponents' sources on the broad topic in play, now is the time to tell students how to distinguish popular and surface-level sources on the topic from professional and scholarly sources. Discuss example sources to class. Tell students the databases in which you found them so students know which databases to avoid and which ones to search.

23.    What in-class discussion would help my students play the Closer bout?

  • How to assess relevance. Students think that their sources should be a one-to-one match with their interests. Such sources rarely exist, so they read sources searching for great quotes they can cite in their papers. Tell students to read sources with the goal of understanding the author's overall argument. If the argument coincides with their interests, then the source is relevant. Advise students to postpone forming a personal position on their topic until they collect more sources, find out other authors' arguments, compare and synthesize all the information in hand.

  • Reading versus skimming sources to assess relevance. If students don't have time to read their sources to assess their relevance, suggest that they do a technical reading of a source. Tell them to read the source's title, author information, and abstract. Is this written by a person(s) with credentials in the field? Then read the introduction, purpose statement, and summary. If they are still unsure about the source's relevance, read the findings and discussion. If they are still unsure, maybe this source is written for someone with much more knowledge of the subject or maybe it is poorly written and doesn't deserve to be included in the game.

View game play demo: Playing BiblioBouts: Closer

24.    What in-class discussion would help my students play the Rating & Tagging bout?

  • How to do a technical reading of a resource. Start with the title, author information, and abstract. Is this written by a person(s) with credentials in the field? Read the introduction, purpose statement, findings, discussion, and summary?

  • How to distinguish research and theory in your discipline from opinion, anecdotes, second-hand reports of research, news reports, and the like. In class, ask students to examine sample sources, telling you whether the source in hand qualifies as serious, scholarly information or something else.

  • How to find the clues that reveal whether the author is an expert in the field. Most scholarly and professional journals include author statements that tell the author’s credentials, e.g., current position, academic rank, current institution, sometimes biographical details. Make sure the author’s credentials match the discipline of the journal, magazine, conference proceedings, etc., in which s/he is writing. Journals and magazines publish instructions to authors that tell what kinds of articles they will accept. If the journal says its articles are "peer-reviewed," then students should be confident that the information is trustworthy and written by an expert in the field.

  • How to extract relevant information from a variety of readings, present, and synthesize the information into a new piece that achieves the objectives of the assignment. Remind students that they will rarely if ever find a full-text that completely satisfies them by mapping exactly onto their interests.

View game play demo: Playing BiblioBouts: Rating & Tagging

25.    What in-class discussion would help my students play the Best Bibliography bout?

  • Engage students in a discussion on how to formulate a topic for their written papers. Instructors can take into consideration the sources in play and most populated big topics.

  • Together or in break-out groups, ask students to formulate research questions that would frame the papers they will write.

  • When students choose full-texts for their Best Bibliography, remind them to pay attention to the ratings, tags, and big ideas they have chosen for their papers and to which they and others assigned to sources during the Tagging & Rating bout.

View game play demo: Playing BiblioBouts: Best Bibliography

26.    What in-class discussion would help my students after the game ends?

  • Ask students to check the numbers of students who chose their closed sources for their best bibliographies. Do they agree with their fellow students' preferences for some sources over others? Why or why not?

  • Do students agree or disagree with their fellow students' evaluations of their closed sources? What would they do differently in terms of choosing sources for future assignments?

  • Check the sources you contributed to the game. What surprised you about your students' evaluations of your sources? Share with them your pre-game evaluations of your sources as best, average, and worst. Ask them to tell you why their evaluations differed from yours. How do their evaluations of your sources and their explanations of their evaluations alter your understanding of the sources students cite in their papers?

  • What did students learn that they will use the next time they conduct library research for a research-and-writing assignment?

  • If your students could play the game over again, what would they do differently especially in terms of trying to win the game?
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