During the recent, and first, Referencing Week at the University of Strathclyde Library, students learned important lessons about how and when to reference and they did so with smiles on their faces. How? By using LEGO® bricks. In this week's blog, Faculty Librarians Sarah Kevill and Lorna McNally explain how it worked.

While some students arrive at university with a basic awareness of referencing, many have never had the opportunity to develop an understanding of this important academic skill. What is the best way to teach students? How can we make sure activities are enjoyable for attendees (and presenters)? These questions and more led to the launch of the University of Strathclyde’s first Referencing Week earlier this year.

One of the answers was: use LEGO® bricks in interactive workshops. Based on a successful LEGO® activity at another university, we organised a series of workshops, with students asked to: create a model of anything they liked using between ten and 20 LEGO® bricks; use LEGO® bricks from at least five of six (identical) boxes; complete their model within a time limit of five minutes; discuss their model in a small group; and, select one model per group to be presented to the wider group.

So, where does referencing fit? Well, students enthusiastically embraced the model building aspect of the workshops, with space ships, luxury hotels, oil rigs and film sets constructed. They were then asked to identify which LEGO® brick was the most important one in their model, and crucially, then identify which box that particular brick had come from. As the boxes were identical and had often become jumbled up, in almost all cases students were not able to identify the correct box. If they could not identify the box, the LEGO® brick was removed from their model, reducing its impact significantly.

The boxes were then turned around to reveal labels showing different places where information could be sourced – book, Google, journal article, website, Google Scholar and the internet. In a presentation, the model building was likened to writing an essay in a number of ways:

  • Essay writing uses a variety of different sources
  • There is a deadline
  • In the excitement of searching for materials, it can be easy to overlook where the information is sourced
  • Sources that are not referenced will be removed by markers, thus reducing the impact of your work
  • Your initial plans may change as you find more sources

The remainder of the workshop contained information about when to reference, the difference between paraphrasing and using quotations, and examples of in-text citations and references. Online support materials and useful books were highlighted and questions were answered.

Feedback from the workshops was positive (including, “everything was awesome”) and we plan to repeat them in the spring. It is not often that laughter accompanies a referencing class, but these workshops created a lot of enjoyment as the models were built, which was hugely satisfying for us as librarians. We would be interested in hearing from other librarians using this or other game-based approaches to information literacy workshops.

* LEGO® is a trademark of the LEGO Group of companies which does not sponsor, authorise or endorse this site