Near exam season for the 2022 winter term, Abby Christopher spent a week running around University of New Brunswick's Saint John campus to complete challenges on her smartphone.
The challenges were part of a week-long digital scavenger hunt organized by the student representative council at the Saint John campus. Coming in first place, Christopher won free tuition for a single school year, covering about $8,800 worth of fees.
The student representatives council, student services and the office of the vice-president Saint John partnered to reward the first place winner the free tuition.
A fourth-year marine biology student, she said she participated in the game to learn more about the programs and services offered by the university.
Players were presented with closeup images of signs and buildings around campus, then had to run around campus to find out where that picture was taken.
Other challenges tested players on the services that the student representatives provide such as the SafeRide program, and what courses the various faculties offered.
"I just found out things that the school I didn't even know, like there was this whole room I didn't even know existed in the school," Christopher said. "And I'm going into my fourth year."
While some of her peers had to stop playing because of exams, her name kept going up the ranks. She was determined to complete the 100 or so challenges in the game to win the free tuition.
"I was having a lot of fun doing it and learning a lot about the school," said Christopher. "And then I was just getting closer to winning free tuition. I saw my name going up in the ranks. It just made me want to keep doing it."
A committee of students from the council and from student services judged the bonus challenges, which included creating a music video and mini commercial. Scoring the highest on those gave Christopher the win after she was neck and neck with eight other people.
"I was super excited to win, but I definitely didn't expect it," she said.
No divide between digital and physical
According to Christopher Helland, an associate professor of sociology at Dalhousie University, said it makes sense to engage the students, who are already active online, with games such as digital scavenger hunts.
Helland has used traditional scavenger hunts as an activity for his students in the past.
"It is really blending the online and the offline world because what they're learning online or what they're looking for online is going to be related to something in the physical world or, you know, it's just a different way of finding things," said Helland.
As the vice-president of student life on student council, Blake Allen wanted to create a digital community and "gamify the experience of learning."
Fun during trying times
Having used the method before during orientation week events in the fall, it was a success and Allen wanted to see that engagement again, especially during a stressful time in the term.
"I wanted to have a fun and interactive way for students to feel engaged and like to create a sense of community, but in a way that was on their own schedule," said Allen.
Keeping COVID restrictions in mind, he tried to make the game as accessible as he could.
"If someone felt like they wanted to stay home, they could still participate. And if someone wanted to go to every single event, they could participate."
Barriers to participation
Allen acknowledged that students without cellphones could not participate. To address the problem, Allen says he had a meeting with a representative from the third-party platform that helps run real-world scavenger hunts to push for the game to be accessible on computers.
"That way, some students that might not have a phone could go to our library and use those free computers to participate. So we did see that as a barrier, but that the best we could do was inform [them]," said Allen.
The positive reactions from students made him feel "ecstatic."
Completing his one-year term during winter 2022, Allen hopes the student council will continue using digital scavenger hunts to engage students.
"I saw in front of my eyes, like people meeting other people and making friendships on campus," he said. "And it was something where as soon as it started, I got to just press play and sit back and just enjoy all the fun submissions and seeing all the fun that people had, whether at home or on campus.
"It was an absolute success in my mind."