#Take5 #73 Teaching research skills – my epic adventure…

This month’s #Take5 is brought to you from Daisy Abbott an interdisciplinary researcher and research developer based in the School of Simulation and Visualisation at The Glasgow School of Art. Daisy experiments with game-based learning – and has created a novel approach to teaching research skills.

Research: Mapping and Pathfinding

My name is Daisy Abbott, I’m a researcher in game-based learning and teacher of postgraduates at the School of Simulation and Visualisation at The Glasgow School of Art.

Join me on my quest to navigate the dangerous lands of teaching Research Skills…

Keywords: Research skills, academic skills, higher order thinking skills, personalised learning, playful learning, gamification, digital badges, game-based learning, research design, creative thinking.

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Overview of the learning content of the Creative Thinking Quest, shown as a quest map.
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Photograph of Daisy Abbott, researcher in game-based learning at the School of Simulation and Visualisation, The Glasgow School of Art.

The landscape…

According to some, Research Skills courses are courses that “instructors hate to teach and students hate to take.” (Kollars and Rosen, 2017, p. 333). 

It is widely accepted that research skills are essential for students to master in order to progress both in their studies and in the workplace. However, there are challenges in both motivation for students undertaking research skills training (Earley, 2014) and in situating the academic research skills taught within students’ real world contexts (Ryan et al., 2014) which can lead to a lack of engagement with learning materials. 

These issues are accentuated in postgraduates, who are expected to quickly develop and practise applied research design skills as they undertake independent research as part of their programme of study. Good research design combines knowledge, competencies, and aptitudes, so the use of constructivist pedagogies to improve both engagement and cognitive outcomes is now widely accepted. 

My own work, along with that of others, has focussed on game-based learning in order to mitigate some of the problems faced in the teaching and learning of research skills, and to achieve affective arousal and embedding of information through play (Abbott, 20192020).

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Digital badge from the Creative Thinking Quest interactive learning tool.

Choose your path! 

The Creative Thinking Quest is an interactive learning tool in the form of a digital Choose Your Own Adventure. It was created using Twine but embeds a range of other playful learning tools such as ThingLinks and minigames created using Scratch.

Learners take on the role of adventurers who meet a wizard who guides them through choosing an appropriate ‘quest’ based on their personal situation, needs, and how developed their project ideas already are. The quest then presents a series of fictional obstacles (rivers to cross, magic mirrors, and so on) which are used to engage the player in a variety of learning activities relevant to the stage of project design they are currently at. For example, activities progress through brainstorming, idea refinement and scoping, to the specifics of the project’s objectives, and its outcomes and impacts. Activities all produce written results which are encouraged to be captured in a Quest Scroll and digital badges are awarded at relevant points along the way.

The main characteristics of the ‘quest’ approach can be summarised as:

  • Active, exploratory learning, closely linked to a specific and situated project idea
  • Personalisation of learning activities to support players as they progress
  • Increasing motivation using a (deliberately slightly silly) fictional narrative
  • Use of gamification techniques (digital badges) to increase motivation
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Digital badge from the Creative Thinking Quest interactive learning tool.

Equip yourself wisely!

The quest was designed specifically for my own master’s students to provide a highly structured and scaffolded method for producing a rigorous research project proposal – this proposal is then developed later in the year to become the topics for the student’s own independent research project and dissertation. 

Each quest activity equips the learner with a transferable skill, e.g. creative idea generation methods, analytical techniques, and design tools.

Although the quest was designed primarily for research skills, I took care to expand the quest’s use to a range of purposes, including the design of creative projects that will require, for example, a funding bid.

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Digital badge from the Creative Thinking Quest interactive learning tool.

Join me, noble adventurer!

I am currently undertaking research to refine and improve the quest. Please try it out, share it with your students, and give me the most precious treasure: your feedback!



Daisy Abbott is an interdisciplinary researcher and research developer based in the School of Simulation and Visualisation at The Glasgow School of Art. Her current research focusses on game-based learning, learner experience design, 3D visualisation, and issues surrounding digital interaction, documentation, preservation, and interpretation in the arts and humanities. She also collaborates with artists on works aiming to explore the nature of digital interactivity and digital art. You can download most of her publications from the GSA research repository.

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Digital badge from the Creative Thinking Quest interactive learning tool.


  • Abbott, D. (2019) ‘Game-based learning for postgraduates: An empirical study of an educational game to teach research skills’, Higher Education Pedagogies, 4(1). doi: 10.1080/23752696.2019.1629825.
  • Abbott, D. (2020) ‘Beyond Vicarious Learning: Embedding Dialogic Learning into Educational Games’, in Fotaris, P. (ed.) Proceedings of the 14th International Conference on Game Based Learning. Brighton: Academic Conferences, pp. 1–10. doi: 10.34190/GBL.20.015.
  • Earley, M. A. (2014) ‘A synthesis of the literature on research methods education’, Teaching in Higher Education, 19(3), pp. 242–253. doi: 10.1080/13562517.2013.860105.
  • Kollars, N. and Rosen, A. M. (2017) ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Methods? Methodological Games and Role Play’, Journal of Political Science Education, 13(3), pp. 333–345. doi: 10.1080/15512169.2017.1331137.
  • Ryan, M. et al. (2014) ‘Improving Research Methods Teaching and Learning in Politics and International Relations: A “Reality Show” Approach’, Politics, 34(1), pp. 85–97. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9256.12020.

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