Where’s Hector? How a scavenger hunt helps first-year students explore the university campus

A collaborative discovery activity has benefits that go beyond simply helping new students get to know the university grounds. It fosters belonging and fun – and even promotes physical well-being, writes Hector Viveros Tapia

Hector Viveros Tapia's avatar
Macquarie University
20 Jun 2024
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Multiracial group of students taking a selfie in the park
image credit: iStock/zamrznutitonovi.

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In the library, first-year students are taking photos of themselves with their unit textbook. They have followed picture clues to find the section containing the books they will use for their studies.

Why would they do such a thing? As unit convener for a sizeable first-year unit, and inspired by the Where’s Wally? puzzle books, I’ve introduced a “Where’s Hector?” scavenger hunt aimed at transforming the student experience. University life, after all, should extend beyond textbooks and assessments. It’s about fostering a sense of community, having fun and forging connections with peers.

Unveiling the adventure: Where’s Hector? photo clues

The objective of the Where’s Hector? scavenger hunt is to help students make friends and have fun while discovering hidden gems and learning more about the campus. Throughout the semester, they decipher picture clues to find “Hector” in a secret location. Through discussion, they identify the answer, then take a picture of themselves as proof of their success.

To kick off this activity, armed with my camera and the iconic Where’s Wally? hat and scarf (see below), I take snapshots of intriguing locations across the campus to create the clues. If it is a location that students might not know well, I might include a clue in the background or use two pictures to form the clue.

Hector Viveros Tapia in the university library for the Where's Hector? scavenger hunt
The author creating scavenger hunt clues. Photo courtesy of Hector Viveros Tapia


I brief students every Monday, starting in week two, when I reveal a picture clue in the learning management system (LMS). I ask students to review the picture and discuss it with classmates (during or after class) to identify the location, and then take a picture of themselves in that location, making sure it is similar to the provided clue. They have up to two weeks to do this.

For each round, students upload their photo to a file on the LMS, and the next clue is revealed. I review their submissions once a week and provide feedback on their pics as a way to acknowledge their participation and encourage them to continue to the next round.

The game has ground rules. I instruct students to take clear, well-lit photos. They must also be respectful of the locations they visit, follow any rules or guidelines associated with them, and not disturb the people in and around those locations.

The activity is not mandatory. I tell my students they should do it because it’s fun, because they will discover their campus, because they can work with and meet classmates, and because walking is good exercise. You could provide active engagement marks as an incentive or have small prizes for those completing the activities.

Diverse participation options

Recognising the diverse comfort levels of students, the activity should include participation options. Camera-shy students could upload shots of the location without being identifiable in their photos, while those eager to showcase their discoveries might take full-face selfies. The aim is to make participation enjoyable and flexible. Collaboration in duos or teams can also make the exercise more fun and productive.

Why engage in Where’s Hector?

To address the inevitable question of “why participate?”, I emphasise that the activity transcends mere extrinsic rewards. It’s about enjoying exploration, discovering your campus and fostering camaraderie with classmates. Walking, a simple yet beneficial exercise, adds another layer of well-being to the experience. To sweeten the deal, a “lucky draw” at the end of the semester promises small prizes for the most engaged participants.

Observable outcomes and benefits

  • Social connection and fun: The uploaded pictures reveal students engaging in pairs or groups, enhancing social skills and creating connections with their peers.
  • Increased classroom engagement: The shared experiences translate into more robust teamwork during class discussions, as those collaborating outside the classroom continue to do so inside.
  • Impact on international students: For first-year international students, who are often navigating a new country and culture, the activity becomes a gateway to explore, participate and share experiences with their peers.
  • Friendship building: As making friends becomes more challenging with age, this activity offers a light-hearted opportunity for students to form lasting connections.
  • LMS engagement: Participation acts as a barometer for students’ engagement with the LMS, ensuring that they stay informed about weekly content. If I see that a student has gone to a location, taken and uploaded a picture, that means that they have checked out what is going on in the system for that week (and that may include reading content material).
  • Unit and assignment discussions: In the pursuit of clues, students discuss their experiences and even unit-related topics, fostering collaboration and knowledge exchange.
  • Exploration of campus spaces: From the library to a gallery or cafe, the activity encourages students to discover key campus spaces, promoting a deeper connection to the university environment.

Ready for the challenge?

This initiative is not limited to first-year students. This year, a colleague and I are extending the adventure to a postgraduate unit with a large cohort of international students. The Where’s Hector? challenge is not even just a student affair. This can be done among staff to encourage a social walking exercise with colleagues as an opportunity for staff camaraderie.

Hector Viveros Tapia is a lecturer in the department of management at Macquarie Business School, Australia.

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