The Great Escape – Escape Rooms for Learning and Teaching
Escape Rooms are versatile active pedagogies that enable learners to take a role in the learning process to actively construct their understanding whilst engaging in playful problem-solving pursuits.
Let the games begin!
Taking their inspiration from video games and video game play, Escape Rooms focus on the idea that a player or team of players should work cooperatively to solve puzzles. This involves accomplishing tasks and discovering clues across a number of activities, in order to progress and accomplish a goal or objective in a specified time limit.
There are similarities that can be found between Escape Room activities and active learning practices. They may include features such as: problem-solving, the use of a narrative or backstory, tasks which incite intrinsic motivation and give feedback, role play, decision frameworks which are impacted on and controlled by the player/ learner and finally, the opportunity to take risks in a safe environment.
How they work
- An Escape Room activity is planned with various challenges for learners to complete. This can be positioned around a learning objective.
- Each challenge, task or activity sits behind a password protected or locked page.
- Learners work to complete the challenges, tasks and activities either alone or collaboratively.
- Each successful challenge completion leads the learners to locate a password which unlocks the next challenge.
- Learners race against a time component (a clock, time limit or one another) in order to “break out” in the quickest time.
- A reflective debrief activity takes place where all learners can discuss the experience and what was learned as a result of it.
Advantages of using Escape Room activities
They are playful, active learning activities and although they may contain video game mechanics they align well with pedagogy. They can be versatile, work across platforms and are effective as fully online, in-person or dual-mode activities. The versatility extends with their uses as well and they may be suited to many activities such as: induction activities, introducing new concepts, assessment. The only limit to their usefulness is how playful and creative you are in your approach to planning the activities. Escape Room activities are also well suited to group collaboration in terms of both design and playing. Why not involve learners in the development and creation of such activities?
Escape Room activities are enjoyable to plan, develop, deliver and learn from.
Disadvantages of using Escape Room activities
Similarly to playful learning, it is important not to assume that those who wish to play for pleasure, would enjoy playing in a learning environment. Likewise, the use of such activities does not guarantee that students will be more engaged, more motivated to learn (Whitton 2007) or will satisfactorily meet learning outcomes (O’Brien 2020). The effective use of activities such as this require careful pedagogic planning to ensure the learning remains at the forefront of the activity.
Why to use activities like this with students
- Escape Rooms are a great way to encourage collaboration. To be effective, build in time after the activities for opportunities to debrief and reflect on the experience.
- Games can be compelling, exciting, engaging and can encourage learners to attempt difficult tasks. Adopting such principles enables you work towards achieving these mechanics in a learning context.
- They can be useful to help break down barriers and get people talking.
- They can provide a basis for the development of authentic problem solving.
- The playful elements can take the pressure out of what could be a challenging activity.
- They provide opportunities for learners to participate in the design of their own learning and to work collaboratively with educators and peers.
- Learners involvement in the planning and design means that they may be inspired to create activities such as these for themselves.
- Learners love the activities and designing, planning and creating them can be great fun!
Tips to get started
Escape Rooms work best with a well-planned narrative. To begin, it’s worth thinking about a start, middle and end point. What would you like learners to achieve by the end of the activity? You may find it helpful to plan this around learning outcomes.
The next step would be to think about what password you would like them to work towards? You might want to treat activities as stand alone, each with an individual password or work towards an overarching password. Once you have an idea of a password, what clues are needed to help your learners to work towards the password?
The final thing is to plan your activities. This is the part that will take your learning objective and lead your learners to achieving this and finding the password you’ve decided on. It may be useful to ask yourself how these activities lead to your specified objective? This is the part where you can think creatively. Once you have an idea of an activity that leads to an objective, how can you get this across using a task or challenge? Maybe find a missing word or complete a puzzle. The opportunities are endless!
- A great advantage of planning Escape Room activities in this way is that you can ensure the focus of the activity is on what is being learned, rather than the game.
- They are reusable but can be effectively and simply evaluated and re-implemented.
- Digital tools tend to have built-in accessibility tools.
- Easily sharable and accessible across devices.
One of the great benefits of Escape Room activities is that there is no need for dedicated software, or requirements to have experience of game mechanics. They are simple to plan and create in everyday digital tools or in a physical room. All you need is a little patience and a dash of creativity.
OneNote which is part of the Microsoft 365 suite is a digital notebook. It has the handy feature that you can password protect sections which makes it perfect for Escape Room activities! Another great aspect of OneNote is that it can be embedded into Microsoft Teams, so you can situate your Escape Room activity within your Teams channel.
Other useful products include Microsoft Forms, Google Thinglink and flippity. But any platform that enables you to password protect or has a ‘conditional release’ feature would work.
Now that you’ve learned a little about Escape Room activities, why not try it out?
The following link will take you to a OneNote example ‘DCAD The Great Escape’ which has been developed for you to try https://durhamuniversity-my.sharepoint.com/:o:/g/personal/kfqn12_durham_ac_uk/EsXRqIf5gu1Bk6_e_mRl7dcBOfo378ihRC2_TPml486mGA?e=ZDAKGi
If you’re ready to try this out, you may find the following resource useful:
Building your own Escape Room is a OneNote file which contains step by step instructions to guide you through setting up your very own Escape Room https://durhamuniversity-my.sharepoint.com/:o:/g/personal/kfqn12_durham_ac_uk/EjEj5SEGVS9LpxRKXzdi_DEBllEgGImvEdCWBxYk2S4rJg?e=4nHaan
Resources and references:
O’Brien, R., & Farrow, S (2020). ‘Escaping the inactive classroom: Escape Rooms for teaching technology’. Journal for Social Media in Higher Education. https://openjournals.ljmu.ac.uk/index.php/JSML/article/view/395
O’Brien, R (2021) The Education Burrito Podcast. Unwrapping the ‘fun in games’ https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/ep-15-unwrapping-the-fun-in-games-with-rachelle-obrien/id1533426856?i=1000510290876
Whitton, N (2007). ‘Motivation and computer game-based learning’, ICT: providing choices for learners and learning, 1-5 doi: 10.1.1.85.7783