Escape rooms in education
Their eyes flick to the clock. 5 minutes left till the end of the lesson! These students are not hoping for time to finish, but completely the opposite, they wish there was more time. This is due to the implementation of the escape room phenomenon. Many people reading this will have heard of the popular escape rooms that follows a similar structure to Crystal Maze from the 90’s. Groups of people must solve various live puzzles to escape from an enclosed space in a set amount of time, using critical thinking, teamwork and logic. This pastime has boomed since its first iteration in Japan in 2007. According to escaperoomdirectory.com, there are now 5711 rooms in over 90 countries. Of course, each room has it’s own context and story but the all follow the same premise. In education, rather than random puzzles, students must solve puzzles relating to their subject or the specified learning outcomes.
While this idea seems quite new and “daring”, the structure of these escape rooms lend themselves to education well. On a basic level, escape rooms provide an engaging space for students to develop team work and communication skills, which are important aspects of the 21st Century Skill set. The style of learning we can identify in this type of activity is “active learning”, a practice that has been proven to help students be more likely to retain knowledge by allowing them to apply concepts to real life situations. A quote that sums this up nicely is one from Chickering and Ehrmann, “Learning is not a spectator sport.”
So what are the elements involved in designing and facilitating an escape room in an educational setting? Let’s have a look at CLPPER for an idea of what to consider when creating your own escape room.
This is the initial fun phase of developing the idea of your escape room. This is also an opportunity for you to think of the “narrative” involved in your story. Narrative is an important part of human communication in general, but by providing a decent narrative to your activities it encourages students to engage more. Stories are important as a functioning schemata on the basis of which we make sense of the world (Lugossy, 2007) as well as providing meaningful context (Girard, 2002) to an activity. The problem is that narrative is often overlooked as an “extra” element that is easily left out if time is strict and is one very noticeable absentee from the list of frequently used activities (Garton et al, 2011) in education.
So what narratives and themes should you use? Your imagination is the limit, anything from a spy adventure to a murder mystery. Think about the activities involved and prepare accordingly. E.g. If your activities are chemistry based, then perhaps look at making your theme revolve around the story of a mad scientist.
While the puzzles themselves are the star of the show, the structure of the escape room is something that requires a bit of thought. The puzzles should be placed into a logic order, leading from one to another smoothly. You are also able to run multiple puzzles along side each other in order to complete a final task, for example, to open a lock students must find a key as well as oil the hinges. A great tool for looking at the logic involved in this is something created by game designer Ron Gilbert (lead designer on classic adventure games like Escape from Monkey Island and DeathSpank) called the Puzzle Dependency Chart. This tool allows you to plan out the structure of your puzzles and makes designing your escape room a lot easier.
The most important part of escape rooms are the puzzles. While a little imagination is needed to create something truly memorable and involving, using something as simple as an experiment or mathematical equation can be a good place to begin designing your escape room tasks. Another important thing to keep in mind is the equipment required for your puzzles, will students be required to write down formulas? Do you want to use black lights or other “hidden” objects? Will students be required to search for information online? These questions, and more, bring us nicely to the next section…
While most modern escape rooms are set in a dedicated space using multiple rooms and areas, there are many examples of escape rooms online that follow a similar pattern and can be done by one person, with multiple attempts. Liz Cable, course lead for media and marketing at Leeds Trinity University, gives a wonderful example of using a single suitcase to develop a portable escape room. BreakoutEdu also follows this design, as well as providing many examples of ready-made online escape rooms that can be used in education. Again, your imagination is the only thing that limits the design of your escape room.
This is the time to actually play the escape room activity! There are opportunities for escape rooms to be done without the inclusion of a facilitator or you can take an active part in the escape room activity, guiding students along the narrative and adding extra challenges or giving hints as you proceed.
As with all good educational activities there should be a decent period of reflection after the activity. Get students involved in the process by asking for feedback and refining the activity for the next time. You could even get students involved in redesigning the activity to better suit both their needs, desires and the learning outcomes of the activity. The more you create, the more information and guidance you will receive and the easier it will become to “escapify” your activities.
For more information on “how” to design your own escape room activity take a look at DMLL’s guide as well as sending the ILIaD team a message stating your faculty and the activity you would like to develop your escape room around.