Escaping the Box
The escape room concept has risen in popularity in recent years as has now begun to make its debut in the realm of higher education. Escape rooms can offer immersive problem-solving experiences in educational contexts to engage learners in developing skills such as problem-solving, creative thinking, digital competencies, and group-work skills. The Covid pandemic has now given rise to digital escape rooms. Lisa Donaldson, Learning Technologist at DCU, discusses their use of escape rooms in delivering CPD for academic staff.
The Dublin City University (DCU) Teaching and Learning Week 2021 took place in early September. This event is run annually by the Teaching Enhancement Unit (TEU), traditionally over a single day, face to face. In 2020, Teaching and Learning Day became Teaching and Learning week with online events run synchronously and asynchronously. This format was adopted again for 2021. As well as live zoom presentations, the 2021 event included novel learning formats including fireside chats with students, virtual worlds, and synchronous and asynchronous escape rooms activities on the below themes:
- Enhancing engagement in the online space through playful practices
- Promoting a pedagogy of care
- Impactful technology integration beyond Covid
In 2020, DCU launched a podcast series called the Edge of Discovery. This stimulated a growing interest in podcasting for learning among DCU staff. The TEU decided to embed the knowledge required to create an educational podcast in an escape room challenge during Teaching and Learning Week 2021. Additionally, an escape room front end was designed for a series of Moodle activities using the Level up customisable Moodle block to add an element of gamification to a second escape room. That challenge was designed to enhance lecturers knowledge of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), and encourage them to use Moodle activities to create more inclusive modules in the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).
A total of 26 participants attempted the ’I’m an Academic, get me out of here’ podcasting Escape room challenge during a live session in Zoom during Teaching and Learning week. The ‘Twas the night before term started’ Moodle escape room challenge was designed as an asynchronous activity and has remained available to staff after the event.
How the asynchronous escape room was designed
The escape room scenario was outlined on the Moodle page hosting all the Teaching and Learning Week resources and a link provided to the ‘office’ that participants were trapped in.
The link brought participants to the front end escape room which was designed using Google tools. The ‘office’ was a Google slide in presentation mode. Within the slide were embedded hotspots which linked to both false and real clues in the form of Google documents with additional instructions. Once the clue was solved the digits that formed the answer could be typed into a Google Form disguised as an image – a lock on a virtual door. The form then released the URL of the custom-built Moodle page which contained 5 tasks designed to enhanced knowledge of UDL principles and how they could be applied to a Moodle course page. This process was managed and tracked by the Level Up Moodle plugin and a report could be generated which listed participants who had completed all tasks and succeeded in achieving the next level. it remains live for any other participants to explore.
How the live escape room was designed
During a live Zoom session, participants were introduced to the escape room concept. Following a reading of the scenario below, they were randomly assigned into groups from two to four across eight breakout rooms. This escape room had a complex design with many clues and locks and sought to expand participants knowledge of podcasting as an educational medium as well as to introduce Zoom and Audacity as tools to create podcasts. Its design fore fronted teamwork and collaboration in order to complete the activity within the timeframe allowed.
Twenty six people took part in the live team challenge and most teams completed it within the thirty minute time frame. A sample of the finished podcast can be found here.
The immediate feedback from escape room participants was very positive and indicated an interest in using this form of playful practice for learning.
“Thanks for a really interesting session, …. I’d be very interested in using some of/replicating your session for a tutorial class in a first year module, so any materials to support this would be most appreciated.
“As a feedback, it was interesting. I was a bit shy in the beginning bc I had never played escape room but by the end I was very involved in the game”
“Many thanks for yesterday’s programme and fun experience in the Escape Room. I’d really like to use the escape room exercise as part of my training session with Access ambassadors next week”
As an overall approach for delivering CPD, escape rooms can be seen to capture the imagination as is evident from the feedback to date. Further investigation is required to fully examine whether there was a meaningful impact on teaching and learning practices and whether modelling this approach is a catalyst for wider scale escape room adoption institutionally. It must be noted that this novel approach can be labour intensive. Considerable time and effort went into crafting the narrative, designing the technical aspects, and testing the final escape rooms. However, escape rooms are fun to build and certainly fun to participate in making it the perfect addition to a CPD programme. Why not try it here yourself here, or take a look at our recent EDTL webinar delivered on the subject, entitled “I’m an Academic, Get Me Out of Here“
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