2022-2023: Susan Caie

2022-2023: Susan Caie

Unlocking Learning Potential - Using Escape Rooms as Assessment of and for Learning

Susan Caie, The Language Centre

Provide a description and context of your innovative approach to enhance teaching and learning.

To revise and extend students’ learning I designed and implemented an online escape room. The escape scenario starts with a group of students locked in the University of Aberdeen library.  Students must solve a series of challenges to open online locks and move down the game levels towards the library front door and freedom. 

The activity is played in teams and requires students to interact, work collaboratively, delegate and distribute tasks to solve the challenges. The puzzles encourage students to co-explore possibilities. The tasks are a formative assessment of coursework and practise authentic skills that students need to successfully complete their studies and for future employment

The escape room ends with a reflection task, which is completed individually then discussed as a class. This important final step means students pause and reflect on their experience during the game, promoting metacognition, connection to prior knowledge and knowledge transfer.

Give a rationale for your teaching approach or new initiative.

Social isolation and a lack of peer learning are often cited as disadvantages of online learning. Designed during Lockdown, this activity was developed address these issues. The inspiration came from taking part in online escape rooms with my family and Twitter discussions of their educational application.

Studies indicate that game-based learning is effective at improving the learning outcomes of courses, develops learning communities and promotes active engagement because participants are motivated by immersion in the game environment. Solving puzzles in a team engenders critical thinking and the vocalisation of hypotheses, leading to the co-construction of knowledge.

I developed the escape room as an alternative to traditional quizzes for formative assessment. It is an assessment of and for learning and contains most of the evidence-based, inclusive assessment attributes identified by QAA. The activity acknowledges student differences and incorporates diversity into the assessment process, thus widening access, an aim of Aberdeen 2040.

Provide details of how your new teaching approach or solution has been/will be disseminated with colleagues and students within and beyond the University.

Since its development, hundreds of students in the Language Centre have participated in the escape room activity, both online and on-campus. The escape room is now also used as part of the onboarding process for temporary tutors to the Language Centre. It familiarizes new tutors with each other and with aspects of MyAberdeen.

The Advanced HEA panel requested I disseminate my work on escape rooms to the institution, so I led a session for the Learning & Teaching Network.  During the interactive session, participants were challenged to breakout of a customised escape room. Over 20 colleagues from around 12 departments attended and I have given additional support to some attendees since the session, and to some colleagues who could not attend.  Beyond the institution, I am currently tailoring an escape room for a session of the Technology Enhanced Learning SIG for the Association for English for Academic Purposes (BALEAP).

Identify the key learnings points for the applicant, what have you learned from this initiative?

  • Designing, building, and implementing the escape room has increased my digital literacy and expanded my experience of hosting online events. I continue to develop and refine my skills as I update tasks in response to feedback and create new escape rooms.
  • Studying effective ways to design escape rooms and to maintain the engagement of players in a game increased my knowledge of game-based learning. I have also gained a deeper understanding of user experience and universal design principles.
  • I have developed my skills and confidence in training by leading sessions for colleagues both within the university and externally on constructing escape rooms.
  • The process emphasized the value of collaboration. My colleagues tested the escape rooms and their suggestions have helped improve the overall quality.
  • By disseminating this idea, I have established new contacts in other departments and have been offered the opportunity to conduct some interdepartmental research into escape rooms.

Explain how you have evaluated the impact of your initiative.

Team collaboration and engagement is observed when monitoring participants during escape rooms. The vocalisation of critical thinking can also be heard. This tutor’s feedback suggests that learning objectives are being achieved, “Nine […] of my students find speaking a challenge. Today, was the first time they spoke spontaneously in a break-out room. It really bonded a core group of students”.  Analytics from MyAberdeen show that students are more confident using the VLE which is another a learning outcome of the escape room.

The potential application of escape rooms in other teaching contexts is demonstrated by the number of attendees of the L & T Network session who have now implemented escape rooms in their own courses. Attendees have sent me positive feedback, saying that the activity is a useful pedagogical tool and that feedback from their students regarding the escape room has been positive. This escape poster collates selected quotes. collates selected quotes.