This lesson will be based on the personal experience of the teachers who practice Escape Room as a learning tool in their schools (Vainodes vidusskola and Citada Skola, Latvia) and on the research done by the same teachers (addressed as “the ER creators” further on).
After a research on the internet, the ER creators were surprised to get to know that they had had both so called Alfa and Beta tests without even being aware of those terms.
(The primary difference between an alpha test and a beta test is who is doing the testing—alpha tests are typically performed by internal employees in a lab or stage environment, while beta tests are conducted by actual users in a production setting (Product Managing).)
The stage of testing an Escape Room follows weeks of planning, designing, making and remaking the game. It is usually an exciting moment to close the door of the Escape Room, behind which all tasks, room decor, puzzles and locks are in their places and are waiting for the first participants to test the game.
Often, ER creators having been deeply involved into the process of making an ER, they might not notice flaws and “bugs” of the game. It would be advisable for them to step back from their creation and let others give their verdict.
Important: Testing for your Escape Room has to be planned beforehand as well.
The ER creators share their instructions on how to perform a testing process step by step:
Go through the Room yourselves. Taking a day off from your Escape Room and then returning with a clearer mind is an alternative, but it is crucial to go through the puzzle one more time to see the whole process and how it works including narrative, game master instructions, locks, puzzles and check timing.
It is not advisable to invite your family/families or best friends to test your Room, as they will probably like it because they would want to please you and might not illuminate minor flaws and gaps. (the ER creators did it anyway with a note to mention that their families enjoy Escape Rooms and are quite knowledgeable in them.) Even though the ER creators’ family members were not involved into the process of creating the room they still belong to their party, so they were Alfa testers.
Moreover, having your families in the Escape Room will allow you to monitor and observe the game better, even be able to interfere at some stages so as to fix the issues immediately, in case this arises as a necessity; even though you might cut off some part of the adventure and excitement for your Alfa testers. (Here the ER creators would like to stress that ANY Escape Room activity should be an adventure, otherwise it loses its value.)
The next stage is Beta testing by independent players who have been to different Escape Rooms before. The ER creators suggest to invite the ER participants who would fit for the target group of your ER. Usually young people are very supportive when asked to test a game. Ask them to take notes on anything that does not work or seems flawed. Monitoring the Beta testers, take notes on:
- What people were stuck on;
- What can be easily broken;
- What is time-consuming to solve and then to fix;
- What is interesting/boring for the participants,
- When can be the right time to check for a help needed;
- Timing: are the participants able to manage within the time limit set, etc.
Get a feedback from your Beta testers. It is advisable to invite them for a discussion with prepared questions. There are various ways to provide and receive feedback, e.g oral discussion, written questionnaire on different criteria, or more creative, such as using Dixit cards or other less formal feedback.
Following your observations and taking into account the received feedback, fix the gaps, shorten or add tasks, and try to make all possible modifications without fundamental changes to the structure of the ER.
Pay attention to the educational goals and outcomes, at the same time keeping your ER fun, which can be an issue. Invite other teachers to test the game and lead the debriefing focused mostly on educational values. Get feedback from the educators. Ask questions such as:
1. Would you agree the Escape Room was really educational?
2. Can you use the game for your lessons?
3. Can you adapt the game for your subject, what should be changed then?
4. What could be improved/added to the game to have more educational value?
Take notes on everything mentioned as not to miss out on the important and valuable suggestions. Be open to constructive criticism, it helps to improve and make your game as educational as pleasant.
Play-testing and assessment should be planned and thoroughly implemented in the process of designing an Educational Escape Room to fully benefit from the game as a learning tool and activity. Insufficient assessment may lead to weaker outcomes.