How to capitalize on previous knowledge of the students and how to valorise the skills and knowledge developed during the Escape Room
Table of Contents
Different steps can be taken to ensure maximum pedagogical benefits of the Escape Room. Good preparation and design of the Escape Room, on both a practical and pedagogical level, are necessary for the efficiency of the ER. First, we will mention the steps needed before the implementation of the ER, such as Preparatory Lessons and the appropriate design of the ER. Then, before diving into the ER itself, we will adress the aftermath of the ER with regards to the importance of debriefing, collecting feedback from the students and the follow up. Finally, we will explore ways to improve the process to maximise the pedagogy, efficiency, engagement and fun for the students. First, let us begin in order with preparation.
3.1 Preparatory lessons
Game-based learning gives the advantage of gaming technologies and uses game strategies in the context of educational development and processing. However, non-digital game-based learning applications compared to their digital counterparts are more human-centred and focused on cooperation and collaboration. As a result, the popularity of escape rooms in educational settings is rising and includes elements from “point-and-click adventure games, live-action role-playing, interactive theatre, treasure hunts, movies” (Panagiotis, Mastoraz 2019), etc. Educational escape rooms can immerse students as active participants in the learning environment and simulates real-life conditions..
Thus, considering the preparatory lessons and planning of an educational escape room in the context of STEAM education, cross-disciplinary collaboration among pedagogues and its principles should be addressed. The preparatory lessons must elaborate on students’ knowledge in all STEAM subjects, so the escape room session capitalizes on the knowledge obtained during the preparatory lessons by integrating all fields genuinely and intuitively. According to Oganisjana, aspects of cross-disciplinary learning process foster the development of a habit to interpret and analyze phenomena around the students in its whole complexity. Moreover, real-life problems cannot be solved within one specific field but require knowledge from different fields and the farther the fields are, the higher the level of creativity is (Oganisjana 2015, 42).
Based on the combination of this theory the following three aspects should be kept in mind while collaborating to develop a STEAM-based escape room:
- there should be a real-life problem that students have to solve during the escape room session to develop a new skills or understanding about the world or issue in the context of STEAM;
- the problem is considered in a cross-disciplinary way and the tasks, along with the preparatory lessons, should be designed around knowledge that leads to a discovery of new perspectives, innovative ideas and crosses traditional subject borders;
- the cooperation among STEAM educators should not be based on the assumption that each of them is an expert in their field, rather on the willingness to cooperate because it is only together that it is possible to solve the problem and boost students to create new values or understandings;
Considering the three aspects of the cross-disciplinary learning process, an example can be provided to illustrate the concept of cross-disciplinary pedagogical escape room in opposition with an academically single-field focused escape scenario. The problem or the issue to start planning a STEAM-based escape room can be facilitated by educators as well (and which is even more recommended) by students, as that would drive the learning process closer to their understanding of the world. In order to search for a research question, Oganisjana suggests to try out a simple technique:
- Write 5 things or phenomena that caught your attention today.
- How could you use these things or phenomena in your specific subject?
- Try to connect the idea developed in Point 2 with at least two other subjects (in this context it would be STEAM fields) (by Oganisjana 2015)
Escape games lend themselves to learning a range of transferable cross-curricular skills – such as collaboration and team-building, problem-solving, lateral thinking, and creativity – because of their intrinsic design that involves working together to solve puzzles.
Educators will want to design escape rooms that address the curriculum across a wide range of disciplines.
- Subject knowledge. Puzzles can be designed to test knowledge of a subject, for example putting historical events in the correct order or recognising characters of novels.
- Skills. Application of knowledge to tasks that develop or test physical or mental skills, for example using a microscope to identify a certain type of insect, hitting a target with a ball, or a code that involves translating binary into decimal.
- Familiarisation. Where the puzzles are not necessarily directly related to an area of skill or subject knowledge but allow the learner to familiarise themselves with an artefact related to the discipline, for example, codes using the periodic table.
- Practice. Where learners have to practice a core repetitive skill, such as a mathematical formula, to consolidate learning, for example students could solve problems to find the circumference of circles of different sizes.
- Research. Learners can enhance their research skills in the room, applying both their skills and subject knowledge to solve a puzzle, for example using a bilingual dictionary to translate a secret message, or looking up information to solve a puzzle.
Escape rooms can be used in several different ways as part of a learning experience.
In many countries, it is difficult to fit activities such as escape rooms into an existing classroom setting because the curriculum is prescribed and already full. This is much more the case at high school or secondary education than primary schools where there may still be some flexibility. This makes it harder for ‘fun’ or innovative teaching approaches to be embedded or accepted in schools. Though the classroom environment and inflexible schedules may also make it difficult, there is a range of ways in which escape games can be embedded in the classroom:
- Within core subject curricula – if there is a close mapping between the curriculum and the content of the game then it may be possible to fit into the standard teaching class.
- In some countries, during induction – this is a common time to use escape rooms before the prescribed curriculum starts; it is also typically a dull topic that students engage with poorly, therefore escape rooms are a good alternative.
- After-school clubs – There are fewer restrictions on optional activities which can offer a good alternative to get learners engaged in activities such as escape rooms. However, as the activity is optional, students will choose to attend or not and there is a possibility that not all students will benefit from it.
- Enrichment – many schools in the UK offer ‘enrichment’ times, often one or two weeks before the start of the summer holidays or after exams that are specifically designed for different types of non-academic activities such as sports or work experience. Escape rooms may fit in well here.
3.2 Pre-Escape Room briefing
It is useful to have a standard briefing for players before they enter the Escape Room, both to introduce them to the escape room format and lay ground rules but also to orient them to the narrative of the specific game being played. This should cover:
- health and safety issues (e.g. don’t climb on the bookcase), make it clear what is – and what isn’t – part of the game (e.g. anything above head height or with a sticker on it is not part of the game)
- set expectations about what is acceptable behaviour in the room (e.g. don’t use brute force), introduce difficult or unusual locks
- explain what happens in the case of a genuine emergency.
Introduction of the narrative can be verbal, but can also take the form of short videos, making it more engaging for students to delve into the theme.
3.3 The importance of debriefing
Debriefing after the Escape Room is key to supporting the transfer of skills and knowledge throught the ER. It also initiates reflection on the tasks of the ER. Whichever way an escape room is embedded into the classroom, time needs to be built into the design of the learning experience to allow for reflection which will consolidate learning. Learning happens within the game, but it only becomes conscious and stable after it is brought to light through discussion. The debriefing session at the end of an educational escape room is as important as the game itself as it offers players the opportunity to talk about what happened (including their feelings and emotions), reflect on what went well, what did not, and why. Furthermore, discussing the team’s performance, exploring common mistakes and problems, and linking the game puzzles to the curriculum, are occurences where the teacher can check that the students have met the intended learning outcomes for the game and explain any issues that occurred or misconceptions that learners may have left the game with.
3.4 Feedback of Students
The feedback phase of the escape room is for developers to consider how they are going to evaluate the game experience of each participant in the context of STEAM education. Also, it is useful to gather feedback from the students that made the ER to identify problems, weaknesses, and to improve the experience for the next participants.
Objectives of the escape room i.e. the pedagogues should consider the methods that they are going to employ to assess whether the game has met the intended objectives and outcomes. Moreover, in the context of STEAM education and the cross-disciplinary methodology by Oganisjane 2015, the evaluation is considered to be one of the main components of developing educational escape rooms applications.
The evaluation of learning objectives is essential, and a formal evaluation of the learning objectives that were set for the game experience should be created to be used after the educational escape room experience. This can be done according to preferred methods.
In order to make adjustments and improvements, the player feedback can be used to provide informed decisions.
The feedback after the game can be used to gather data and to assess the overall efficiency and impact of the STEAM-based educational escape room experience and the transfer of knowledge. Additionally, it is useful to employ the data gathered from the evaluation to apply any further needed development of the game experience.
3.5 Follow up
Learning in the 21st century consists of two essential parts and can even be named ‘hybrid learning’. Similar to real-life situations, the learning experiences and processes can be scaffolded within digital and physical contexts and virtual spaces. According to Clark & Co., exploiting the engaging characteristics of gameplay into the classroom, escape rooms provide a hybrid environment within which physical spaces play a key role in creating a creative context to the learning activities, personified by puzzle-solving, use of digital means, connecting clues, teamwork, and communication (Clark & Co 2017). This approach enables the application of hard skills along with soft skills and opens up opportunities for the STEAM learning process to be more active and hands-on.
Furthermore, STEAM experts cooperating and taking a cross-disciplinary approach to the creation of pedagicocal escape rooms allows for having an enriched viewpoint on the different ways to consolidate escape rooms and valorise the different skills, competences, and knowledge acquired. The following questions can be used to gather data for further projects and to evaluate and improve each aspect:
- Do you think an escape room has educational value?
- What have you learned that you didn’t know before?
- Which of the ideas are useful to you?
- What new values or understanding have you developed?
- Write three main ideas describing today’s escape room?
- What obstacles did you have to overcome?
- What helps or hinders you to work and cooperate in a group?
- What different STEAM subjects have you used in the escape room?
3.6 How to Improve the Process
The follow-up questions and the data gathered during the feedback session can be used to improve the educational escape room creation process, as analyzing the gathered data can help visualize information hidden in the process of participating and getting involved. Another important part is a reflection from the teacher on what went well, what had the students struggling, and why? It is important to take observational notes during the experience to improve the creation process. Communication with other teachers and pedagogical escape rooms experimenters can be beneficial as well.
We are now aware of all the steps that can be taken before and after the Escape Room to maximize its benefits in terms of pedagogy. Let us now concentrate on what happens in the escape room itself and how to build it game-wise.