Trina TAN Chia Min and LIEU Zi Zhao
Special Programme in Science (SPS) and the Department of Biological Sciences,
Faculty of Science (FOS)
In this reflection post, Trina chronicles her journey in designing and integrating an escape room game into a course she participated in as a UTOP1 student.
Tan, T., & Lieu, Z. Z. (2023, Sept 25). The use of an escape room game as an educational activity to reinforce course content and promote collaborative peer learning.Teaching Connections. https://blog.nus.edu.sg/teachingconnections/2023/09/25/the-use-of-an-escape-room-game-as-an-educational-activity-to-reinforce-course-content-and-promote-collaborative-peer-learning/
This post presents the design and implementation of a fun educational learning activity used to promote student collaboration, team-based peer learning, and challenge students to understand challenging concepts. For the AY2022/23 Semester 1 run of the Special Programme in Science (SPS) course SP2274 “Engineering a Life-like Cell”, an escape room game was incorporated into the final week of the curriculum. Escape rooms are typically based on a mystery or a problem where challenges must be solved in a time-sensitive manner to reach the end objective (Earle, 2022). The activity is designed for five groups of students (four to five students per group) over two hours. The aim of adopting this approach, apart from consolidating content taught throughout the semester, was to promote peer learning and collaboration, as well as provide a fun and engaging means for content recall. The game involved students having to apply the knowledge learnt in SP2274 to solve a series of puzzles. Students—in their respective groups—solve a puzzle to obtain a clue which would lead them to the physical location of their next puzzle. By working through each puzzle, they eventually find and complete the various puzzles hidden throughout a particular place (e.g. a building). Upon completing the escape room challenge, students would find the final location of the assembly point. In our version, groups were awarded points based on 1) the time to complete the challenge, (2) the number of correct answers, (3) whether any lifeline was used, and (4) completing the bonus challenges.
Rationale Behind Using an Escape Room Game for Learning
Compared to more conventional ways of consolidating learning (e.g., final examinations or assignments), an escape room game provides a more engaging and less stressful alternative to assess student learning. By getting students to work in groups to play the game, peer collaboration is promoted with the opportunity for peer learning when students—with a better grasp of the content—can explain their rationale behind solving the puzzles to their coursemates. This collaborative environment promotes learning while building students’ ability to communicate and work with others. Through the game, students also identify and monitor gaps in their own knowledge. Additionally, previous research reported that peer instruction benefits learning as students develop confidence and accuracy in the answering of questions following peer discussion (Tullis & Goldstone, 2020). Clearly, the benefits of assimilating an escape room game into the classroom are numerous.
Reflections on Planning and Executing the Escape Room Game
To incorporate the course content into the activity, I made a list of SP2274’s learning objectives, and then designed the questions and activities according to Bloom’s Taxonomy. Following which, I came up with activities and questions that aligned with the key learning objective for the course (Table 1). Using this constructive alignment, I could then extract the key objective that I wanted students to know, and apply it to the context of the game.
Formative feedback activities incorporated into the writing assignment workflow for the undergraduate course: A sample example
Next, in tailoring the activity’s difficulty level, I tried taking the perspective of a student enrolled in SP2274 to get the level of challenge right. Since I wanted the activity to be challenging rather than a ‘recall’ type of game, I adjusted the difficulty level such that all students would be able to apply his/her knowledge to a new context. This would allow students to refresh their memory on how the content taught during class can be applied to various settings in the activity. We included a number of analytical questions to give students the opportunity to apply their knowledge. There was a mix of “True”/”False” statements, mix-and-match, computation of logic, and more (see Appendix for a sample question).
After executing the game, I learnt that since the clues were hidden for the groups to find, it would be advantageous if the clues were hidden far apart from each other to prevent multiple groups from being at a single location at any point in time. Additionally, it is crucial to brief the students to exercise integrity and return the clue to its original location if they find another group’s clue. Perhaps due to the gaming nature of the activity, students were enthusiastic and did their best to complete it.
Overall, the escape room game was well-received, with students participating actively. On reflection, further enhancements could be implemented in the activity. For example, to implement this activity with a larger class (>100 students), multiple sessions can be conducted, especially if instructors have multiple tutorials or lab groups. The winners can be decided based on a point-based ranking (e.g., 10 points for each completed challenge, additional points for being in a top-three time ranking and for solving bonus questions to obtain more points for their team), which would allow instructors to scale up the activity. A post-activity survey can also be administered to obtain student feedback and determine whether to refine its implementation. Another way to evaluate the activity is to have the teaching assistants (TAs) or senior students be attached to a single group as observers for the activity’s entire duration; as observers, they can be asked to collect evidence of learning, collaboration and problem-solving within that group. This evidence can be given to students as post-activity feedback or as a way to measure formative assessments. Furthermore, instructors can use the evidence to measure whether students have reached the learning objectives.
As teaching in classrooms evolve and educators seek more engaging means to promote learning, incorporating an escape room game activity into the curriculum is a feasible approach to promote student engagement with the learning material. The advantages of this approach include promoting peer learning, student collaboration, increased student motivation to tackle challenging concepts, and providing a game-type environment conducive to enhancing active student participation and motivating them to learn. Since the activity was held in the final week of the semester, it also gave students the opportunity to bond and destress at this critical stage, ending the course on a high note. Furthermore, the ability to communicate with others under stressful situations is a transferable soft skill that would serve them well in their future endeavours. Hence, we would highly recommend this approach to fellow educators to incorporate into their respective courses.
The author would like to thank Dr Lieu Zi Zhao for the opportunity to plan and execute the escape room game in his module as well as others who were involved in providing timely and valuable feedback for the learning activity.
- UTOP refers to the Undergraduate Teaching Opportunities Programme, a credit-bearing course for undergraduate students to acquire practical skills in teaching, with guidance from academic supervisors.
Earle, A. J. (2022). A how-to guide and template for designing a puzzle-based escape room game. CourseSource. https://doi.org/10.24918/cs.2022.8
Tullis, J. G., & Goldstone, R. L. (2020). Why does peer instruction benefit student learning? Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, 5(1), 15. https://doi.org/10.1186/s41235-020-00218-5
Trina TAN is a life science undergraduate at the Special Programme in Science (SPS), Faculty of Science (FOS) in NUS. She has participated in developing classroom material such as the escape room game described above as part of her Undergraduate Teaching Opportunities Programme (UTOP) journey under Dr Robert Lieu.
Trina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LIEU Zi Zhao (Robert) currently serves as a lecturer at the Department of Biological Sciences and the Special Programme in Science (SPS), at the Faculty of Science (FOS), NUS, teaching undergraduate classes within the SPS, and the College of Humanities and Sciences (CHS).
Robert can be reached at email@example.com