"Have you ever heard about or visited an escape room? I hadn’t, until four years ago!" Here, Gabi explores her road to using such rooms for educational purposes...
For my birthday, my present was a visit to an escape room with my family. An escape room is a game-like environment where groups of participants have to solve puzzles, create links and discover things in order to ‘escape’ out of a room or rooms. We got locked up in a room full of ‘Russian spies’ and within an hour we had to deactivate a bomb. To do that we had to unlock chests, decode calendars, find spy identity cards, reveal phone numbers with a black light and use a video camera to discover a hidden code which was closed in a box. It was an exciting process, which was given added pressure by the count-down of time in big red digits on the clock. We did not manage to diffuse the bomb on time, but we left the room with quite some adrenaline and a feeling of adventure. Six months after this visit I still remembered all the number codes, the puzzles, the links and how the room looked like. Participating in an escape room leaves quite an impression and creates unforgettable memories. Creating long-lasting memories is one of the aims of education. This thought brought us to the question: why not use this setting for educational purposes and create an educational tool based on the concept of an escape room?
Our Framework: the Looking at Learning project
In 2014 four trainers/educators, Gabi Steinprinz, Ruta Kronberga, Ignacio Salgado Andrés and Maria Victoria de la Cruz, participated in a seminar of European Trainers in Salamanca, Spain. As a result, we developed an idea for a Strategic Partnership in Erasmus+ Youth. The project Looking at Learning (L@L) on the topic of Creative Learning Environments was born: www.lookingatlearning.eu Within this project, we wanted to develop an educational tool based on the concept of a Creative Learning Environment. Immediately the educative escape room came into mind for the reasons mentioned above. Furthermore, they are very popular among young people as free time entertainment. Escape rooms are appearing fast in cities and towns all over the world. So why not use them in education, for learning about history, citizenship, chemistry, interpersonal relationships, sexual education or human rights?
Innovation in education: The Eduesc@peroom
Although in the last years ‘gamification’ has been a very successful development in education, we rather approached this tool as the ‘educification’ of a successful game. We created the “Eduesc@peroom”. The concept of the escape room matched our aim to create an innovative and playful educative tool for professionals in formal and non-formal education to explore self-directed learning and make changes in their educational systemic approach. It is a space where excitement and adrenaline are present and used to fulfil tasks as a group. Escape room is an adventurous setting, which challenges participants to cooperate, make links, communicate clearly, find solutions, discover and be curious. We used the concept of escape room to create a discovery-based learning environment. People are challenged to find answers in their own creative ways, using the diversity of the group and different learning styles and approaches. During the development of this tool, we looked deeper into the conditions for good creative learning environments, and found this means: physical space, materials, mind-set of educators, giving responsibility to learners, self-directed learning, allowing learners to fail (forward) and adapting to learner’s needs
Based on these conditions we researched the question: What makes an educative escape room different from existing leisure time escape rooms?
What makes an educative escape room educative?
Escape rooms are cool adventurous and challenging settings, in which groups of people need to find solutions to work their way out of the room with added time pressure. Usually they are linked to ‘game-like’ topics, like spying, bombs, killings, weapons, etc. Not exactly the topics we like to work with in the educational field! But the escape room contains elements, we very much like in our field, as it challenges groups to cooperate, people to use their brains, to link things together, to communicate clearly, to find solutions, to discover and explore, to be curious. It seemed to us that this could be very interesting to use this for educational purposes in various educational environments, like in schools, or the youth field and even in socio-pedagogical settings.
We discussed, we explored and experimented. In the L@L project 18 different escape room"s have been created in Latvia, Netherlands and Spain in various educational settings: elementary school, secondary school, university, youth centre, cultural centre, pre-school, day-centre for youth with learning difficulties and as cherry on the cake: in the Toolfair XI of 2016 in Malta.
Diversity was also present in the topics of these rooms; homosexuality, transversal subjects in school, autonomy, promoting reading through diving into a children’s book, history of Jaunpils castle, alcohol abuse, creating a circus, arts, farm animals and many more. Besides these settings, we have also been exploring the possibility to use it as a promotional tool for Erasmus+ to give a good insight into what non-formal learning within Erasmus+ can bring to NGO’s, professionals and young people – especially those with fewer opportunities. For example, these escape rooms can be very interesting for working on the topic of (integration of) refugees. It could be useful for locals to imagine or live through a refugee’s stories, to create empathy and understand where they come from. It might also work for refugees to start learning a new language, or create a room to discover how citizenship works in your country, a room to work on values (do’s and don’ts in interaction with locals), on intercultural learning, on bureaucratic or legal steps in their integration process. Of course, these escape rooms should be adjusted and designed with care, as we cannot lock up people with, often, traumatic experiences and put them under any kind of pressure. This would need some creativity and out-of-the-box thinking; escape rooms can also take place outside or in an open space without walls; time pressure is not necessary and exploration could take as long as it needs. All in all, making escape rooms around this topic can respect diversity and could definitely be worthwhile.
During the development of the tool, we analysed the conditions for creative learning environments, as we defined them in our first research document First Look at learning- State of Art.
We discovered the 4 main elements that gave it an educational value:
@ topic according to learning needs and creating a narrative on that topic
@ responsibility to the learner (and letting go by the educator as much as possible)
@ diversity of task and puzzles for different talents and learning styles (mathematical, logical, verbal challenges and puzzles) so all participants can contribute and learn
@ debriefing as a reflection on learning
The outcomes of the Eduesc@peroom
An educative escape room allows participants to discover things on their own. The educator takes the distance needed; supporting learners by setting up the whole escape room and during the escape room visit itself, only when asked for by participants. The topic, narrative and the game flow support the educative value of the experience. It helps participants to understand the topic, connect elements of the topic together and to get new insights. One example, that we developed during the training course of the L@L project on homosexuality was about a birthday party of someone who is just in the process of coming out, but he has gone missing. By helping to find his lost diary pages on which he has written down his thoughts, participants found out about this process of coming out and in the end, found him. Once escaping the room, participants expressed that they had no clue that the discovering of being gay was such a long and difficult process and included so much uncertainty and loneliness. As they have been discovering this by themselves and nobody told them what to think, this created real empathy and this supported a shift of mind-sets and a real dialogue about homosexuality.
The research part of this project, done by the Institute of Social Sciences and Humanities, Faculty of Economics and Social Development of Latvia University, showed encouraging results. For the Dutch part of the survey, when asking 95 participants after they had participated in this learning environment how they felt, the following scores were noted:
These figures underline that the educative escape room experience has a positive effect on the learners, where participants mainly feel safe, positive, inspired and responsible for their own learning. The Large Research document (available on the website) gives more insights about Creative Learning Environments, with special focus on the escape rooms.
At the same time, also our educators enjoyed developing these creative learning environments. They felt in their element while making these rooms. They felt inspired and highly creative, excited and part of the adventure. Most of all they felt positive about learners enjoying the learning process, which supported their feeling of doing something meaningful and being recognized. It requires out-of-the-box thinking, cooperation between educators and gives new dimensions to education. So, besides the positive outcomes for learners, also educators benefit from this process.
How to set up an Eduesc@peroom?
Interested to set up your own? You can do it! It takes time, but it has impressive results. First of all, it is important that you as a designer know the concept of an escape room and have participated in a regular escape room beforehand. Just visit a few to understand and feel what a regular escape room is all about. To set up and design the room for the first time, a thorough, but playful preparation is needed. We discovered that setting up an escape room needs time investment, but that it does not need large financial investment. With a creative approach, we managed to set up escape rooms with 20 to 50€, so it is doable for all educational settings.
The design has to be done taking into account the elements mentioned above, and other elements, like target group (number, age, social and educational level), diversity of tasks (mathematical, logical, verbal challenges and puzzles), available materials and location (class room, outdoor, office room), arrangement of the room and the atmosphere you want to create, creation of the story/ narrative, ‘game flow’, communication tools, monitoring the process and how to rearrange the room, if multiple groups are playing (timeframe). A good brainstorm with some creative people will bring you to your first ideas, and from there you find your way to create a good narrative and set a game flow up in detail.
Support for setting up your Eduesc@peroom
Our project has developed support measures, so every educator can make his or her own educative escape room. In the L@L project we developed several intellectual outputs for youth workers, teachers, trainers and other educators. Besides two interesting research documents on Creative Learning Environments, we developed three documents on the educative escape room:
@ a manual, explaining the development of the educational tool;
@ a tutorial, which explains setting up a room step-by-step;
@ a toolkit, which contain several examples in various educational settings.
These documents can support you in setting up your educative escape rooms. You can find these documents on www.lookingatlearning.eu . You can also contact us through our Facebook page: Looking at Learning project.
Time to act
Maybe you have never heard about escape rooms before, never visited one before, or never considered it an option to use it in your educational setting. If you, as a youth worker, teacher, school director, trainer, or any other kind of educator, want to make changes in your educational setting, it might be a nice adventure for both learners and you as educators. These rooms are learner-centred and give educators the possibility to support learning processes without interfering too much. Creating an interesting and playful learning environment to learners is valuable and fun, and so it is for educators. You can take the next steps to make the changes that we need in all fields of education. You have all that it takes to make it happen and create long-term memories for your young people.