Online escape rooms at UWE

Written by Hannah Duke; Edited by Tom Buckley.

What is an online escape room?

You might have a real world Escape Room near you. They are now part of a lot of city centres and used for corporate team building events. At these events you have to work together and resolve situations to escape a physical location. You may have also taken part in an online equivalent during the various lockdowns. Possibly with colleagues or possibly with friends. For those of us who watched the film ‘Saw’ growing up this is not an altogether enticing form of entertainment.

Online escape rooms are the virtual equivalent. Games where players are locked in the virtual equivalent of a room. This could be a breakout room in some webinar software or something more asynchronous. The activity is gamified, that is typified by game mechanics you wouldn’t find in normal educational delivery. Mechanics like clocks, counters, points etc mix with an over story undertaken in the spirit of play. Where the activity has a ‘win state’. A joint goal. Groups or individuals work against time to solve puzzles, riddles and complete tasks to unlock different sections and escape the room. Escape rooms can be used in education as a game-based learning activity. Where you retain the idea of narrative and play but ally it with educational goals. The experience can:

  • Test knowledge. The mechanics of escaping a room can rely on your knowledge of a particular subject. Often you will find MCQs used.
  • Test student’s ability to problem-solve. Can students interrogate a situation and apply their own knowledge in this situation?
  • Encourage team working. You are metaphorically trapped in an escape room albeit trapped collectively. Activities in the real world can be designed to need multiple people to complete. The team working in an online version might be a summation of knowledge or giving participants discrete tasks.
  • Improve communication and encourages leadership skills. There is opportunity for groups to form in tackling an escape room. For a new dynamic between people through collective action. So online escape rooms can be a good place to engage with soft skill development.

Online versions of escape rooms can be created through different platforms. They aren’t a product or a feature of a specific system. They are a fun, engaging and interactive way for students to take part in real life scenarios or frame different activities.

How to plan an escape room

Planning your escape room is an important part to ensure you are creating an activity that adds to students learning. You can do this by following some simple steps on how to plan an escape room.

Purpose of the escape room

You may want to start by considering what the purpose, goal or object of your escape rooms is. What do you want students to learn or get out of participating in an escape room? Are there any learning objectives or goals you want the students to complete?

For example, when authoring an escape room as part of a team building session we set out what we needed to get out of the session. We wanted to create an activity that ensured everyone was able to get a sense they were part of the scenario. To build the team. So we designed the activity by considering the interests of the team. Their hobbies etc and incorporating them into the escape room.

Theme and story

Next you may want to consider the theme and story of your escape room. This may be influenced by the purpose of your escape room. You will want to think about how you want it to look and start planning the story of your escape room. You want it to flow like a game and grab the attention of student so they want to participate. You may want to make a flow chart to plan out how your escape room may flow: The start with instructions of what is going on and an introduction to the story. The middle where the story develops and includes the puzzles, riddles and activities. The end, a debrief of what they’ve just experienced and any reflections or questions. As well as text, you can also use images to enhance the story.

Puzzles, riddles and activities

After you have figured out your story, you may want to consider the different puzzles, riddles or activities for students to take part in. Decide how many you want and what type of code you want them to unlock (word/numbers/letters). You may want to plan these backwards to allow students to get to a certain answer. They should be relevant to your goal or learning objective. It’s important for the escape room tasks to be challenging and test problem solving skills and team working skills. However, make sure to test out each before going ahead as some may be time consuming which may lead to boredom, equally if they are too similar or too difficult they may want to give up.

How to make an online escape room at UWE

There are different ways you can create an online escape room at UWE.

Qualtrics

One option is to use Qualtrics. Qualtrics is a simple, quick and easy way to create your escape room that also looks visually appealing and makes you feel like you are stuck in the escape room. It’s an interactive way to participate in an online escape room as you can make sure students enter a password before moving onto the next page. You can add images and text to help create your story and use different question types to unlock the codes.

We trialled using Microsoft Forms however you are unable to lock the question in each page and you are not informed whether or not your answer is correct. Therefore, you would be able to move on without getting the right answers which defeats the point of the escape room. However, Google Forms has a similar set up and you can add for the questions to be answered correctly before moving on.

Example: Education Innovation Team HAS Team Building Example

Xerte

Another option is XERTE. Xerte looks good and works well as an escape room. The benefit of creating an escape room in Xerte is that you can easily embed it into other learning content. You can create an online escape room in XERTE by using a bootstrap template. You will need to use the interactivity slide and select Answer X of Y. Here you can add your story to the Instructions and set up a Code or password to unlock the next stage. To prevent moving on until the Code or password is correct you will need to add a Xerte Page Link to the next part of your escape room within the feedback and select ‘Back only’ or ‘None’ in the Navigation button section.

Xerte Escape Room Example

Screenshot of editing screen

Here are some examples of escape rooms authored in Xerte from a recent Xerte conference: