In this blog, Suzanne Lampert, Assistant Professor in the School of Social Sciences, shares her reflections on using an escape room to teach introductory economics.
After weeks of planning, it was time to bring my first escape room to the classroom. I was inspired to incorporate this type of game-based learning into my teaching after participating in an online escape room last semester. It felt like such a fun and exciting way to learn.
In preparation for the 2023-24 academic year, I completely redesigned the first-year introductory economics course. Since the pandemic, low lecture and tutorial attendance and poor engagement in tutorials had become a real issue for us; and one that needed addressing. An active learning approach was a key part of the course redesign, and interactive lectures were introduced. We also needed a different format for tutorials, one which would encourage our students to attend, and one which would engage them. I started trying to put together my first escape room.
It was surprisingly easy to adapt previous tutorial questions, but I also added a couple of easier rounds of questions to ease students into the activity and to make it more accessible. I used a combination of mathematical questions and word based puzzles to try and be inclusive and to appeal to students with different backgrounds and skills. I was lacking a theme though, and I had no idea how to deal with the practicalities of delivering the activity to groups of up to 50 students in on-campus tutorials. After some very helpful input from colleagues in the LTA, my escape room had turned into a realistic business scenario and I had chosen to opt for hard copies of each round of questions.
Week 3 arrived and we had ten first-year tutorials ahead of us at the Edinburgh campus, plus a further four in Dubai. Seven different tutors, including myself, would deliver the escape room activity. To ensure the smooth running of things, I printed out most of the material for the Edinburgh tutors and gave clear written and, in some cases, verbal instructions. I knew this would be fundamental to its success.
My first escape room went really well. All students in the class were engaged and most appeared to really enjoy the activity. One of the things that really struck me was how inclusive it was – in all of the tutorials I delivered, every person in the room was involved. As the week progressed, positive feedback was coming in from both students and tutors.
Some reflections were as follows. It was very helpful to have a 4th year assistant in each of the Edinburgh tutorials; this made a real difference to how smoothly they ran. However, it was still necessary to be organised with the handouts, as we often had more than one group requiring attention at the same time. Some groups needed a little bit of guidance, but the nature of the escape room questions meant it was quick and easy to get them on track. Students also appeared to struggle with the same questions, which was helpful for informing future teaching and for providing additional support.
After the first escape room, I decided to make a couple of adjustments to the questions – mainly for clarity and because one question took a little longer than expected and the extended version wasn’t actually adding a huge amount to student knowledge. The timing was hard to get right in advance, so I was flexible with this in the beginning. It soon became apparent that an hour was an appropriate time frame – this meant that one or two groups in each class completed the activity, and most of the others got close. I gave students a ten-minute break, but some of them were so keen, they just carried on through the break. I felt I got the difficulty level about right. The activity was challenging enough to make students think, but not so hard that they lost interest. The way the seating was arranged sometimes made it difficult for all members of the group to see the handout well. I therefore started to give groups with four or more members, a second copy of the handout. We had groups which ranged between three and six in size. All worked ok, but four was probably the optimum.
Both students and colleagues have been really positive about the escape room format. My overall reflection is that it felt like a great way to start our tutorials and to help achieve a strong grounding for collaboration and engagement from the outset. I am now preparing another escape room for tutorial four.