Shauna Pollock, a Toronto-based educator and the author of Creating Classroom Magic, a book about using the Disney-inspired principles of magic, safety, and courtesy in teaching, believes educational escape rooms have enormous potential to be effective in schools, since they can be adapted to any subject. “[They can] excite learners and help develop their skills, teaching them content through immersive, engaging play,” she wrote in a recent paper.
This style of puzzle-based learning is well suited for web-based games, which also provide access to a larger audience. In 2012, Arizona State University trialed this by building Science Detectives: Training Room Escape, a click-through online escape room for preK-12 learners. “Instead of the typical lecture, we wanted the student to have fun playing a game that just so happens to require using the Scientific Method to succeed,” said Charles Kazilek, the chief technology officer at Arizona State University.
Kazilek said escape rooms are a “natural problem-solving environment,” and he designed Science Detectives to produce a player summary when completed—something that students can print out for their teachers. They’ve had 98,000 visits to their homepage since launch, and Kazilek is working on a follow-up, Science Detectives: The Case of the Mystery Images, to release later this year. “One of our students commented, ‘It’s okay to trick us into learning.’ These types of games have the ability to do just that,” he said.
At the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, Sherry Jones, a games-studies instructor, is admittedly receptive to games in education, but was especially impressed with how quickly escape rooms engaged students. She said they’re structured so that players instantly become active participants, with a vested interest in winning. “In games, you read materials and have a Q-and-A session,” she said. “There’s no hand holding here.” Jones believes that escape rooms will start spreading through education as a “way to make the classroom a lot more fun.” That, in turn, could create a stronger incentive for learners to engage with their studies. “Escape rooms in education is pretty new,” she said. “There aren’t many initiatives—apart from Breakout EDU, but that’s not a full-scale escape room.”
Launched in 2015, Breakout EDU is a recurring name in the educational escape-rooms space, and what the French teacher Nicole Naditz uses in her California classroom. The company sells small boxes, priced $89 to $119, filled with escape paraphernalia (think padlocks, UV lights, and hint cards), and an empty thumb drive for downloadable lesson plans, created to complement the curriculum. This allows teachers to access the large Breakout community of more than 8,700 members worldwide, and download custom escape games, as well as build their own.