The value of games in education has been established with serious educational games, games designed to teach a topic, gamification, and game-based learning (either using commercial games or self-developed games). Educational games can provide immediate feedback and incentives to progress, foster communication skills, and encourage experimentation and creative problem solving. Live-action games, such as escape rooms, are ideal for in-person classrooms as they require little technology and can take advantage of the shared environment of the classroom. Nicholson defines escape rooms as “live-action team-based games where players discover clues, solve puzzles, and accomplish tasks in one or more rooms in order to accomplish a specific goal (usually escaping from the room) in a limited time”. Deep learning comes with dynamic immersion amid complex, realistic, and inherently social situations that produce opportunities for active learning. Escape rooms allow students to cooperate under a time limit, which creates an urgency that drives student teams to engage with content in a way that traditional learning activities may not.
This full paper presents the development and implementation of escape room design projects in first-year engineering courses at Rowan University and Northeastern University. In these pilot projects, first-year engineering students worked together to design, build, and fabricate their own class-wide escape rooms motivated by “learning by design”. Students explored the characteristics of design thinking that are non-linear, iterative, generative, and creative. In this project, students were tasked to collaboratively design an escape room, requiring the various student teams to contribute to the room in unique ways. In part, each team was responsible for making a fabricated object, two puzzles, and a 3D printed object. Additionally, a jigsaw method was utilized to split the teams into committees that were responsible for connecting the escape room elements together. This included narrative, flow, infrastructure, and marketing committees that all had different roles in creating the final escape room product. This paper will additionally highlight themes around motivation and student accountability, teamwork, and project management. The authors believe that having first-year engineering students design and play through escape rooms provides a holistic, student-centered approach for teaching design thinking with an emphasis on art and creativity.
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