Escape rooms promote creative thinking, teamwork, communication, and cooperation, making them valuable tools for educational applications. However, physical escape rooms can be expensive to construct, impractical for temporary use, and difficult to adapt for large classes. To address these limitations, we designed a MATLAB-based escape room for BME 303L: Modern Diagnostic Imaging Systems. BME 303L is generally comprised of approximately 70 undergraduate biomedical engineering students at Duke University each spring. This upper-level core class, taken by juniors and seniors, covers the mathematical and physical bases underlying medical imaging modalities including x-ray, computed tomography (CT), ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and nuclear medicine.
MATLAB was specifically selected as the interface for this activity as it is:
• Windows-, Mac-, and Linux-compatible
• Freely available on almost all university- and student-owned computers
• Fully customizable due to its built-in graphical user interface (GUI) tools
• Able to accommodate large numbers of students/teams
• Easily modifiable, adaptable, and transferrable
• Able to automatically keep time and assess penalties
• Able to randomize aspects of room puzzles
The escape room was comprised of 6 rooms, each of which corresponded to a single course module. The puzzle(s) within each room were specifically designed to align with the student learning outcomes of each module and to test a broad range of concepts within each imaging modality. After reviewing the game rules and starting the countdown timer, the students chose a room from a drop-down menu. An image of the “room” was then displayed within the MATLAB GUI. As is customary in escape rooms, students had to identify both the question being asked and the answer to that question in order to determine the “secret code” (consisting of three letters or numbers) required to escape the room. When the students solved the final room puzzle, the program immediately stopped and computed the time it took each team to escape. Two hints and a solution card were available for each room; however, each hint added a time penalty (in minutes) equal to the total number of hints/solution cards used to the elapsed time. Additionally, a 30-second time penalty was assessed for each incorrect answer. Students were provided with a formula sheet, and were encouraged to use a calculator, blank paper, and writing utensils.
The class consisted of 17 teams of 3-4 students. All teams successfully escaped all 6 rooms in an average (h:mm:ss) of 0:43:50 [range: 0:14:30-1:07:28]. Very few groups used hints, as most students did not want to be assessed a time penalty. None of the teams used a solution card to automatically bypass a room without solving the puzzle.
Our MATLAB-based escape room challenged students to work together to recall concepts from each course module, which enabled them to identify topics they needed to review more closely in anticipation of the cumulative final exam. While this escape room was designed specifically for a medical imaging course, the MATLAB framework developed for this activity can be readily adapted to address the specific needs of a variety of courses. For example, additional rooms can be added, the difficulty level of each puzzle can be modified, time penalties can be changed or removed, additional hints can be provided, etc. Educators can use this framework to not only supplement classroom learning and recall in a fun and engaging way, but they can also use it to promote the development of intangible engineering skills, including communication, curiosity, time management, and teamwork.
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