Development of a chemistry-themed escape room that can be used by personal tutor groups in the chemistry laboratory
Game-based learning (GBL) has been argued to be an incredibly effective method of teaching because it inherently contains components that aid learning. These include activating prior learning, putting theory into context, immediate feedback and assessment, social interactions, and progression through transferable skills. The data here often shows that enjoyment and learning go hand in hand, whereby students are more likely to take in information or actively participate in learning if it is fun. GBL has also been credited for reducing anxiety in maths and science students.
Escape rooms have become very popular in the past decade and involve a group of people who enter a room with the aim of finding clues and solving puzzles to escape the room within a set time period. Chemistry laboratories specifically have cropped up as scenarios in escape rooms outside of academic settings. Whilst these are usually sought out for their fun nature, there is a tangible opportunity to link this to teaching through GBL. Indeed, several academic institutions have already developed chemistry escape rooms, for high school and undergraduate students (online). Here, results have already shown that these have been very useful for engaging students in learning along with developing teamwork skill.
The main goal for this project is to develop escape rooms in the chemistry undergraduate laboratory that can be used as an icebreaker activity for personal tutor groups, hopefully helping to provide a strong foundation and break down some of the barriers between tutors and tutees through a fun activity.
What we have done so far
With the support of the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences Teaching Innovation Fund 2021, we have managed to successfully produce an escape room in the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the University and trialled the use of this with volunteer personal tutors and tutee groups. Here, the room was noted for its professional nature as well as helping to break down the barriers between students and staff. Students appreciated the effort that had been put into making this event for them, and both staff and students enjoyed taking part together. What was also clear was that those who took part wanted more of these types of events with their personal tutors.
After presenting the work throughout the University, a fair amount of interest has been directed towards this project from others. This has included adapting the current escape room onto Xerte, opening the opportunities for others to take part, along with producing similar icebreaker activities with the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences Bioscience Foundation Year. This interest is likely to grow with the project spreading throughout the University (Surrey ExciTes) and beyond (RSC ChemEd conferences), along with the production of other rooms.
Aims and objectives
We would like to design two additional escape rooms for the Department, that would allow us to make this event timetabled for all staff and students, whilst also providing tutor groups an alternative room to take part in part way through the semester. This will help to further develop the research that started last year, investigating if repeated group activities really help to strengthen this bond, and improve the approachability of staff, making students more likely to talk to staff when they need help.
A second and third escape room will also allow for more equipment to be loaned out to other departments. Additionally, with the merging of the Department of Chemistry and Department of Chemical and Process Engineering, I plan to reach out to colleagues in chemical engineering who may wish to take part with their own personal tutor group, helping to strengthen the bond within the School.
We presented this project at the University Excellence in Teaching Symposium 2022.
Initially £700 with an additional £250