Education Students Create Virtual Escape Rooms
March 1, 2021
SHSU Media Contact: Wes Hamilton
Story by: Mikah Boyd
The ongoing pandemic has presented many challenges to students and professors alike, but instructors at Sam Houston State University continue to adapt. Professor Peggy Holzweiss, in the College of Education, found a way to tackle student engagement issues by implementing virtual escape rooms into her curriculum.
“I started looking for new ideas for engaging students in the virtual environment and stumbled on an article about a community librarian who created a virtual escape room during the pandemic in order to engage kids with reading,” Holzweiss said. “Then I attended a virtual teaching conference, and it had a virtual escape room that participants could try. Once I attempted both of those escape rooms, I began wondering if I could use the concept as a class project.”
Holzweiss continued to research the concept and found that creating virtual escape rooms would be a great way to help students apply what they had learned in a fun and creative way.
Topics for the escape rooms were selected by students based upon the subjects that they covered in the course, Contemporary Issues in Higher Education. After selecting a topic that was meaningful to them, the students would team up and gather research over the issue and create immersive escape rooms for people to navigate through to learn about the struggles that various students face in higher education.
“Students conducted research across the entire course on both their topic and the creation of puzzles and escape rooms,” Holzweiss said. “For example, students examined the history of their topic, what is happening with their topic now, the current research published and the various factors that it impacts.”
She explains the experience as immersive, as it places participants into a mystery that needs to be resolved. In order to solve the mystery and escape, subjects must find a series of clues by solving puzzles and testing their knowledge. Holzweiss hopes that those who interact with these mysteries will become more aware of the barriers that students in higher education encounter.
“The escape rooms share some of those barriers, so that people can learn while they are also having fun finding clues and solving puzzles,” Holzweiss said. “Then, when they are done playing the escape rooms, I hope they share the links with their friends and family. The more people understand the challenges within higher education, the close we can come to finding solutions.”
The overwhelming success of the project garnered national attention, leading to Holzweiss to speak at a webinar about her experience.
“I was willing to share what I learned and introduce others to an engagement approach they may not have heard of before. Solving puzzles and delving into a mystery, even for an hour, can provide a fun distraction from the realities of our lives right now,” Holzweiss said.
The project also made a lasting impression on the students who participated in the course, with many recommending escape room projects for other course. Student comments included:
“The success of the project was the information learned. Not only about the subject that my team researched but also the technology. We were able to put together an interactive way of learning something that otherwise may not be appealing to others. As a team, we were able to see and learn different opinions, experiences and levels of knowledge.”
“The tech tools highlighted in the escape room challenge can be useful both in personal and professional settings. There were some tools (like jigsaw puzzles) that I knew about before-hand, and some that were new to me. I think that anyone going into a teaching field can definitely incorporate these into their classroom. Outside of that, though they can definitely be used as a fun interactive training tool for departments even for something as simple as a retreat or group bonding activity.”
“My technology knowledge and skills have improved so much after taking this class. I have been working for higher education for over 20 years, and I have promised myself to keep up with the updated technology trends. I like to learn new things, and this course has taught me that I am capable of making a complex digital escape room.”
Looking forward, Holzweiss hopes to see more courses utilize escape room projects in their curriculum and will continue to incorporate them in her own courses.
In order to access the escape rooms, you can visit the SHSU HIED website.
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