Sunday, May 9, 2021

Digital Escape Rooms - A Silver Lining of COVID-19

We all know that as educators, it's been a tough year, to say the least.  Although Zoom, Google Meet, and other virtual conferencing platforms can be great learning tools, we all know that they will never replace face-to-face learning in the classroom.  Nothing will.  And believe it or not, Zoom fatigue is a real thing.  So it's our job as educators to develop ways to mitigate Zoom fatigue.  We need to create opportunities for our students to interact and collaborate with each other.  Our instruction needs to be student centered, engaging, and interactive.  Let's give our students the chance to develop their reading and critical thinking skills.  One activity that can be used to accomplish all of the above is a digital "Escape Room." 

It's likely that you and/or your students have been to a physical "Escape Room."  In case you are not familiar with an "Escape Room," an "Escape Room" is a room in which people are locked in order to play a game requiring them to solve a series of puzzles within a certain amount of time to accomplish a goal, typically finding the way to unlock the room.  "Escape Room" experiences are great for team building, they encourage reading, critical thinking skills, and last not least, collaboration amongst the participants.  They are engaging and student centered.  When created properly, the instructor can facilitate, acting as the "guide on the side" instead of "the sage on the stage."  Because of COVID-19, digital escape rooms have become quite popular; students can participate from anywhere at any time.  The learning is not restricted to the walls of the classroom.

10 Reasons 2 Try Breakout EDU Digital by Amanda Taylor @TeacherAndGeek

So how does one go about creating a "Digital Escape Room?"  Well, according to Karly Moura, another educator who has created many digital escape rooms, the best way to learn more about them is to try it yourself, and I couldn't agree more!  Here's a great one to try which was created by Dr. Mandi Tolen.  Just click on the link and go for it!

Ditch That Textbook Themed Digital Escape Room by Dr. Mandi Tolen

Are you ready to start creating your very own "Digital Escape Room"?  If so, here is some information to help you get started.  Proper planning is crucial for this to be successful!  (This has been taken from Dr. Mandi Tolen's blogpost "How to Create a Digital Escape Room for Your Class or PD.)

One of the digital escape rooms that I created this past year was centered around the book "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury.  Through this experience, students worked collaboratively to escape a digital room that featured interactive objects and clues associated with the book and its theme.  Using Google Drawings, I created an interactive image which I exported as a PDF.  I combined the PDF with a Google Form and added them both to a Google Site which I created specifically for the digital escape room.

By clicking on the various interactive objects in the image above, the students were led to a number of clues that would unlock the locks in the Google Form.  A couple of the locks are shown in the screenshots below.  One of the best features of the Google Form was the response validation feature.  Response validation is a great tool that can help you make sure that the answers you get actually fit what you're asking.  It also provides immediate feedback to the user who completed the form.  It will only work with short answer questions.  In a nutshell, the student must enter the correct answer on the Google Form in order to successfully open the lock if the response validation feature is used.  All students have a chance to earn a perfect score on this activity and they cannot submit the form until they do so.  You can imagine that this was not easy for the students.   They had no choice but to read, think critically, and follow directions carefully.  The English teacher and I facilitated the student centered learning acting as "the guide on the side," rather than "the sage on the stage."  

Now you're ready to get started and create your own digital escape room.  Dr. Mandi Tolen has put together a planning template that you (or even your students) can use to create your own digital escape room.  You can make a copy of this planning template by clicking here.   The template is actually a Google Slides file which you can download as a PDF or PowerPoint.  You can print it out or you can make your own copy to fill in digitally.

After you have created your own digital escape room and are ready to share it with your students, you might want to share the image below which was created by Karly Moura. 

5 Tips for a Successful Digital Escape! by @KarlyMoura

We all know that this year was none like any other.  As educators, it's important that we create interactive, engaging, and challenging learning experiences that are unlike others so our students will learn from them, enjoy them, and ask for more\.   A digital escape room is the way to do it!