Escape Rooms for the Academic Library: Tips and Tricks for Learning Engagement

Posted by Raymond Pun on 12/18/18 11:36 AM

First Year Experience, library instruction

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit KTH Royal Institute of Technology, a university located in Stockholm, Sweden. In this trip, I created a gamified IL workshop based on escape rooms. About 20 academic librarians came from all over Sweden to participate in this activity and discuss ways to expand the concept into their own practices. Here I’ll explain some tips and tricks for you to consider when creating escape rooms in your own instruction.

An “escape room” is a physical game where players solve a series of puzzles using clues, hints, props, and strategies to “escape the room” under a time limit. Players can work in groups or individually and it’s a popular “team-building” exercise too. The game can be plot-driven and thematic. For example, some libraries have organized themes around Stranger Things, Game of Thrones or Harry Potter. What’s great is that you can experiment with the concept by integrating information literacy and research skills into the mix.

  • Props and materials: When you are setting up the room, bring a series of books, props, tools, and other materials for students to go through. Dimming the room’s lights and playing background music can also alter the learning environment. You can leave flashlights or encourage students to use their phones as flashlights to uncover hidden messages in the dark. Messages can also be placed inside books or props too. Check out this post for more ideas!

  • Clues and setups: Students will form groups (5 at most), and should work together and take turns to solve clues. What clues can you suggest? Make them search different databases by dropping in riddles, poems, haikus, or flipped words. You can also have them verify citations and other information in a scholarly publication, or fact-check a source from the Internet including social media channels or Wikipedia by using a library database like Credo Online Reference Service. There are various creative ways to get students to think about the research process. Design 3-4 clues on a sheet of paper or Google Sheet where students can share their responses to answer questions. Scatter the clues in the room in envelopes or folders but be sure to label them correctly for each group to use since there may be more than 1 group of people doing the assignment. Check out this Pinterest post for more clue ideas!

  • Technologies: Bring in extra laptops or tablets (if the workshop is not held in a computer lab) so students can access them. Ideally, one or two laptops per group would work so students can keep track of their work and search through different databases. If you have other innovative resources like virtual reality gears or 3D printers, you can also include them into your activity to introduce students to library technologies. Get more ideas from this article!

  • Time limit and prizes: If this is a one-shot workshop (1 hour), set the activity for 30-45 minutes, giving yourself time to explain instructions and debrief after the activity. Don’t forget to reward those who finish first and solve the clues correctly. You can reward them with bookmarks or other library swag items for their accomplishments. See here for a list of resources and ideas.

  • Informal assessment: When everyone has completed the assignment, spend time debriefing and discussing what went well and what didn’t, what they learned, and other research strategies and tricks that you can share to enhance their learning. You can also deploy a survey but it’s best to get verbal feedback from students.

In general, it’s a scavenger hunt game where students are competing with each other while learning how to access and use library resources and developing research skills. You can collaborate with another colleague to brainstorm themes and ideas to test out for one of your classes. For those in embedded workshops, students may walk in late so be sure to find a way to get them caught up as well. It’s a fun experiment, and important to document the process on how gamifying information literacy can be an effective way of student engagement.

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