Unlocking the padlock – using an Escape Room to teach Business students

Endeavouring to engage students, especially towards the end of the semester, is not always easy. Attendance usually drops as students strategically focus on their upcoming assessments, and motivation can diminish. What can lecturers do to increase that attendance, and help to identify where students might need extra help before they go off and write their assessment?

Enter the Escape Room. To be more exact, the Human Resource Management Escape Room. Escape Rooms are not new – many students may well be participating in them during Freshers Week or weekends. These games lock players in a room, and they must seek clues and solve puzzles tied to a story, or theme, to escape before time runs out. Unlocking the padlock becomes the sole driver, and their interactive nature is said to challenge members and encourage teamwork through interacting with one another. The game encourages the following behaviours:

  • Teamwork;
  • Communication;
  • Creative and Critical thinking.

At the Lancashire School of Business & Enterprise (LSBE), within the Human Resource Management and Leadership Division, Dr Emma Thirkell has developed an Escape Room game using Microsoft OneNote (available freely through the Office 365 suite) that has three primary goals:

  1. to test the students' understanding of lecture content;
  2. to offer the students a new digital skill that they, potentially, could use at work;
  3. to enrich their learning through technology.

With the help of Colette Fuller (Senior Learning Technologist), Emma designed and developed a new approach to enrich learning through technology with an idea was based on the popular Escape Room game. MBA students studying HR work through a series of HR scenarios based on what they had learned on the module. The idea is to create something fun, competitive and challenging. Simultaneously, it allows lecturers and tutors to identify which areas (or concepts) the students find challenging. In this sense, it can be used to both informally test students (formative assessment) or to ascertain what understanding students have on a concept at the start of teaching.

Setting this up was relatively easy. Using Microsoft OneNote, the Escape Room was created in a Class Notebook with 11 different pages (“rooms”). Each “room” had a real-life HR scenario or puzzle, and the “key” to the next room was a password. Students work their way through each “room”, unlock the padlock (password) to the next and the quickest group to get to the end wins a small prize. What was interesting was the level of competition between the teams once the game started progressing. This was especially so for international students, who may usually feel concerned about talking or asking questions in class, were engaged and participating in the HR Escape Room. Additionally, when groups did not know the answer, they worked together and reviewed their lecture notes to solve it. Many groups wrote notes as they went along, reinforcing the idea that this is one (fun) way for students to learn. As their lecturer, this gave me a clear idea of what topics I needed to reinforce and revise at the end of the game.

What is the value of this game, then? Each cohort who have participated in this thoroughly enjoyed the innovative style of learning. Feedback included:

  • "it was fun and challenging"
  • “it was a really good, different, way to learn”
  • "why can't we have an assessment like this?"

The most humorous quote from a student was “I never thought you could make a game out of HR”. At LSBE we aim to focus on enhancing the student experience at every stage of their learning, and this both engaged students and showcased an innovative way of teaching. Moreover, students did not realise that they were being "tested" on what they understood or found challenging in the module. The debrief was a crucial opportunity to ensure that all students understood the concepts on the module, before attempting their assessment.

While this was designed with HR students in mind, the idea can be applied to any discipline within Business & Management. If you would like to know more about how to design, create and set up an Escape Room then Emma has created a series of videos to help colleagues across institutions to do so. Please feel free to email her at EThirkell@uclan.ac.uk