Can an escape room in the classroom help you with your final exams?

Leerlingen aan tafeltjes maken toetsen, een surveillant loopt rond.

On 12 May, the final exams for secondary school students in The Netherlands started. Teachers all over the world are using escape rooms in the classroom as a new form of education. But what can you actually learn from an escape room? And can an escape room help you prepare a tests like your final exams? Utrecht University researcher Alice Veldkamp conducted research into escape rooms in education.

Teachers have little time for educational development, especially during Covid-19, says Veldkamp. Even so, teachers have been developing and using escape rooms in classrooms in recent years. Veldkamp trains teachers, and wanted to know more about the spontaneous rise of the phenomenon. She completed her PhD research on escape rooms in April 2022.

Think harder, more fun

In Veldkamp’s research, pupils stated that they had to think much harder during an escape room than they would in a normal lesson - and also that they liked that way of thinking. In an educational escape room, the activities are based on lesson material. An educational escape room is very suitable for refreshing or repeating lessons, or as a diagnostic test. The ability to communicate and cooperate well appears to be a prerequisite for this. Veldkamp's research shows that this applies from escape rooms in primary schools to professionalisation courses for adults.

Pupils mention that they need time and quiet to take in new subjects properly.

However, using escape rooms in the classroom is not necessarily suitable for learning new material. Pupils mention that they need time and quiet to take in new subjects properly, says Veldkamp.

Meaningful context

Are escape rooms suitable for practising before a test? They are, Veldkamp says: In science exams, questions are often offered in a certain context, for example a disease or an environmental problem. That context is meaningful to pupils, and because you can link it to an assignment in an escape room, many teachers find that this is an advantage. And of course it is fun and exciting to solve the assignments together.

Docent begeleidt leerlingen in het voortgezet onderwijs bij hun onderzoek

Challenges for teachers

According to Veldkamp, there are three challenges for teachers when it comes to escape rooms in the classroom: first of all, pupils must be able to make the leap from the classroom environment to the game environment. They have to dive into the story to do the accompanying activities. Secondly, you need to make sure that the game objective makes students achieve all the learning goals, which is easier said than done. Finally, you have to do a proper debriefing of the activities in the escape room. Pupils want to know what the answers were, they want to know how others did their assignments, and so questions arise from what they have experienced. This is probably where the greatest learning gain lies, according to the researcher.

Creative teachers will continue to adapt escape rooms to the circumstances.

Veldkamp does not think that escape rooms are a hype. To her surprise, her research showed that escape rooms in the classroom were still being developed during corona. With hybrid classes there is a shift towards digital games. Unfortunately, communication, which is a prerequisite for good collaborative learning, does not improve in a digital environment, and the tactile aspect that students often like is also missing, the researcher concludes. But creative teachers will continue to adapt escape rooms to the circumstances. That appears to be the strength of the concept!