• Yael Bamberger

10 popular misconception on educational escape rooms

Designing an educational escape room, or content-based escape room is a complex challenge. You need to be creative, be metacognitive in terms of understanding of content, and try to figure out what will go through the mind of those who try to solve the riddles. I came across some common misconceptions on educational escape rooms, and here are some:

1. An educational escape room must contain a lot of text - X

Many educators think that in order to make educational materials into a puzzle, you have to use text, even a lot of text. The text is usually a reading material or the puzzle itself, written as a test question.

The beauty of escape rooms is that the participants themselves create the puzzle as part of the solving- problem process. From the collection of things they find, they are the ones that make up the puzzle. For example, placing two slides on each other creates a puzzle in itself.

A good and interesting educational escape room has minimum text, deciphering of clues to riddles and challenges.

2. Each puzzle game is a kind of escape room - X

Many times, I come across printed quizzes, on a newspaper or a cupboard, called an "escape room." It's OK to catch the buzz, but it is also important to understand the differences between escape rooms and 'a treasure hint' kind of games. Escape rooms must be located in a physical place, in real space, and with restricted time. Even nomadic escape room can be like this if the puzzles are located within a specific space, and the time of the experience is limited. There should also be a good background story that connects all the puzzles and inspire the design, but a collection of printed puzzles and logic riddles is not an escape room.

3. Educational escape game is always linear - X

Generally, educators develop linear escape rooms or escape games. It means that puzzle A leads to puzzle B, which leads to puzzle C and so on.

The chart of the puzzles plan looks something like this:

Such an escape room is perhaps the simplest to plan but is far less interesting than an escape room made up of parallel branches that meet. Example of a scheme of the puzzles plan of more interesting escape game:

4. Every escape room must have expensive technological effects - X

About four years ago, when the escape rooms came to the western world, dozens of escape rooms were built. At first, it was modest and simple rooms, but slowly and with increasing competition, modesty was replaced by grandiosity and pompous effects replaced simplicity.

In the area of ​​education, budgets are more limited in advance. It does not mean that it is impossible to plan and produce a very quality escape game. Simplicity, in this case, is not a disadvantage but an advantage - investing more thought into the content and quality of the puzzles and less to technological and pompous effects.

5. No need to check the room before building, it will certainly work - X

I got to meet quite a few escape room builders. Most of them were very passionate about puzzles, challenges, and effects and did not see the need to try the puzzles before production. This meant that many times the puzzles were not in the right sequence in terms of audience flow or were incomprehensible. Therefore, it is very important to have pilot experiments, with people like the audience of the real escape room. It is essential at the detailed design stage, even in the form of prototypes. Best to test before investing money on the real stuff.

6. If I figured out what to do here, everyone would understand - X

This conception is the younger sister of the previous conception. The thought that the content of the riddle will be clear to the participants. Many times things are clear to us, and we are surprised to see how the participants do not understand what they need to do. Therefore, it is worth giving each riddle separately to relatives or friends to see what they figure out and what they did not. If necessary, simplify the puzzle or reveal more details that can help with the solution.

7. Progressing from puzzle to puzzle is always via numeric code - X

There are escape rooms that are tiring of numeric codes. Each puzzle solution is a 3-digit or 4-digit numeric code leading to the unlocking of a code lock. To create an interesting room, some puzzles should not be in the form of a code. They could be a discovery of accessories, a mix of materials, an assembling of pictures, or other visual elements. Using a UV marker, filters, or combining materials instead of a numeric code lock makes the room more exciting that fits diverse people with different skills.

8. An escape room puzzle should have clear instructions - X

Educators usually know how to explain well. They are paid for it. Therefore, I set out to meet with educators who create puzzles that look like a question in a school test, with very clear instructions. So an educational escape game is not a school test. The whole thing about an escape room is that there are no instructions, just like in real life. Participants need to find out for themselves what to do at each stage, again, just like in real life. Therefore, when designing the challenges, you have to think carefully about how to give hints, not too thin or too thick. The hints help participants understand what they need to do, but still, let them feel they did it themselves.

9. It is impossible to operate the same escape room for different ages - X

Here lies a trap.

A content-based escape room should be associated with content, so it is based on participants' previous content knowledge. But sometimes, minor changes can make a difference and adapt a puzzle to different audiences. For example, a puzzle in which participants have to close an electrical circuit. For youths who already learned about conductive and insulating materials, there will be a bucket with a number of accessories, conducting and isolating.  The participants must choose the appropriate materials. For the younger ages, it is possible to draw on the puzzle the appropriate accessory that will actually close the electrical circuit because it is a conductor.

10. In most subject matters it is impossible to make an escape room - X

I heard this statement from math, English, and bible teachers, as well as museums' managers. However, in my workshops, I saw with my own eyes how educators from different disciplines come and create charming and challenging puzzles in just about every possible field. A little bit of creativity, a little bit of thinking outside the box, and a lot of collaboration, all together make it possible.

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