Escaping the Mundane: A Multiple Case Study Exploration of the Versatility of Virtual Escape Rooms in Hybrid Learning Environments

Concurrent Session 8

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Virtual escape rooms (VERs) challenge students’ self-determination and incorporate the principles of social-constructivism in highly engaging gamification scenarios. This session will describe the benefits of VERs and how they have been successfully utilized in an accelerated-hybrid program.  


Dr. Bridget Scheidler is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Baylor University Doctor of Occupational Therapy program. Dr. Scheidler earned her Bachelor of Health Science (2004) and Master of Occupational Therapy (2005) from the University of Florida. In 2019, she earned her Doctor of Education degree, with a specialization completion in Teaching and Learning, from the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences. Her dissertation research focused on the feelings of preparedness amongst practicing occupational therapy clinicians to work with youth exposed to school shooting.

Extended Abstract

Educators are challenged to find new and exciting ways to motivate students in hybrid environments. Todays’ students seek engaging methods of learning that harness technology and motivate them to learn (Boctor, 2013). Students may half attend to the asynchronous lectures posted in an online course, or skim through the readings. You may see black boxes in synchronous videoconferences rather than studiously attending students, or get no response to questions posed for discussion. Despite our best efforts as instructors, attention and engagement can deteriorate in a hybrid environment with interference from external sources and competing priorities. How do we create learning activities that entice students and draw their attention despite the myriad of distractions? Gamification techniques may be one way to enhance student engagement and increase attention in hybrid environments. Specifically, VERs are a unique type of gamification that can be used to teach content while stimulating engagement, facilitate discourse, and promoting the application of learning (Fotaris & Mastoras, 2019). This presentation will describe the use of VERs in a hybrid-accelerated program to facilitate student engagement, satisfaction, and improve learning outcomes. Embedded in this presentation is a demonstration of a VER and audience participation in a VER. 

Techniques like gamification challenge students' self-determination which promotes intrinsic motivation by providing immediate feedback, control, and inspiring curiosity among students (Brull & Finlayson, 2016). Further games benefit multiple learning styles and encourage more group discussion and participation than other types of active learning strategies (Boctor, 2013). One reason gamification works to increase engagement is that it develops ‘flow’, which is when a person becomes so engaged that they do not register external distractions (Kirriemuir & McFarlane, 2004). One method of gamification that has become more popular in recent years are escape rooms (Fotaris & Mastoras, 2019). In a virtual context, escape rooms (ER) provide students with both the motivational benefits of gamification and incorporate the principles of social-constructivism, whereby students learn through their engagement with others (Fotaris & Mastoras, 2019). Virtual escape rooms (VER) have been shown to improve student motivation and learning outcomes in recent years (Friedrich et al., 2019;).  


In a graduate hybrid-accelerated program, VERs were used throughout the curriculum to engage students in orientation, online synchronous classes, and during face-to-face lab immersions. In one instance, a VER was used to teach both program-specific content and develop students' communication and teamwork skills. In another synchronous online course, a VER was used as a method of collaborative exam preparation. In both of these instances, students participated in VERs during a required synchronous course session as part of a fully online course embedded in a hybrid-accelerated program. Student feedback included a desire to increase the use of VERs in the online courses and praise for the highly engaging sessions. VERs were also used during synchronous virtual student orientation to review the program handbook policies. This instance provided new students an opportunity to create relationships with other cohort members, while also fostering an appreciation for program policies and providing the program with evidence students had reviewed the program handbook. The final application of VERs in this program included the use of VERs during a face-to-face lab immersion. Students participated in case-based problem solving and demonstration of hands-on skills to move through a virtual scenario and escape the room. This application allowed for psychomotor, affective, and cognitive skills to be integrated into the VER activity.  


The program utilized no-cost technology tools to develop interactive VERs. Through the technology tool ThingLink, educators were able to immerse students in various scenarios using 360-degree pictures, audio clips, video segments, text, and weblinks. Students navigated through a scenario to answer ‘locks’ embedded within the images associated with the learning objectives of the activity. Through Google Forms, students submitted the ‘key’ to open the ‘lock’ and move to the next stage of the VER. The goal was to be the first team to finish opening all ‘locks’ successfully. Key strategies for building the VER using free technology tools, templates for designing VER scenarios, and a demonstration of building and engaging in a VER will be shared with the audience. Through this multiple case study educational session, the flexible nature of VERs and techniques for the design and implementation of VERs will be explored.  


Level of Participation: 

This session is structured as an educational session with multiple examples of one program’s use of VERs to increase student motivation and learning through social interaction in a virtual classroom.  Attendees will be challenged to escape a virtual escape room with a peer as they are guided through the session discussion on VERs.  Attendees will then participate in a large group discussion on the different uses of VERs beyond the examples in the session.  The session will conclude by guiding participants in creating a VER to incorporate in their current or future virtual or residential classrooms. Templates for developing VER scenarios will be provided.  


Session Goals

Individuals attending this presentation will be able to describe the benefits of using gamification in a virtual learning environment.  They will be able to apply the theory of social constructivism to a virtual escape room learning activity.  Attendees will also be able to create a virtual escape room for current or future classroom use.  

Boctor, L. (2013). Active-learning strategies: The use of a game to reinforce learning in nursing education. A case study. Nurse Education in Practice, 13(2), 96-100. 

Brull, S., & Finlayson, S. (2016). Importance of gamification in increasing learning. Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing, 47(8), 372-375. 10.3928/00220124-20160715-09 

Fotaris, P., & Mastoras, T. (2019). Escape rooms for learning: A systematic review. Proceedings of the European Conference on Games Based Learning, 235-243. 

Friedrich, C., Teafor, H., Taubenheim, A., Boland, P., & Sick, B. (2019). Escaping the professional silo: An escape room implemented in an interprofessional education curriculum. Journal of Interprofessional Care, 33(5), 573-575. 

Kirriemuir, J., & McFarlane, A . (2004). Literature review in games and learning. Futurelab, A Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol.