A book for designing online escape games

How to create an online escape game for students? The answer may be in the book “S’capade en ligne” published today by Ellipses editions. Written by Patrice Nadam, SVT teacher at La Tour des Dames high school in Rozay-en-Brie (77) and Mélanie Fenaert, SVT teacher at Blaise Pascal high school in Orsay (91), the book explains how to transpose an escape real game on an online interface while promoting teamwork and student engagement. For the authors “the real phase of learning and memorization is that of the debriefing, this post-game time devoted to returning to the experience and fixing the important notions”.

What will we find in your book? How is it designed?

S’capade online is the logical continuation of our first educational book S’capade with escape games, also published by Ellipses, which mainly dealt with real “physical” escape games. In this second opus, we are talking exclusively about the virtual, digital version of these games. We take the components of a good escape game and explain how to transpose them to an online interface. Our approach is essentially centered on edutainment and ways to optimize online activity with students or trainees. Of course, tools and technical aspects also have their place. We try to show the diversity and to specify the specificity of each one. The book ends with a detailed step-by-step allowing the realization of an example using one of the tools acclaimed by teachers during confinement: Genially.

What are the educational advantages of virtual escape games compared to those experienced in class?

From the point of view of immersion and activity of the players, nothing is comparable to a real escape game. In addition, the ease that one can have in carrying out exercises online is a risk of deviating from escape games and puzzle games and of pouring into gamification or even “gamification”. This neologism from Patrice designates the creation of more or less gamified challenges but very close to a classic class activity: it is an interesting pedagogical approach but it is clearly not the format of the escape game.

During the two confinements, many teachers took up the challenge of distance education by creating escape games entirely online in order to maintain the commitment and motivation of their students. Everything is then in the success of the transposition of the assets of the physical games. How to simulate the search of a room, the manipulation of objects, the opening of a chest, the revelation of a message to the UV lamp, etc? How to conduct a session including this type of game, in the presence or at a distance? How to encourage student collaboration and cooperation, especially in virtual classrooms? How, depending on the context, conduct a debriefing that allows students to become aware of their learning, to memorize? We thus approach many aspects of educational escape games, through the prism of online games.

Why do you recommend having students play in teams?

An escape game is essentially a team game. Even for an online game, we recommend that several people play it. To do this, you have to trigger situations that force them to do so, even in a remote context! The interweaving of the puzzles, the construction of a non-linear scenario, the diversity of the puzzles are some of the elements that will make the game quite difficult for a single player, but feasible in time for a team that knows how to communicate and divide up Tasks.

Unfortunately, few tools make it possible to create truly multiplayer sessions for which the action of some affects the others. We therefore explore different interfaces and their functionalities and offer tips to promote teamwork, whether students are playing in class or remotely.

What are the differences between a semi-virtual game and a virtual game?

A semi-virtual game mixes reality and virtual. In a physical escape game, game phases can be dragged onto a digital interface to immerse the players in another universe, to simulate an environment that is impossible to recreate with a cardboard decor… During an online game, we can offer the player to leave his screen to carry out an experiment with some everyday products or print a document that he will have to manipulate in all directions to solve an enigma. If the game takes place in class, we can offer manipulations and experiments in scientific disciplines, the reading of a page from a book or manual, or simply a box with a real padlock.

By including a real dimension in an online game, we vary the supports which is often a plus in pedagogy. We also force the player to take a step back from the game, and this can facilitate the debriefing phase later. The risk is to break the immersion, also it is necessary to take care of the coherence and the feasibility of this real phase.

What games have you tested in class? For what returns?

We create our games for our students and for our training, but we also use creations from colleagues. Mélanie uses several escape games in SNT in 2nd, for revisions at the end of the theme, among others “Top secret” by Damien Bourdet (Technology Cycle 4), and “Alan Turing and the salt marshes” by Maryline Danilet. In SVT, it is essentially real escape games that are set up, a large part being related to manipulation. In science education, the context of the whole class makes virtual and semi-virtual games more practical: Mélanie has thus created escape games for a Terminale textbook in science education, as well as a semi-virtual escape game on atmospheric history.

Student feedback is generally good: the game decontextualizes the concepts and skills to be worked on, allows review or discovery in an informal way, the debriefing remaining the essential moment when the contents are reviewed and fixed. There are of course students who prefer more traditional methods, the important thing is to make them understand the interest of varying the approaches, and possibly offer them less destabilizing tasks (team spokesperson, secretary, or downright decline the activity in a non-fun version).

Does a student “engaged in an escape game” memorize more notions than by learning his lesson in a traditional way?

Accurately evaluating new acquisitions following a session, whether fun or not, is always tricky. And all the more so with regard to the long term: what part of what has been memorized has it been thanks to the game or rather thanks to the rest or the whole of the pedagogical system put in place by the teacher?

What is certain is that we do not learn by playing. We advise you to read the book Learn with play by Margarida Romero and Eric Sanchez. The real phase of learning and memorization is that of the debriefing, this post-game time dedicated to the return on the experience and the fixation of the important notions. On the other hand, an element that can play on long-term memorization is emotion, or rather the many emotions experienced during an escape game: stress, joy, frustration… Ups and downs, the intensity that imprints memories for a long time in the minds of the players: it is up to the teacher to ensure that the good memories are fixed!

In the particular case of virtual escape games, being able to replay the game as many times as you want is another factor that promotes memorization. It is also easy to break down a game into levels of different difficulties, in order to help students progress, and anchor learning even more. Although we still have a weakness for real escape games, it is undeniable that the virtual format has many advantages for both students and teachers, advantages that we detail in S’capade online.

Interview by Julien Cabioch

Mélanie Fenaert, Patrice Nadam, S’capade en ligne – Learning through virtual escape games, Editions Ellipses ISBN: 9782340066229

Two virtual escape games in Technology and SNT:

Top Secret (Technology Cycle 4)

Alan Turing and the Salt Flats (SNT 2de)

Training escape games, to discover the “virtual escape game” modality:

Small riddles and old dust (easy level)

Doctor Love and Mr Ken (expert level)

In the coffee

S’Cape: The site for sharing educational escape games

Mélanie Fenaert: Training courses against dropping out

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