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Building Escape Rooms to Increase Student Engagement in First-Year Engineering Classes

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

First-Year Programs: Monday Cornucopia (Classroom Innovations)

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Duncan Davis Northeastern University

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Duncan Davis is an Assistant Teaching Professor in First Year Engineering. His research focuses on using gamification to convey course content in first year classes. Mostly recently, he has implemented a series of escape room projects to teach engineering to first year students through the process of designing, prototyping, and refining these play experiences.

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Jimmy Gitming Lee Northeastern University

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This complete evidence-based practice paper will discuss building escape rooms using programming, computer aided design (CAD), engineering design, and prototyping to teach first year engineering students the fundamentals of engineering. An escape room is a cooperative play experience where a team of players solves a series of puzzles in a set amount of time to win. In the work described here, students design and build escape rooms containing puzzles made using Arduino hardware, laser cut and CNC milled parts, and 3D printed models.

Students become more invested in their education when they find the course content interesting and engaging. First year engineering students were enrolled in an introduction to engineering course that has used themes including robots, sustainability, and games to encourage student participation with course materials and foster student engagement through open-ended projects. Here, we describe and analyze the use of a new theme: escape rooms and puzzles.

Throughout two semesters, students are required to create three projects. 1) Individual students design a puzzle using the engineering design process to iterate on their ideas until they make an innovative and interesting project. 2) Groups of 3-4 students make a tabletop escape room contained within a small box to encourage the creation of an escape room experience with smaller components. The students make 3-4 puzzles using Arduino hardware, laser cut or CNC milled parts, and inspiration from course content. They also choose a theme and story to link the puzzles together with a narrative. 3) Each class works collaboratively together to make one big, traditional escape room. In this project, students are divided into small groups and larger committees. The small groups make two puzzles, a fabricated object (cabinet, skee ball machine, mirror maze, etc.), and a 3D printed object linked to their puzzle. The committees help link all the groups together by deciding the flow of the puzzles, the narrative of the room, the look and design of the room, and the marketing of the room to the local community.

In spring 2018, we had over 200 unique people come onsite to play through four escape rooms built by first year engineering students. Surveys were distributed to the students at the beginning, middle, and end of each semester as well as the community participants who played through the finished escape rooms. Final analysis of these surveys are presented in the paper.

Davis, D., & Lee, J. G. (2019, June), Building Escape Rooms to Increase Student Engagement in First-Year Engineering Classes Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32486

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