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Many online faculty add at least one synchronous event to their courses to provide students with the immediacy of a full-class interaction. But a central challenge of synchronous events is finding something engaging for students to do. One solution is virtual escape rooms (VERs).
We used a VER in Communication and Engagement in the Therapeutic Process, a course in our doctor of occupational therapy program. This hybrid course includes asynchronous learning activities, weekly synchronous sessions, and immersive lab experiences. A VER was a good platform to both provide an application of course content and help develop communication and teamwork skills.
ThingLink, an interactive image and video tool, provided the virtual “room,” with a 360-degree image as the setting (Figure 1).
This interaction walked students through a hypothetical occupational therapy intake visit to an older woman’s home. The green circles are hotspots that open audio clips, video segments, text, and weblinks that describe the home and the woman’s history, sometimes even in the woman’s own voice. Some also contain questions that students answered on an accompanying Google Form. These are the “locks” of the VER.
Students were divided into four- to five-person breakout rooms in a Zoom web conference. We created a more gamified experience by providing a bonus point on an upcoming quiz to each student in the first group to escape the VER. Students then received a link to the ThingLink interactive and the Google Form. We instructed the students to have one group member open the Google Form to submit group answers, while all had the ThingLink interaction open on their personal computers.
Students navigated the 360-degree picture and clicked on the numbered hotspot locks in sequential order. When the student groups were on a lock, they had to work together, use resources, and strategize how to quickly and correctly determine the appropriate answer to move on in the VER. When students thought they had the answer to the lock, they entered it on the Google Form.
Importantly, each Google Form question had specific directions to help students correctly format their answers so the system could interpret them as right or wrong. For example, students were told to use all capital letters or include a person’s full first and last name. If students answered correctly, the group moved on to the next hotspot lock in the Google Form. While students could click on any numbered lock at any time, the Google Form allowed them to enter the keys only in sequential order. This prevented group members from dividing questions among themselves to answer independently. Unfortunately, ThingLink does not have a setting that requires users to complete locks in numerical order, so groups had to remember to do so.
After 35 minutes, we brought all students back to the main Zoom room for a 15-minute debriefing. The discussion focused on what it felt like to work together as a team to “escape” the VER, the different roles group members took on during the experience, and which roles supported or interfered with the group process. We also discussed how the competition aspect of the VER changed the group dynamics and each individual’s approach to working in their group. The debriefing resulted in a robust discussion that could have gone on for much longer than the 15 minutes that class time permitted.
The final portion of the module was an embedded assessment the next day. In the class LMS, students worked together to design a group therapy intervention based on an occupational therapy clinical scenario. The VER gave students an opportunity to apply what they learned about group dynamics and processes to real-world clinical situations.
Learner feedback included a desire to increase the use of VERs in the program’s online courses and praise for the highly engaging sessions. Learners enjoyed the activity’s collaborative aspect and valued the time spent completing the VER. The easy-to-use platforms, novelty, and friendly competition were some of the reasons learners enjoyed the experience. Faculty preferred the ThingLink and Google Forms tools for executing the VER due to their ease of use during development and analytics.
There are a few steps that are key to developing a successful, immersive experience:
In the future we plan to use a VER during a face-to-face lab to allow students to both make decisions and demonstrate hands-on skills. Students will be put into small groups of three to four and given a case scenario of a client with a disability they would work with in a clinical setting. The students will still work through the scenario using ThingLink, but instead of only submitting text answers, some locks will require students to demonstrate the skill by having a group member record them performing the skill on another team member and uploading that video to the Google Form.
In instances of text-based responses, the keys are automatically validated through the Google Forms response validation feature. In the case of a video upload, the key is the upload itself and does not require validation for the students to proceed in the escape room. Once students move through the VER and complete the case-based problems, they receive an electronic exit ticket and can depart the lab immersion. The VER in this case is a formative assessment, providing faculty with information on the cognitive and psychomotor skill development of students during an on-site lab immersion experience.
Bridget Scheidler, EdD, is a clinical assistant professor of occupational therapy, and Kayla Collins, EdD, is a clinical associate professor of occupational therapy, both at Baylor University.