Co-creating digital escape rooms: An opportunity for creativity and collaboration

woman biting a pencil looking at a laptop screen with the image of a maze in the background
Image Credit: Graphic Design by Joe Arton, Original photographs by Unsplash

In this post, Brendan Owers describes a recent project funded by the Usher Education Development Grant that explored students and staff curating digital escape activities. It describes how the workshops were structured alongside feedback and reflections from those involved…


During 2020 (before lockdown restrictions) a number of Master of Public Health (MPH) students and staff were introduced to the concept of digital escape rooms and had an opportunity to explore and translate the physical sense of an escape room into a digital learning experience using Microsoft OneNote.

An escape room is a space in which a team of players cooperatively discover clues, solve puzzles, and accomplish tasks in one or more rooms in order to progress and accomplish a specific goal in a limited amount of time. In the simplest form it is a set of password protected pages whereby the password to the next room can be obtained after completing a set of tasks. By organising co-creation workshops our intentions were to provide a space to explore and create educational materials using similar gaming attributes that were drawn on the experience and expertise of learners (Bovill, 2017; Bovill and Woolmers, 2018), that could be used to reinforce and encourage learning with others. We envisaged materials could be used individually, in a group exercise or as part of a flipped classroom approach.

Whilst a staff-initiated project, the content and structure was decided by students and we sought advice from colleagues who had setup similar co-creation experiences (Harden and Fawkner, 2019). Staff offered encouragement and partnered by sharing examples of similar approaches and providing support where necessary. Simply put, we wanted to explore the approach and create a space to facilitate collaboration and creativity. The project’s objectives were to:

  • Explore how to create escape activities using existing or new material
  • Understand how this approach may be used in teaching
  • Provide opportunity for students to create educational resources
  • Contribute towards digital capabilities (JISC, 2019)
  • and most importantly, to play!

The workshops

We invited students to take part in two 2-hour workshops each with twelve students. Participants were informed ahead of these that the project offered an opportunity to try something new and maybe create some useful content if successful. In recognition of their time (Bovill, 2017) high street shopping vouchers were awarded. At the beginning of the first workshop students were introduced to digital escape rooms by completing an escape room themselves, with tasks and puzzles to complete. They were asked to do this individually against a timer with a prize for the winner. If memory serves me correctly the winner received a UoE keyring! Completing this gave everyone a chance to experience the environment and the types of content and tasks that could be used. After a follow up discussion groups began to discuss possible topic areas before putting ideas down on pen and paper.

Once these started to take shape they began to transfer in to MS OneNote during the second workshop. Tasks were split between the groups where some took to creating their ‘rooms’ in OneNote whilst others sourced information from the web. Guides from the Open.Ed service were provided to understand how resources could be used and re-purposed. We chose MS OneNote as it is part of the O365 suite available to us but any tool that can password protect pages could do the job. The escape room they completed in the first workshop contained guidance and links to resources that would help them create their own. The main mishap we experienced was setting up incorrect passwords or forgetting answers – at the time of writing there was no way for us to reset these!

Reflecting on the experience

Great form of fun learning, breaks the monotony of classroom teaching

Not only was it educational, it was fun as well. I can already see myself using it to share the message of public health to the community

enjoyed collaborating towards a common purpose

I enjoyed the group brainstorming session where it triggered discussion and ideas

…gaining knowledge about different topics while learning how to use OneNote. Kill two birds with one stone. Bravo!

Feedback from students

One of the parts we enjoyed the most was facilitating the space where there was no hierarchy, and to some extent no real structure! Before the workshops I had anticipated the output would be a number of student created resources that may be used within teaching on the programme after some form of review. What we got out of it was quite different.

The experience of trying something new together allowed us to explore, build and fail several times – and that experience is something I have taken away more than the resources, and try to build on in other areas. Whilst some materials were created and shared, we underestimated the time needed in the workshops. One tip for anyone looking to do something similar would be to allow for longer or further sessions with perhaps more pre-session information. A full day with breaks and lunch may be suitable and something to look at in the future.

Shortly after the 2nd workshop the country went into lockdown and with two groups still to finish the project took a short hiatus. After reaching out to those who were still to compete it was great to hear back from them – and via a couple of online meetings were able to finish what was started, reflect and share our experience with others:


All students who participated across the workshops during our flexible working week, Durga Kulkarni, Madhurima Nundy, Cyril Onwuelazu, Shariva Phanse, Neneh Rowa-Dewar, Jeni Harden & Sarah McCallum


Bovill, C. (2017) A framework to explore roles within student-staff partnerships in higher education: which students are partners, when and in what ways? International Journal for Students as Partners, 1(1).

Bovill, C. and Woolmer, C. (2018) How conceptualisations of curriculum in higher education influence student-staff co-creation in and of the curriculum. Higher Education.

Harden, J. and Fawkner, S. (2019) A student partnership project to enhance curriculum development in medical education. Teaching Matters Blog, published 24th January.

JISC. (2019). What is digital capability?. [online] Available at:


Escape Room definition –

ALT Winter Conference 2020 poster presentation:

MS OneNote guidance:

How to user OERs, Open.Ed –

Brendan Owers

Brendan is a Learning Technologist at the Usher Institute, University of Edinburgh, supporting the delivery of the Master in Public Health online programme. He recently completed his MSc in Blended and Online Education, and is CMALT accredited. He is interested in how we can make effective use of technology in learning and teaching. You can follow Brendan on Twitter: @brendanowers




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