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BROAD SPECTRUM Escape Rooms Add Dash to Remote Instruction

Imagine you’ve developed a vaccine urgently needed to overcome a deadly new virus. Then, just as you’re preparing to deliver the lifesaving discovery, you become trapped in your lab.

This was the scenario given to USC undergraduates in the course Approaches to Pharmacology and Drug Development right before they entered a virtual escape room. Once inside, students worked in teams to solve puzzles testing their pharmacology knowledge. Answering all challenges within the allotted time allowed a team to “escape” the lab and prevent the next pandemic.

Worried that their students were experiencing COVID-19 burnout, Tam Phan and Amanda Burkhardt, assistant professors of clinical pharmacy, created multiple digital escape rooms as a way to add levity to learning in their online classrooms. So far, they’ve designed escape rooms for undergraduate and master’s students, as well as high schoolers in the USC Science, Technology and Research (STAR) program. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with many students singling out the escape rooms as the highlight of the entire course.

“When lesson planning, I try to emphasize different learning mechanisms because the college experience is more than just lectures and tests,” Phan notes. “In a virtual learning environment, it’s hard to do that, so we created these escape rooms as a way for students to stay engaged.”

The digital escape rooms were created using a combination of Google Forms and Google Slides, while the gameplay was facilitated through breakout rooms in Zoom. Traditional tests generally assess the ability to recall information through written material, but Phan says the strategic sequence of puzzles also assesses oral competency and a student’s ability to apply knowledge in differing situations.

Burkhardt, who used the escape rooms as review sessions, designed puzzles that pulled information from multiple lectures. “If they’re able to connect the dots, I can tell they’ve grasped the material,” she says.

The innovative approach has provided another benefit during online instruction: It’s created the space for students—some

The escape room was such a great activity that allowed us to not only further our understanding of important class concepts but also interact with our peers in a fun, challenging and educational way.”

Albert Fernandez, BS Class of 2024

A scene from one of the escape rooms created for the Approaches to Pharmacology and Drug Development course