Defy the Death Ray: Opposing Viewpoints In Context Escape Room

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| By Tara Blair, Digital Marketing Coordinator, Gale |

Henry Stokes, Library Technology Consultant at Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC), brought training to a whole new level when he conducted an online escape room. TSLAC recently acquired Opposing Viewpoints In Context as a state-wide resource and Stokes was charged with rolling it out to librarians from across the state at an upcoming committee meeting.

After some basic resource training, the screen went blank and participants had to use Opposing Viewpoints In Context to find answers to questions about Nicola Tesla… whose birthday happened to fall on training day. Naturally, we contacted Stokes to see how he came up with this incredible idea.

Q: How did you come up with an Opposing Viewpoints In Context Escape Room?

A: In April, I attended a session at the annual 2018 Texas Library Association (TLA) conference called, “Thinking Outside the Lockbox: New Ways to Use Escape Kits in Any Library”. I was impressed with how well-attended it was by both school and public library staff, and it was evident that escape rooms were clearly a huge trend, something Texas libraries are buzzing about. On the panel, a librarian from Keller High School, Audrey Wilson-Youngblood, showcased a digital lockbox (a kind of online escape room) that she created for her students to teach intellectual freedom concepts. I noticed she had included a tutorial on Gale’s In Context, and this got my attention. Here was a Texas librarian incorporating a TexQuest database into an escape/breakout exercise. I’m passionate about the TexShare/TexQuest databases and the value they bring to communities. As a library technology consultant at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, I want to do what I can to encourage their more widespread use across Texas. Plus, I love games and puzzles. So it felt like a match made in heaven.  I immediately thought to myself, “The State Library should be doing this!”
(Read Wilson-Youngblood’s blog post: “Lessons from the Lockbox”, which accompanies her 2018 TLA presentation.)

I didn’t have to wait long for an opportunity to come up. In July, TLA holds Annual Assembly, where members meet and develop the programming for the next annual conference. Continuing education (CE) classes are offered, too, and TSLAC was invited to provide training on the newly-acquired databases for TexShare and TexQuest.  Gale’s Opposing Viewpoints In Context, already immensely popular with our school librarians via TexQuest, was now being offered for public and academic libraries through their TexShare subscription. I wondered, could this database be taught in an escape room format? It was worth a try. As I had learned, escape rooms can be a fun, engaging, and novel way to teach something. They incorporate gamification and encourage team building and problem-solving.

I knew it might be a challenge. Most escape rooms are undertaken by a small group of 3-5 people.  I wanted something that could be conducted by upwards of 30 participants simultaneously, but could also be done by one person. I also didn’t have any budget, so I couldn’t order any kits or gear such as props, clue cards, locks or boxes – the use of which would have also meant that it couldn’t be easily replicated by other libraries.

I started doing some research and discovered that there is actually a cost-free solution that doesn’t require anything other than an Internet-connected device and a browser. One can just modify Google Forms to create what is called a “digital lockbox”.  Not only is it free and simple to set up, it can be used by someone on their own, on any device, at any location, and it’s easy to share and customize so that other libraries could conduct it themselves.

Q: How did it go? What would you do again? What would you do differently?

A: It went great! Everyone was able to complete it, and I got some good feedback. Some of my participants were new to the concept of escape rooms, so if I were to conduct it again, I’d probably be more upfront that people don’t always solve them. It’s normal for a puzzle to be too easy or too hard for any one person, and someone having difficulty solving a puzzle isn’t a reflection on their own intelligence or aptitude. I’d also try to turn the challenge into a teachable moment – point out that these frustrations are often what our students and patrons are dealing with while seeking the information they need.  Who knew escape rooms could be a tool to develop empathy?

Q: What was the hardest part about making the escape room?

A: The hardest part was coming up with the puzzles and clues – matching them to the theme and the learning objectives that I had developed, but there are a lot of resources online to get ideas or even steal whole-cloth.  Creating the actual digital lockbox via Google Forms was the easiest part of the whole process to my surprise. As a parting word of advice, I would strongly urge anyone wanting to make up their own to test it many times, run it through with different groups of friends and colleagues. And tweak it each time to improve.

Build Your Own Escape Room

Henry made all the resources he developed available, so you can create your own Opposing Viewpoints In Context escape room.

  • The Room—a Google Form created to take the user through a series of “locked” areas, and only by entering the correct answers can they continue on through to the end. Learn how to create the DIY digital lockbox>>
  • Questions/Clues—to play, one needs the escape room handout to print and fill out.
  • Answers—all of the answers can be found in Gale’s Opposing Viewpoints In Context. To help those unfamiliar with this resource, Stokes compiled a handout.

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