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UEF opens first escape room laboratory in Finland

Next autumn, the Joensuu Campus will witness the construction of an escape room that seeks to gamify education and to develop students’ collaborative problem-solving skills. The escape room constitutes part of the Sm4rt LOC project, and it is created in collaboration between the academic subjects of teacher education, computer science and physics.

“Education is renewing itself, and this calls for new environments, methods and devices. The escape room integrates 21st century skills in education, including programming, coding, technology education and collaboration skills,” says University Teacher Ville Tahvanainen, who coordinates pedagogical development within the project. 

The escape room will be unique, something the like of which hasn’t been seen in Finland before, and likely not elsewhere in the world, either. Escape rooms have been used in education before, but they have been temporary and movable, “suitcase versions”, so to speak. The permanent facility to be built on the Joensuu Campus comprises several escape rooms, which will be planned in collaboration with University Properties Finland, which is also in charge of the construction. The costs of the escape room will be split between the university and University Properties Finland.

“The construction of this escape room is an example of University Properties Finland’s experimental culture. These kinds of openings constitute part of our research and development activities, and the costs of these pilot projects do not have an impact on facility rents,” Environmental Engineer Ari-Pekka Lassila from University Properties Finland says.

Every year, Finnish universities propose various pilot projects to University Properties Finland. This year, the escape room laboratory was chosen as a pilot project, because it shows the idea of an escape room in a completely new light. The project also brings together new ways of learning and teaching, as well as research addressing gamification.

According to Lassila, pilot projects make it possible to try out brave new ideas which, in turn, lead to new experiences and information on the behaviour and needs of facility users. Facility users, on the other hand, get to design a project that is meaningful to them.

Modifiability motivates

The escape room can be modified for users of any age, making it suitable to be used in the teaching of university students and comprehensive school pupils alike. The room fits 20–25 people at a time, which means that an entire class of students can work there together. The escape room’s problem-solving series and gamification motivate students to learn things in a new way.

“We use all kinds of technology to support information retrieval, for example VR goggles. Escape room games are recorded on video and audio, making it possible for teachers to analyse the situations with students afterwards. This also makes it possible to use the escape room for research purposes, much like a learning laboratory,” Tahvanainen says.

The escape room can be used in any subject, and teachers can design tasks for students to complete independently.  When necessary, the design team can provide ideas for problem-solving tasks. 

“In addition, the devices, software and functionalities of the escape room can be copied elsewhere. Nothing stops us from further developing the escape room so that it can be used in staff training, for example.”

Students of the University of Eastern Finland have been involved in the project since the planning stage. For instance, craft teacher students have brainstormed for ideas on problem-solving series.

Later on, the escape room will also be used for research purposes. Gamification has become an essential part of teaching, and this is why it is necessary to develop the related pedagogy. One of the ideas is to create a framework for escape room pedagogy: what it is and how it can be implemented in practice.

“For its part, the escape room also strengthens the national and international image of the University of Eastern Finland as a developer of learning environments and as a provider of diverse teacher education.”

For further information, please contact:
Head of Facilities Management Tarja Harjula, University of Eastern Finland, tarja.harjula(at), tel. +358 50 331 0736

University Teacher Ville Tahvanainen, University of Eastern Finland, ville.tahvanainen(at), tel. +358 50 461 9530

Project Manager Taro Malinen, University Properties Finland, taro.malinen(at), tel. +358 44 579 5786 

Project Manager Arto Partanen, Ramboll CM Oy, arto.partanen(at), tel. +358 44 556 0111