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Escape the Hilltop Conspiracy! Faculty, Students, and Librarians Develop an Escape Room

Students celebrate beating the clock in Lauinger Library's Escape Room

Imagine that while looking for an available group study room in Lauinger Library, you and your classmates stumble across a hidden office. As you poke through stacks of books and old papers, you find yourselves following clues left behind by an intrepid student journalist who disappeared while investigating rumors of a clandestine society as old as Georgetown University itself. Would you outwit the shadowy figures determined to protect their secrets at any cost? Could you keep a cool head while time runs out and the threat escalates? Would you solve the mystery and escape?

Students celebrating escaping the Lauinger Library Escape Room

A successful team celebrates beating the clock.

This is the scenario confronted by five adventurous student teams who participated in Escape the Hilltop Conspiracy, a pilot project hosting escape room events at the library this fall. Groups of 3-6 players raced to solve a series of puzzles within the time limit, achieving an 80 percent success rate.

Librarian Melissa Jones congratulates a victorious student team.

“It was a lot of fun! It required a lot of creative thinking and teamwork, which made it more of a challenge! It was also fun to do an escape room that was Georgetown themed and that we could especially relate to,” Sophomore Brett Huber said.

 Escape Room Button

Winning players earn a much-coveted “Saxa Society” emblem button.

An interdisciplinary, collaborative conspiracy

Students who participated in the pilot ultimately provided valuable feedback on the early prototype of an escape room experience designed to support learning. The prototype development required a collaborative effort from many students, faculty, and library staff to bring the project to life.

The project started in 2017 when the library convened an informal team of librarians, makerspace staff, and interested faculty to discuss how to use escape rooms for instruction. After some exploratory research and planning sessions, faculty invited librarians into their classrooms to work closely with students on escape room-themed assignments. Students in Professor Evan Barba’s Interaction Design (CCT-617) class constructed the cleverest puzzle devices in the library escape room, such as an antique typewriter that reveals a surprise when players crack its secrets. The dramatic story that engages players is based on narratives drafted by Professor Matt Pavesich’s Writing and Culture Seminar (WRIT-015) students (Interested to learn more about this innovative classroom assignment? Watch this video!).

Escape Room typewriter

An antique typewriter prop used in Escape the Hilltop Conspiracy.

In addition to developing escape room components as assignments, the faculty and librarian team also wanted to explore whether there are ways escape room games can serve as educational environments. To that end, librarians re-purposed these student projects for a functional escape room intended to reinforce lessons related to basic research skills. They ultimately plan to use the knowledge gained from piloting the library escape room to develop useful guidance for faculty who would like to pursue escape room-based instruction.

Next steps

This project may continue into spring or next fall as the library expands work with faculty to identify the types of subject matter and learning outcomes best served by this new instructional technology.

Faculty: Can you see yourself creating an escape room for a class? Are you interested in following the progress of this ongoing project? Contact Holly Surbaugh to request updates.