Auburn Spotlight, Blake Melnick

“I was trying to add something fun to help my students prepare for tests. I thought an escape room would be a great way for them to work some sample test problems.
Blake Melnick
Lecturer, Aerospace Engineering

Spotlight Interview

Locked-in learning: Auburn lecturer creates educational escape rooms

Escape rooms have gained popularity over the past several years as a fun recreational activity for friends and family or as a team building exercise for colleagues and coworkers. These days escape rooms have made their way into the classroom as educators are starting to implement them as a way to increase student engagement, collaboration, communication skills, and critical thinking. At Auburn, Blake Melnick, a faculty member in aerospace engineering, is using this innovative game to help his students learn and review materials.

Melnick’s research interests include using active learning techniques to increase student engagement. He created escape room challenges for his classes in the fall 2018 semester as a way for his students to review for their second exam.

In groups of six, students solved a series of “test type” questions (e.g. find the error or piece together). They had 50 minutes to try to open a lock located near the exit of their active learning classroom inside the Mell Classroom Building @ RBD Library and “escape.”

“I did this for each of my classes, including dynamics, mechanics and statistics. Each escape room was slightly different as many students are in more than one of my classes,” Melnick explained.

At a minimum, the students were exposed to 11 test-type questions, many coming from old exams. After the class, Melnick posted the solutions to the problems on Canvas.

As far as student buy-in is concerned, Melnick said, “Most of the students really enjoyed the escape room. The attendance was really good for these days. The activity usually gets a 9 out of 10 on the exit survey I give at the end of the semester.”

The four groups who escaped first were awarded bonus points on the test (2 points for first place, 1.5 for second, 1 for third and .5 for fourth), and the remaining groups received participation points. Melnick also provided candy and Auburn University Engineering swag for the teams to share.

He plans to incorporate one escape room into his classes per semester in the future, typically as a way for students to review for their second exam.

“I definitely plan on tweaking the escape room each semester. I’m working on making the clues and problems more effective in teaching and reviewing the material. I’m also working on cutting down on the number of problems and giving them more time to complete each clue.”

Professors whose course learning goals include problem-solving, critical thinking and collaboration might consider implementing this kind of assignment in their courses. This activity can be used for more than just to review for exams. 

For faculty interested in using an escape room in their own class, Melnick said, “Creating the escape room does take a significant amount of time. The hardest part is creating the problems/solutions. [For the rest] you can purchase locks, tins, toolboxes and storage containers in bulk fairly cheaply. I used my iPad with the Notes Plus app to write and create the solutions to problems and used a YouTube video to display the countdown clock on the screens.”

“I was trying to add something fun to help my students prepare for tests,” Blake said. “I thought an escape room would be a great way for them to work some sample test problems.”