Escape Classrooms as a Connected Learning Network
Shared Culture and Practice
Connected learning happens when people gather (predominantly online) to work together on a topic which they are interested or passionate about (Ito, 2013). This gathering of “like minds” in an informal way allows for learners to connect, collaborate and grow their knowledge and understanding, and to engage as much and as often as suits their individual needs and lifestyles (Nussbaum-Beach & Hall, 2012, Richardson & Mancabelli, 2011).
Escape Classroom community members are driven by their interest in seeking new ways of creating and delivering problem-based collaborative learning opportunities. The community comprises predominantly of teachers and other educational professionals, although there are more and more students becoming involved. The original designer, James Sanders began working as a classroom teacher before becoming a White House Innovation Fellow as part of the Obama Administration. He saw high school students highly motivated and involved in an Escape Room activity and wondered how this focus and enthusiasm could be stimulated in a classroom setting. Sanders designed BreakOut EDU to be an open learning environment. All games were designed to develop skills in collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking, reflection and persistence. It was believed that once teachers became involved that they would see further possibilities. It is this opening of further ideas and possibilities which drives the community to continue to grow. With this aim in mind, all resources required by teachers or students to create further games are available on the site (Sanders & Magiera, 2015). As a result, the resource bank has expanded exponentially over the past four years, both within BreakOut EDU and in other areas of the cybersphere (for example Pinterest, Teachers Pay Teachers, or other sites such as Rock, Paper, Scissors).
Learning in networks begins with our passion to learn
Richardson & Mancabelli, (2011) p. 35
People who engage in Connected Learning networks do so of their own volition, seeking out others who share their interest and want to develop their knowledge further (Ito, 2013). It could be that they are missing meaningful collaboration and authentic collegiality in their lives, or simply that they have yet to find people who share their passions within their local areas (Nussbaum-Beach et al, 2012). Sharing similar goals and purposes provides a likelihood of success (Dron-Anderson, 2014). Those who are interested in Escape Classrooms do not only interact with the resource bank. The networked community shares their ideas, frustrations and experiences. Social media sites are full of teacher photos and videos showing teachers organising and students working on Escape challenges. In particular, Facebook is used to share ideas and resources, and number of specialist Facebook groups (General, Library, and Elementary) in order to allow members to interact asking for advice with problems with hardware, or if other network members have already made challenges that they are willing to share.
Varied Ways of Contributing
A core property of any connected learning community is that it is production centred, that it is focused on sharing and developing knowledge and content in new and creative ways (Ito, 2013). By virtue of its reliance on digital platforms in order to share globally, most production is digital. Originally the only producers were the BreakOut EDU team themselves. They were the instigators of the concept, and produced not only the hardware, but also the challenges. However, as the network has evolved the number of people producing has expanded. Items produced now include original style challenges, digital challenges, how-to videos and photos. Challenges are produced using either the BreakOut EDU guidelines or those which are readily available through social media and internet sites (an example of which is included on the RHS with permission from Lock, Paper, Scissors).
Escape Classroom community members share videos and photos are online which serves not only to celebrate and share the community’s interests and purpose, but also reassures those of us still wondering if we are brave enough to take the challenge.
Networks which operate on an equity agenda are open and allow for all community members to participate freely (Ito, 2013). This is a particularly important concept to many members of the digital community who have embrace the inclusivity and diversity offered by global access for all. Barriers, be they physical, economic or social, are considered an anathema to true global cooperation. When BreakOut EDU was first offered to the community the premise of an open learning community was a high priority. Sanders states that a detailed description of what equipment was required was included in order to free people to buy from other sources if they wished (Sanders & Magiera, 2015). This generosity has encouraged others in the Escape Classroom community to mimic the concept and share their work also (some sharing freely, others for profit). Currently, the Connected Learning Community shares through a variety of digital sources as detailed on the Escape Classrooms Map, with the reason for sharing influencing the platform used to share. There is no high cost membership, software or equipment required in order that people can participate.
Learning Oriented/Peer Supported
There is a limit to how much we can learn if we keep to ourselves
Fullan & Hargreaves, 1991
(in Nussbaum-Beach et al, 2012)
Members of connected learning community are self-nominated, they participate autonomously, and choose their own level of participation. However, they all share the goals of creating knowledge, understanding and new products (Siemens, 2005, Ito, 2013, Dron-Anderson, 2014). Connected learners reach out to the collective wisdom of their networks for encouragement, advice, feedback and support (Nussbaum-Beach et al (2012). They, in turn, encourage and support other learners within the network, or build further networks by interacting with others. All participants are positioned as learners, and should expect to be giving and receiving constructive criticism in a safe and appropriate way (Ito, 2013).
The Escape Classroom Community is expanding as more teachers are exposed to the concept via social networks and word of mouth. Videos made by teachers showing how they have introduced the process into their classrooms have encouraged others to have a go. Facebook pages are full of supportive comments and requests for help. Often someone will ask if anyone has written a challenge around a particular topic and will receive lots of sharing of challenges in response. Other times, someone will post a challenge that they have written and used in their classrooms for others to use.
Recommendations and Risks
The Escape Classroom Connected Learning Network has only been in existence since 2015. Within that time, it has become a thriving connected global network of educators and students. Its original goal of being an openly networked community has, at times, suffered through being hijacked by others to make a profit. I believe that this will always be a risk for the community; however, most participants share the philosophy of equity and inclusiveness at the heart of a connected learning community. Learning more about Escape Classrooms in the course of researching this post has been inspiring. I came from a position of cautious suspicion but have become a great deal more convinced of its value as an open learning community as I learned more. My previous analysis of BreakOut EDU as operating for financial gain, insisting people purchase their product has been shown to be completely unfounded. Maybe sharing the open network philosophy more overtly would be of benefit.
I first started looking at BreakOut EDU and Escape Classrooms in general in 2017. Since then, the proliferation of sites dedicated to supporting and encouraging others and sharing resources has been massive. Possibly this examination of the Escape Classroom Connected Learning Network will be the catalyst that changes me from a lurker to someone willing to have a go, possibly even going on to create ways to share my new found knowledge with the wider community.
References not hyperlinked:
Nussbaum-Beach S. & Hall, L.R. (2012) The Connected Educator; learning and leading in a digital age. Solution Tree Press: Bloomington, IN
Richardson, W., & Mancabelli, R. (2011). Personal learning networks: Using the power of connections to transform education. Moorabbin, Australia: Hawker Brownlow.
Maria (Galanis) Arfanakis (@mariagalanis) 7/4/19, 5:59 amTY @breakoutEDU for connecting EDUs all around the world. Pretty special to find out the 10 Reasons to Play Breakout EDU sketchnote @sylviaduckworth & I collaborated on was adapted & translated into Spanish by, @MiriamitaP & @flipped_primary, from Novelda, Spain.🇪🇸📷#breakoutEDU pic.twitter.com/DFR213Al5H also available from many online sites including https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=breakout-edu-brings-escape-room-strategy-to-the-classroom-slj-review