Do what scares you: Navigating new territory with digital Breakout EDU.

Do what scares you. This is often a phrase I think about when I am debating whether or not I should embark on something new. I have a different version of this motivational phrase in a silver frame in my office and sometimes when I need more convincing, I look at it. It says: Be scared and do it anyway.

The image in my office. Purchased on Amazon: available here. Image credit: Lone Star Art.

This is the phrase that I had in mind when I decided to incorporate Breakout EDU in a digital format in my section of Spanish 300: Conversation, Composition, and Culture in order to provide students with educational, community-building activities while also remaining socially distanced.

What is Breakout EDU?

Breakout EDU is a collaborative learning platform where students are given various clues that they need to solve in order to open a series of locks. The concept is similar to that of escape rooms, where participants need to communicate and work together to solve the clues and “break out” of the room. In addition to being fun and engaging students, this product encourages conversation and critical thinking, while also promoting camaraderie, collaboration, and creativity in the classroom.

Image from Breakout EDU. Click here to learn more about this platform.

While I had used Breakout EDU in my classes prior to the pandemic, figuring out how to adapt the game materials for a virtual space while also navigating Zoom as students worked in different breakout rooms to solve the puzzles online, was initially daunting and pushed me out of my comfort zone. Also, learning how to do something new in front of others, makes one vulnerable, and vulnerability can be an uncomfortable experience. However, having seen firsthand the benefits of Breakout EDU, and knowing how well-suited this platform is for my Spanish 300 course, I decided to put aside my fears and embrace the challenge.

Learning Objectives and Rationale

I believe that students learn best when they are engaged and excited about learning. My implementation of Breakout EDU was designed to help meet these goals by providing students with an optimal learning experience that was student-centered and entirely in Spanish. Additionally, through this activity, I sought to include all students in a type of virtual hands-on experience that would require students to be active problem solvers and creative thinkers, all of which elevates student learning. 

This semester, I also decided to try something new by having students reflect on their experiences solving the Breakout EDU puzzles in our course blog. This was designed to not only provide students with additional practice in the target language, but the blogs would also give students the opportunity to share their opinions and engage in conversations outside of the classroom with their peers. In this way, students would gain more confidence in their writing abilities as it became easier for them to express themselves in Spanish. I also asked that students read and respond to the blog posts of at least two of their classmates. This was done with the intention of strengthening their learning and enhancing our discussions, while also helping to create a sense of community in the classroom and among the students.

As a final note on the rationale behind my implementation of these forms of technology, both the virtual activities and the blogs were chosen for their potential to engage all learners, particularly those that may be more timid or reluctant to talk but may feel more comfortable sharing their ideas in an online space. The blogs also provide the additional benefit of giving students a chance to process their experiences, and while this benefits all students, it may be especially helpful for those that need additional time to think about the course material and formulate a response.

Challenges and Successes

1. Challenge – Learning how to use the platform and the digital games.

In order to have access to the digital games and adapt them to my classes, I needed to purchase an online subscription for Breakout EDU. A one-year subscription costs $99 and I received a Technology Mini-Grant to cover the price of the subscription. With full access to the online platform, I could view all the predesigned games stored on the site. And while most of the games are in English, with the online digital game builder, I could edit the existing games and translate them into Spanish. I could also use this tool to build my own games and assign them to the class. I decided to start by translating an existing game created by the company and then work my way up to building an online game from materials that I had used prior to the pandemic.

Everything seemed to be going well as I was preparing for the first virtual Breakout EDU session. I had started working on the game a couple of weeks in advance so that I could try it from the student’s perspective and then make edits to the game for clarity and an enhanced experience with the technology. The morning of the first session, I logged into Breakout EDU and the game I had created was not there. Luckily, I had printed out a copy of the game the night before and so I quickly began to retype the information into a new game. However, the information that I was entering was not saving, or at least so I thought, and the “Delete Lock” button in red would periodically activate and take me out of the game that I was (re)creating. I can not thank Instructional Designer Susan Ashley enough for helping me troubleshoot this issue and get the game up and running in time for class.  

A screenshot from that morning just prior to class.

2. Challenge – Lost internet and Zoom connections.

The first game was underway and students were having a good time when suddenly we lost connection. Students were able to reestablish their connections at different times, so this meant that some groups were further along in the game than others. Fortunately, Susan was there to help and her expertise was invaluable in aiding students to return to their assigned groups. Going above and beyond, Susan then conversed with the students that finished early and had them reflect on their experiences together while I was in the various breakout rooms assisting those that were further behind due to the technical difficulties we experienced. 

This is not an image you want to see the first time you do a virtual Breakout EDU activity. (Personal screenshot taken that day.)

3. Success – Blogging about the experience.

The blog has been a great success in helping students process this experience both individually and collectively. It is wonderful to see them connecting with each other in the target language, not only during the virtual experiences but also online during their conversations about the experience. I have also found the blogs to be beneficial for discussing movies as they share their observations and begin to analyze course films through a critical lens.

Click on the following link to visit our course blog:

4. Success – Students recognize Breakout EDU activities as beneficial to their learning.

Students have expressed the multiple benefits of this platform as a fun way to increase their critical thinking, enhance their speaking skills, and give them prolonged experience with circumlocution as they collaborate as a team. It is incredibly rewarding to see the students recognize and praise the benefits of this platform. Hearing students outline how this experience has helped them learn to effectively communicate in Spanish, also inspires me to do more activities like this in the future.

5. Success – I have learned how to enter and edit additional games on the online platform.

We were able to successfully complete three games in Breakout EDU during the semester and I am now able to use the platform with ease. I have added more games to my online account and not only can I continue to add to these games, but I am also able to reuse them in future semesters. Additionally, I now have a much better idea regarding how I can create and design new games that align with course material and address both the learning needs and the interests of my students. 

Future Plans and Ideas

As I briefly touched upon above, my experience navigating new territory with digital Breakout EDU has inspired me to create new games of my own design with the interests of the students in mind. I noticed, for example, that students especially enjoyed the games that included a video component and/or cultural aspect to the activity. I believe that the video element, in particular, is an effective way to present students with authentic materials in the target language. It is also a creative way to increase their listening comprehension since it provides them with additional practice hearing Spanish and can be used to introduce them to different accents.

Seeing the various benefits of this immersive learning platform, not only do I plan to continue to utilize Breakout EDU in Spanish 300, but I would also like to begin to employ this technology in other language courses. And for instance, I think it would be beneficial to create original games that are tailored to different language levels and abilities at the beginning and intermediate levels.

I want to express my profound gratitude to Susan Ashley for her help with this project. Thank you for all that you do to elevate student learning and inspire others to do the same!

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