Blog post – Could you unlock student engagement with game-based learning?

Dr Stuart Middleton (Senior Lecturer, Business School) had never heard of an escape room until Learning Designer Shakira Moss pitched him the concept and suggested adapting it to the classroom. An ‘escape room’ is a popular strategic thinking game. Participants are (willingly) locked in a room and work together to solve a series of clues and puzzles to escape. This concept was adapted for the classroom, and three months later, Stuart’s students in Business Policy and Strategy (MGTS3301) were enthusiastically working together in class to ‘escape’. 

Comprehending complex business management theories is often tricky for students. Stuart wanted to find another way for students to apply these troublesome theories with a fun and active approach, and to do so in a way that reflected workplace relationships. 

Shakira’s idea of adapting the escape room intrigued Stuart but he had to experience it for himself. After an intense and exhilarating time playing the ‘game’ himself, Stuart was sure the escape room concept had potential in MGTS3301. But he needed help. 

Working in partnership with Shakira, they explored ‘gamification’ and adapted the escape room into an Escape Box. The experience was positive and rewarding for both Shakira and Stuart. Watch their 5-minute video where they describe the process of implementing the Escape Box challenge.

Initial reactions from students indicate high levels of enjoyment. Comments from some students signalled the value of teamwork fostered in the Escape Box activity. Others discussed the importance of having to recall information in a limited amount of time, which contributed to their learning.

Read more student comments below, followed by definitions of key terms used above.

"It was not what I expected, it was very challenging, but once you linked it to things in the course it made sense."
"We worked as a team, we all contributed ideas and determined what was correct and incorrect and I think it would be difficult to do it by yourself, so it was great for teamwork."
"I feel that I understand the content better. We haven’t had to recall information in such a limited amount of time, so we had to quickly buzz through our theory and recall information, and that helped us solidify that information and solve the clues."

Key terms explained

Escape Box

Recently the Business School decided to take the escape room concept and develop it into a portable learning experience for the classroom. The concept is named ‘Escape Box’. Just as players in an escape room have to solve cryptic problems to escape a locked room, students playing Escape Box are invited to find answers to a series of challenging questions in order to unlock a box.

Escape room

Escape rooms are a themed adventure game, that requires participants to solve puzzles and unlock clues to escape the room within a set timeframe. This offers a perfect blend of participants experiencing game-play first-hand, while also learning valuable lessons in teamwork and communication.


Experts in the field of gamification define it as “the use of game design in non-game contexts.”[1]

From a Learning Design perspective

As a Learning Designer, one of the challenges in course design is creating a balance between online course content and learning in the classroom. There is a smorgasbord of online platforms and digital games available to support passive learning, yet comparatively few classroom active learning experiences that go beyond the norm. One emerging trend that could offer a solution to this imbalance is gamification.

There is a tendency to adopt a digital focus with gamification and this is driven by the popularity of online gaming. Consequently, opportunities to use gamification in a physical classroom are often overlooked. Approaching gamification with a more human-centred focus opens up possibilities of enriched active learning that promotes metacognitive skills and group-based learning in the classroom.

A specially designed scenario transported students back in UQ history and they had to unlock their Escape Box in a limited time. The game play focused on students recalling prior management theory learnt in the course and applying it to a scenario. The experience was not focused on the end game nor the finish, but more on the meaningful game play, critical thinking and the teamwork that took place. This first pilot was an astounding success, with all the participants praising the experience. One student wrote:

“If all courses could link the course material back to an activity like Escape Box, I would love to see this in all my courses. It was very engaging and I think all students should experience this.”

Based on positive feedback from both the students and the teaching team, Escape Box will be used in this course again. The pilot confirms that gamification can transform the learning environment within a classroom and move students from passive learners into active learners. With appropriate planning, students across different disciplines can experience Escape Box in their own UQ courses. 

Watch for our session at Teaching and Learning Week to learn more.


Dr Stuart Middleton is a Senior Lecturer in the Business School. Please get in touch with Stuart if you would like to chat further about his experience in developing your own Escape Box.

Shakira Moss is a Learning Designer in the Business School. Please get in touch with Shakira for any queries on this topic.

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[1] Deterding, S., Dixon, D., Khaled, R., & Nacke, L. (2011a, p.10). From Game Design Elements to Gamefulness: Defining “Gamification”. In A. Lugmayr, H. Franssila, C. Safran, & I. Hammouda (Eds.), Proceedings of the 15th International Academic MindTrek Conference: Envisioning Future Media Environments (pp. 9-15). New York, NY, USA: ACM. Retrieved from

Last updated:
3 June 2019