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Escape rooms are becoming more and more popular in higher education. Participants solve a series of problems—each correct solution unlocking a clue or item to the next—while racing against the clock (or other teams). Knowing that this type of gamified learning format could potentially excite students during an unexciting time, Emory University’s Goizueta Business School explored ways to make this happen virtually via Zoom. Luckily for us, we had plenty of rooms to escape from: breakout rooms!

Creating an “escape the breakout room” lesson did not take long and involved an instructional designer and a faculty member. Instead of physically breaking students off into small groups, instructors can use Zoom breakout rooms as the rooms learners are “locked into” and from which they must escape through teamwork and by correctly solving the problems. While in their breakout rooms, students used Canvas to view and solve the problems.

Here are the main steps for creating an online breakout room, illustrated by one we created at Goizueta.




Test and revise



The results from our “escape the breakout room” experience were overwhelmingly positive, though they included a few lessons. The parts that worked well were the partnership between faculty and instructional designer, having the ability to offer prize incentives for students, the Canvas module requirements, and, of course, the Zoom breakout rooms. For future lessons in this format, I can recommend the following:

The irony of escaping the breakout room was not lost on anyone. This fresh take on using Zoom promoted problem solving, communication, and team building, and it asked students to apply course content in an exciting new way. Try it out!

Stephanie Parisi, MSID, is the associate director of instructional design at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.