Digital escape room using bookwidgets (Eng)

Teaching 16 year olds some IT skills also means teaching them a great deal of netiquette: how to behave online. Most of that has to do with social media: what to share and – and foremost – what not to. A great rule I picked up on the AppleEDUChat conversations on Twitter was the ‘Grandma’-rule: never post anything you wouldn’t want your grandma to see. However, this often doesn’t seem to achieve the goal of getting adolescents to really reflect on the possible consequences of their online behaviour. Unwanted sexting, forwarding very disturbing content, not setting proper privacy barriers, … Research in the Netherlands has shown that pupils as young as 11 years old are seeing things through social media that they – and in fact nobody – should be exposed to.

So I decided to take my lessons one step beyond: instead of using video, texts and real life testimonies, I used the great bookwidgets app to create a digital escape room. The idea is simple: what could be the consequences of forwarding stuff you shouldn’t be forwarding? When the pupils enter the class, they only see a countdown clock. They open the app, and they get the message that they are charged with distributing child pornography. Using screenshots of whatsapp messages (which I created, so I was in control of the content – I don’t want to traumatise my students!), excerpts of websites for youngsters about sexting, and part of a lawyers’ podcast about the criminal aspects of forwarding images that aren’t yours to share, they have to prepare their defense. Only if they prove to know enough to make their case, they can escape their prison cell at the end of the lesson.

On a practical level, I used 5 different so called ‘widgets’ (exercises, assignments). The first one explained the background story (why they were in prison, what they had to do) and introduced a few coding strategies (such as the pigpen). The four other widgets could only be opened using a four-letter of -digit password. Only by completing the riddle in the previous widgets, could the pupils get the password and open the next ones. On top of that, the widgets were numbered in morse code, so it wasn’t clear at the start in which order they had to be solved. Every 10 minutes or so, they countdown clock would display a hint to help pupils that got stuck move along.

I took me a lot of time and work to get this done, but the response I got form my pupils was overwhelmingly positive. They were motivated, determined and totally engaged! They kept on discussing it long after the lesson was over, and the message really came across. I plan on implementing this for more of my lessons that have mostly affective learning outcomes. I totally recommend this!

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