‘It makes learning fun’: La Salle Nursing faculty member brings escape rooms into the classroom

April 6, 2023
An undergraduate nursing student reviews one of the puzzles in the escape room.

Students are challenged to exit the escape room in an hour or less by utilizing the knowledge they learn in the nursing curriculum. 

Christina Harkins, MSN, RN, loves the challenge of an escape room.  

The assistant professor of nursing enjoys going to the Jersey shore with her family and solving the puzzles and riddles inside escape rooms on the boardwalks. This interactive puzzle activity typically involves participants being “locked” in a room for a predetermined time until they can “escape” by solving puzzles found in the room. 

In fall 2021, Harkins took a semester-long sabbatical and realized she could bring her love of the challenging social activity into the classroom. 

“It makes learning fun,” she said.  

Through research and her personal experience, Harkins was able to create a variety of escape rooms centered around the lessons in La Salle’s nursing curriculum. Undergraduate nursing students are put into groups of no more than four to six and are challenged to solve the puzzles in one hour that are hidden throughout the escape room—an academic space in St. Benilde Tower, home of La Salle’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences. Activities can include solving math equations, photo identification and defining classroom terms, and are all found by searching the room and unlocking boxes with codes discovered through riddles.  

In the escape room, undergraduate nursing students are put into groups and are challenged to solve puzzles that are hidden throughout the academic space in St. Benilde Tower, home of La Salle’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences.

Harkins monitors each group’s progress and keeps a time clock to log completion rates. She said students enjoy the unique challenge and teamwork, along with the bragging rights if they complete the escape room the fastest. (At the end, students participate in a photo opp with signs saying “we did it” or “better luck next time” to reflect the results.) 

Use of escape rooms in the classroom isn’t new to  health care education.  

According to the National Library of Medicine, “escape rooms can be used in medical education as a tool for team building, an entertaining way of delivering technical and non-technical skills, to read and acquire or refresh knowledge, as well as for educational research.”  

In 2018, Penn Presbyterian Medical Center in Philadelphia utilized an escape room for doctors and nurses to spot and treat sepsis. 

Harkins continues to create new concepts and tinker with old escape rooms she’s made for students to receive a new challenge or improve the experience for incoming classes. 

The students who have had the chance to participate have responded positively.  

“Some of the students responded to a survey following their experience and they said it was fun and it brought them back to the material,” she said. “We’ve gotten a lot of really good feedback on it.”  

Nursing major Katelynn Mercurio, ’24, enjoyed the escape room because it enhanced her learning experience by being able to work collaboratively in teams to solve problems.  

“Professor Harkins had me stumped with one clue and it was just fun trying to figure out the puzzles with my classmates,” she said. “I was fully on the floor just to find a clue beneath the bed in the room and little moments like that make the whole experience memorable. My nursing education was enhanced because we had to apply knowledge we learned throughout the semester to figure out the puzzles in the escape room while trying to record the lowest escape time. It was overall fun as well as a great educational experience.”  

Nursing students work together to solve puzzles and answer questions.

This is an innovative teaching and learning model for La Salle’s undergraduate nursing program, one that continues to flourish. 

La Salle’s traditional BSN program is among the best, ranked in the top-36% in the nation according to U.S. News & World Report.   

Graduates of the BSN program achieved a 91.59% first-time pass rate on their national licensure exam, the NCLEX-RN, for the most-recent testing cycle, for the period of Oct. 1, 2021–Sept. 30, 2022. This is the fifth time in the last six testing cycles that La Salle’s nursing students have registered a 90% first-time pass rate or better. In that span, La Salle’s nursing students have achieved a 93% overall first-time pass rate on the NCLEX-RN. The program also has a 100% job placement rate upon graduation.   

—Meg Ryan