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Paper about chemistry lab escape game earns publication in Journal of Chemical Education

APSU Leslie Hiatt
Dr. Leslie Hiatt.

(Posted July 7, 2021)

Hannah Musgrove

Dr. Leslie Hiatt’s quantitative analysis chemistry students at Austin Peay State University had a mystery to solve – identify the department’s copper thief.

But this mystery came with a tantalizing reward. If the students found the copper thief, they also “escaped” the class’s lab work.

This is the third time that Hiatt has used the “I Escaped Quant” escape game instead of a final exam. This spring, she worked with Hannah B. Musgrove, a former APSU chemistry student and current Ph.D. candidate at the University of Virginia, and Dr. William M. Ward, a fellow APSU chemistry professor, on a paper – titled “Escape from Quant Lab: Using Lab Skill Progression and a Final Project to Engage Students” – that focused on what the class’s prior students learned.

The Journal of Chemical Education published the paper on June 29, 2021.

In the lab, students had four weeks to use the chemistry they’ve learned in class to work through an escape game-like puzzle.

Dr. Will Ward
Dr. Ward

“Many were stressed, but their faces when they ‘escaped’ were awesome,” Hiatt said.

But, as Hiatt and her colleagues found in their paper, the students took away more than an accomplished feeling.

“Students reported that the game caused them to learn, thinking in advance all semester long instead of simply going through the motions,” the paper reads. “The students were motivated by the prospect of using the fundamental skills that they learned early in the class to solve a real, complex, and multistep problem as part of an escape game.”

This spring, Hiatt’s students worked through the evidence (starting with three bottles of chocolate syrup) to find the culprit – the Department of Chemistry chair, Dr. Lisa Sullivan. They accused her of the crime, and after she ’fessed up to stealing the copper, she presented them with “I Escaped Quant” stickers.

How the game works

The class presented the students with a fictional crime. This year, a thief stole copper from the labs by using chocolate syrup bottles to smuggle out the metal.

“The students worked all semester learning in lab about ways to analyze copper,” Hiatt said.

The students used their chemistry know-how to figure out the first piece of the puzzle – which chocolate bottle was contaminated by the copper crook. Once the students determined the correct bottle (using science!), Hiatt rewarded them with a key to the first of three suitcases of puzzles.

“Some chemistry, some clue games like UV lights, Scrabble pieces, locked boxes, etc.,” Hiatt said.

The first suitcase led the students to more lab work, and that led to more puzzle work, and so on.

“The game is entirely student-directed without getting advice or help from me,” Hiatt said. “They have the skills, so now they are just putting their skills to the test.”

Students in Hiatt's spring class "escaped" the lab.

Learning real-life lab skills with a game

Even though the escape game IS fun, the students also take away the real-life skills they need for their careers, Hiatt said. And the results are reflected in the published paper.

“This is quantitative analysis, which is analytical chemistry, so these students are going into industry where they need these skills,” she said. “Normally, they do a lab, and they just check off a box and leave, and they’ve forgotten everything.

“But with this game, they’re focusing on the skills that they learned and can use later,” she added. “They show off their techniques, showcase what they learned and how they learned it. And it’s fun.”

To learn more

For more about chemistry offerings at APSU, visit the Department of Chemistry webpage.

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