Students are putting their knowledge to the test in a creative computer science challenge.

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Eric Byler avatar image

Eric Byler

One room, 60 minutes, five puzzles and the only way out is to solve them. That’s the challenge facing students at the ANU School of Computing.

Tapping into a global trend of escape rooms — where participants are locked in a room and must solve puzzles in order to get out — the innovative exercise is the creation of Senior Lecturer Dr Bernardo Pereira Nunes and aims to teach computational thinking, problem solving and collaboration, while having a bit of fun.

Students are given an hour to solve computer science puzzles in a room filled with cobwebs, hidden tools and props that double as clues.

“I had this idea a couple of years ago,” Pereira Nunes says. “I had experienced an escape room and I started thinking how could I do this for my students?”

The design of the neon-lit room, as well as the riddles, clues and accompanying software, were developed by Pereira Nunes’ tutors and former students, who admit they are a little jealous of his current cohort.

Students enrolled in Software Design Methodologies were invited to organise themselves into teams and choose a time slot to try their luck. Each puzzle addresses different topics taught in the course, including software testing, design patterns and unified modelling language.

“One of the games is a puzzle where they have to solve an encoded sentence that’s in one of the walls, so we give them a code and some hints,” Pereira Nunes says.

Dr Bernardo Pereira Nunes with Masters of Computing students (from left) Rosa Soto, Ho Yan Or and Natasha Pegler. Photo: Tracey Nearmy/ANU

Master of Computing student Natasha Pegler was part of the only team to ‘escape’ the converted meeting room.

“Having done some game design stuff, I know it’s really not easy to do that kind of thing,” Pegler says. “There was a good amount of assembly and interpreting the physical props and then finding where one bit of information fits in with something else.”

She and her teammates — Rosa Soto, Carina Li and Ho Yan Or — worked together, before splitting into pairs to attack two puzzles at once.

“It didn’t feel like an assignment,” Or says. “It was just like a game, it was really fun.”

The escape room, housed in the Computer Science and Information Technology building at ANU, will be used in computing courses and as an activity to encourage high school students interested in studying computing.

Top image: Dr Bernardo Pereira Nunes. Photo: Tracey Nearmy/ANU

This story was first published at the ANU College of Engineering, Computing and Cybernetics.

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