Case Study

Future of Technology in Education Conference 2014 #SenateSecrets

#SenateSecrets was a game designed specifically for the FOTE 2014 conference as a  treasure hunt that would take place online and offline before and during the conference.


Game rules and promotion at the venue

A locked box with 6 padlocks was placed in a prominent position in the main area of the conference venue. Delegates could work individually and collaboratively to unlock these padlocks as the clues were released during the day to reveal the contents of the Senate Chest . The 6 clues were challenges  designed to focus on aspects of the conference such as networking, meeting the sponsors etc.

The opening of the chest

The opening of the chest

During the afternoon coffee break the final padlock was unlocked revealing the treasure (sweets to share with all delegates). The narrative was concluded at the closing remarks with prizes for the padlock holders.

Short Video Interview about the game:

The Event:

The Future of Technology in Education Conference (FOTE) is an annual event hosted by the University of London Computer Centre with 400 delegates. The conference serves as a platform to share creative and challenging ideas about the use of technology in education within the education community.

FOTE venue, Senate House London

FOTE venue, Senate House London

FOTE often tries out new conference format ideas and has previously had games running through the conference (see the 2012 case study). For the 2014 conference the ALT Games and Learning Special Interest Group were invited to use FOTE as an event to develop some game ideas exemplifying the use of games for education.

The Gamification activity:

Following a brain storming meeting and recee at the conference venue the game team arrived at the idea of  a game which aimed to provide examples of game-based learning through a series of puzzles and challenges. The game would also provide delegates a chance to explore the amazing history of Senate House both online and in the hallways of the building itself during the event.

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 07.03.49

The locked box

Each of the six padlocks had an accompanying challenges, which were released through out the day.

Challenge 1 – Secret History – All the clues can be found on our Flickr account

Aim: pre-engagement with the conference and learning about the venue

This was a pre-arrival challenge with trivia questions about Senate House whose solution led to a location where the first key was hidden which could be retrieved on arrival at the venue.

Challenge 2 – Key to the Mystery – Keep your eyes peeled during the opening session

Aim: Introduction to the game and the rules

This was a key hidden under one of the chairs in the main venue which was announced during the opening remarks causing all delegates to start looking under their chairs.

Challenge 3 – The Whole Picture – Visit the exhibitors from morning coffee break onwards

Aim: Meeting the sponsors

Four different business cards were located across the exhibitors table. Finding all four and correctly arranging them led you to a specific ventilation grille where a key was hidden

Challenge 4 – Seek and You Shall Find – Join in the search at lunchtime (keep an eye on @FOTiE for more details)

Aim: Networking with other delegates

In groups of three delegates passed the security guard to enter a room we had configured with 20 red herring keys. Teams could only leave with one key at a time to select the right one.

Locked room activity

Locked room activity

Challenge 5 – Photo Finish – Look out for the picture clues on @FOTiE throughout the day

 Aim: Exploring the venue

A three part photo challenge spotting the missing digits from our photos from around the building to discover the combination of the padlock.

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 07.14.53

Example visual clue for Challenge 5

Challenge 6 – Last Orders – Help figure out the final puzzle during afternoon coffee

Aim: Technology demonstation (UV torch)

Back to the room again to spot what has changed and work out there was a code to be revealed with an ultra violet light on the book spines.

Screen Shot 2014-10-03 at 16.08.17

UV torch code cracking


All delegates were aware of the game, through pre-advertising, mentions during the opening remarks, and stickers on the registration desk. Of these 400, although no count was taken, anecdotally it seemed that around 25 participated in some aspect of the game during the day (just over 5%) with 6 players actively participating in all challenges and seeing the game to completion (1%); although noticeably larger numbers were heard discussing the game during coffee breaks, and Challenge 2 engaged almost the whole lecture theatre in searching beneath their seats for the hidden key.

Frank Steiner introducing the game at the conference opening

Frank Steiner introducing the game at the conference opening

Lessons and Tips:

1. Testing a game like this is hard, but individual elements (such as the trivia quiz) can be tested, and should!

2. A physical artefact (such as a padlocked box) provides a good focus point for a game, especially when there an unknown element (such as the contents, to be revealed!)

3. Don’t worry if you can’t track player numbers and other metrics. At a conference many delegates are just happy that there IS a game but don’t necessarily want to take part.

4. Players unsuccessful in an early challenge tend not to stick with the game even if the challenges are distinct and unrelated. Make early challenges that everyone can complete (in our case, without the limitation of just one key).

Screen Shot 2014-10-03 at 09.32.00

Disappointed Clue Hunters

5. Players are clever, and will not necessarily unlock a padlock just because they are holding a key. One player wanted to save her key to the end in order to unlock the final lock. We quickly adapted but had not anticipated this.

6. Including physical spaces to explore and real people (such as a security guard) added ‘locked room puzzle’ elements to the game which were new for most players and created a buzz.

Further Information and Links:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Powered by: Wordpress
Skip to toolbar