University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Graduate Students Game Night Event for Open Access Week

Lynnee Argabright. Photo by Meg McMahon @megjmcmahon

Lynnee Argabright (@lynneelue) is the Open Access Research Assistant at the UNC University Libraries, where she collaborates with other librarians to facilitate scholarly communications workshops and spread outreach about open access on campus. This year she led the coordination and promotion of the university’s Open Access Week. She is a MSIS ’20 student at UNC’s School of Information and Library Science. We were delighted to hear Lynnee planned to play the game and agreed to write up this blog post. She tells us more……

During International Open Access Week 2019, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s University Libraries hosted a board game night featuring “The Publishing Trap,” which is a board game that @UKCopyrightLit created. UNC’s event targeted graduate students especially, to give them a preview of academic publishing, and to think about various challenges that researchers face to enter the global academy and promote access for all. Players experienced publishing and impact throughout an academic’s career, and made dissemination decisions on behalf of their assigned academic’s needs . . . based on whether the academic specialized in microbiology, astrophysics, English literature, or criminology.

Event adverts were included in various newsletters and flyers, but because the library school building hosted the event, the majority of attendees were LIS graduate students. Students stated their interest in attending was because they wanted to learn about scholarly communications, or observe unusual instructional methods; their enjoyment of board games and snacks were only an added bonus—no students in the building for an initially alternate purpose joined the game.

Playing the Publishing Trap at UNC University Library

Setup for this game was manually extensive, but gameplay was straightforward. We were able to get the game board printed on large paper, and cut and separate the numerous types of game tokens as squares for faster preparation even though they were round coins. I told players to ask for any clarification on unknown conceptual topics that came up in the game, as explaining these would be good learning opportunities for everyone. The rules of the game were easy to explain to players, as they interact directly with the handbook to introduce to them each next stage.

I describe below a few observations I made about the game’s teaching and learning potential. It is useful to note, though, that due to the LIS student majority of players, their questions and perspectives were coming from initially practical purposes about how to pass on knowledge about these publishing concepts, rather than to enable them to use the concepts for their own research.

In the skills rounds, players must choose between three different methods for how to build their research dissemination skills. I thought the players likely chose quite differently from what they may have chosen in real life due to being given a list of options to choose from—such as attending a copyright training course, consulting with the scholarly communications librarian, or talking to their supervisor. Though these options are all available around campus, they may not easily be discoverable at the department level. Because this game is a learning opportunity, I liked this artificial layout of decisions: Including these less apparent methods as listed choices makes players aware that these options exist. I think a lot of scholars lean on the advice of their supervisors because they don’t know where else to get help. I had the players read out the description of the cards so everyone could be enlightened about how that option could help them in comparison with the other options.

The game’s integration of various scholarly communications concepts–such as Intellectual Property, Creative Commons licenses, Fair Use, Royalties, and Embargoes–allowed for a lot of instruction opportunity given this informal setting. After I briefly explained the concept, the players could directly discuss it in terms of how it would play in to their character’s perspective. I asked them to give a rationale for why something would be good or bad for their character specifically so that they wouldn’t think there was one correct answer, and that there is nuance in an academic’s motivation. Something else that came up was the players’ initial impulse to do what they were comfortable with; for example, the English Literature academic player chose fewer open access methods because monographs are less traditionally open access. Once I began asking if they understood what the alternate options meant, the players progressively became more open minded and experimental about what the right option for them could be.

A few of the stages required players to think about their author rights. I think the question “Do I own copyright” is difficult for authors to know what they can (and cannot) do. I had the whole group of players hash out what they were thinking and why, and break down what the university IP policy (supplied in the game) meant. We also pointed out that there were words in the university’s policy that were vague (such as “electronic material”) and what that could mean when authors have to make decisions. Why are these words vague? One person stated that this gives the university flexibility when defining terms so it is not unintentionally excluding something. Unfortunately, because “electronic material” is so vague, authors may choose to be more conservative in their understanding of what they are allowed to do, which can affect copyright and dissemination format decisions.

One misleading aspect of the game was the prevalence and ease of open access. Money was not a problem in this game—players did not need money to conduct research studies, so any money collected from royalties or promotions was spent only as a fund for open access publishing. I encouraged the players to discuss this game “flaw” because I noticed that increasingly throughout the game they began to automatically choose the open access option. How would their decisions change if they didn’t have money for APCs? Is open access always the right solution for academic impact and success? Unfortunately, because the game made money so easy to come by and so hard to use up, players were not able to experience hands-on balancing these values in their decision-making, nor were they able to notice the disparity of monetary ease depending on which discipline area they represented.

The graduate students reviewed afterwards some major takeaways from playing the game, including: decide on dissemination options on a case by case basis, read your contract and your university policies, get advice from multiple sources, and disseminate with your different types of audiences (be it taxpayers, students, industry, etc) in mind.

We’re really grateful to Lynnee for her write up and for raising some of the issues with v1.0 of the game. We have addressed all of these in v2.0 which we hope to release early in the new year. Watch this space…

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