Escape Room unlocks open access to global audience

  • Date

    Wed 24 Jun 20

Kat Sundsbo

Katrine (Kat) Sundsbø is passionate about increasing engagement with open access in universities and has created a unique escape room to introduce people to the basics of open access. The Open Access Escape Room was created in 2018 and since then people across the world have learnt about open access by solving the puzzles developed by Kat, who is Scholarly Communications and Research Support Manager at the University of Essex. She has shared the resources online which make it as easy as possible for teams to recreate the Escape Room anywhere. We caught up with Kat to find out more.

Why did you create the Open Access Escape Room?

Open Access is a topic that contains terminology which needs a lot of explaining, like ‘green’ and ‘gold’ open access, which are ways of making something free to read. Though we have set up training sessions and other ways of supporting staff and students to learn more about open access in the past, it wasn’t well attended. Several other gamified research support workshops already exist, and I wanted to create something around open access that stood out, and was in line with our brave, bold and curious Essex spirit.

How does it work?

It works almost like a traditional escape room, where players solve a range of puzzles in order to ‘escape’ the room they have been locked into. Escape rooms usually have a theme or storyline which explains why players are locked in the room in the first place. Due to health and safety reasons, and not actually having a dedicated escape room, the aim of our Open Access Escape Room is not to unlock a room, but to unlock research that a villain has locked down. Players have 60 minutes to solve a range of puzzles, using clues found in the room or by unlocking specific items using 3- or 4-digit codes.

What do you hope people will learn?

Though most players are so focused on winning the game they seem to forget about the educational aspect, there are several things to learn along the way, if one pays attention! By solving puzzles, players learn about either the gold or the green route to open access, the benefits of open access, and some of the outputs that can be made open; data, conference papers, books and articles. However, we found that the conversation we had with players after they had finished the game was where most people learnt about the various aspects of open access. By using some of the tasks they had just completed as anchors, people remembered more and it was easier to explain and make sense of open access, which can seem like complex jungle of terminology at first.

What has the reaction been like?

Overwhelming! The Open Access Escape Room has been played across the world after it was shared online. Considering it takes a lot of time and effort to set up, I’ve been very impressed by the amount of institutions that have decided to run it, and how it’s been used to engage with staff and students. It’s even been translated into Spanish! Since it’s popularity I’ve also created a workshop version of the game, which is travel friendly and has already travelled in Europe, from being a part of the Research and Enterprise Office’s Away Day last year in Colchester, to being a part of the programme of YERUN events in London and Madrid. 

Why is open access so important?

I think especially now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s clear why having free and unrestricted access to research from across the world is extremely important. Open access is not just about giving everyone an equal playing field in terms of access to knowledge, but it’s ensuring transparency and reproducibility in research, which has been a huge challenge for many subject areas. It’s also making sure that the research funded by tax payers money can be accessed by everyone, from researchers in developing countries, to people who want to learn more about their family member’s illness without having to pay £20-£50 per research article.

How do I find out more?

You can read about the Open Access Escape Room in the case study published in the journal Insights. To set up your own escape room, you can look at instructions that have been shared on Figshare. The instructions to the workshop version are due to be shared soon! In collaboration with Information Literacy Co-ordinator Hannah Pyman, we have also created a game called Copyright Dough, which uses play dough to teach copyright. You can read more about the current research support games from the University of Essex on our library pages.

What’s next for open access engagement at the University of Essex?

We will soon be re-launching the Essex Student Journal (previously ESTRO) as a fully open access journal for students, which will be an authentic experience of the publication process. There will be no publication fees and all articles are free to read. This new transition to the publishing platform Janeway is something we’re really excited about. We’re planning to set up workshops and support around the journal to teach students about open access and publishing and will be using the platform as a way to set an example of good practice.

Other than that, what I am working on now is a mystery…!