In July 2023 I attended the Playful Learning conference at the University of Leicester and presented a workshop with Susannah Quinsee, our former Director of LEaD, now the VP Digital and Student Experience. This is the second of two blog posts about the research we presented at the conference. You can read my first blog post where I report on the interim findings from our playful learning research.
Our workshop was entitled ‘Building a playful learning community’ and Susannah and I ran a world café in the second part of the session, where we wanted to harness the expertise of the Playful Learning conference community to answer some tricky questions that arose as part of our research. I will report on the findings from the world cafe in this blog post.
In light of the challenges we know there can be with playful learning, the four questions we set the participants in the world café were:
- How do we counter the fear or concerns that some people have about play being ‘childish’ or not appropriate in higher education?
- What sort of playful activities can we introduce to show the benefit of play in teaching and learning?
- How can we make play inclusive and accessible to all?
- How do we influence university leadership about the value of play?
Each table took it in turns to discuss each question and rather than move the tables around, we moved the flip chart paper from table to take after 10 minutes of discussion. After the final round we asked the group to report back on their findings in a playful way, which led to some really creative approaches to feedback (feedback on paper aeroplanes and I actually still can’t remember why one group all wore post-it note crowns although I know they were reporting back on playful leadership!) I’ve written a summary of the points made from each group discussion in the rest of this blog post. However, we’d really like to thank everyone who came to our session, it really helped crystalise our thinking about the research we’re doing and the next steps for our work.
How do we counter the fear or concerns that some people have about play being ‘childish’ or not appropriate in higher education?
This a common concern in the literature related to playful learning, that people may think it’s childish or inappropriate and we asked for ideas to counter this notion. Some of the suggestions included:
- Being honest about play not being perfect or the only solution
- Facilitate a safe space for people to fail and make failure acceptable
- Provide a community forum to share experiences / playful gang of colleagues
- Get managers and leaders try things in front of the team a lot (and fail!)
- Identify and make explicit where play already occurs in the institution
- First try play in small groups before doing something with a large group
- Model playful behaviour but also scaffold it
- Practice (know more)
- Minimise the risk by picking your session well
- Ensure people realise its ok not to play
- Get students to help design the activities
- Lead an activity with another colleague (team teach)
- Provide guidelines and clear expectations for participants.
What sort of playful activities can we introduce to show the benefit of play in teaching and learning?
We wanted some ideas for specific activities that might show the benefit of play in teaching and learning and the following were suggestions from the workshop:
- Activities that give people time and space
- Making it tactile such as Lego / Lego Serious Play / PlayDoh / Pipe cleaners
- Making and creating activities such as making a zine, using ribbons, poetry, colouring
- Fostering openness and modelling laughter
- Giving permission to play
- Run smiling yoga
- Communication and behaviour – in meetings, shared environments.
- Activities where people come together with food
- Stand up / walking activities
- Reward people for participating
- And finally to ask the students for their ideas of activities
How can we make play inclusive and accessible to all?
A thorny challenge we faced is how to make play inclusive and accessible to all and the group suggested plenty of ideas including:
- Start small but set up a community of practice / use this to set up collaborations
- Form mixed teams of participants
- Lead the activity with another member of staff / colleague
- Breaking down the silos – have a space open to all in the university
- Support confident facilitators – they can talk to colleagues or students and reassure them of the value
- Make a safe space to fail – no right or wrong
- Be open to experimentation and innovation
- Make it voluntary not mandatory – making it valuable through quality
How do we influence university leadership about the value of play?
Finally we wanted some ideas about how to influence university leaders that play is beneficial and the groups suggested the following:
- Rigour – showing value, using data from NSS, student experience forums – the value of data for managers was emphasised
- Obtain research funding and conduct studies – publish on the topic!
- Have a scheme to reward people who play with digital badges
- Send senior leaders somewhere to have fun such as an escape room or soft play – but you need to convince them there is a reason to do it.
- However one person acknowledged that it’s very difficult and a book needs to be written about this!
We are continuing to analyse our data collected over the past six months on the value of play at City, University of London and hope to be able to share this with you, and to publish on the topic in due course. But many thanks to the Playful Learning community for their valuable input! I highly recommend Playful Learning as a fantastic conference, but what I would say is that all the play makes for a tiring experience, so it’s important to take time to chill out as well, as I did! Below is some of the research I’ve published on the value of games and play and some articles that I find really useful as a good introduction to playful learning.
Secker, J., Morrison, C & Ridout, F. (2022) The art of adapting open educational resources for Street Law: Copyright the Card Game a case study. International Journal of Public Legal Education 6 (1) pp.84-103. doi: https://doi.org/10.19164/ijple.v6i1.1296
Secker, J. & Morrison, C., (2022) “Playing with Copyright”, The Journal of Play in Adulthood 4(2), p.106-125. doi: https://doi.org/10.5920/jpa.1034
Whitton N. (2018). Playful learning: tools, techniques, and tactics. Research in Learning Technology, 26. https://doi.org/10.25304/rlt.v26.2035
Whitton, Nicola and Langan, Mark (2019) ‘Fun and games in higher education : an analysis of UK student perspectives,.’, Teaching in higher education., 24 (8). pp. 1000-1013.