Playful Pedagogy [video]

min read

What does it mean to use play as a method for engaging students? In this video, Alison James discusses the various benefits of play in the classroom.

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Alison James
Professor Emeritus
The University of Winchester

Alison James: People may feel that play is something juvenile. That it's a very simple concept, that it has no place in higher education, that you know for work to be proper, and serious, and legitimate, it has to be challenging, make you miserable and sometimes be dull. People have actually invited me to do pay for workshops in their institutions, say to me, but Alison, how do you square away the fact that I am an educator, and my job is to educate my students not to entertain them, and I can't understand why you can't do both.

Graphic: Making the Case for Playful Pedagogy

James: Somewhere along the line this notion of edutainment has been made into a dirty word, but it doesn't, you know, really great learning doesn't matter how difficult it is, is fascinating, or inspiring and makes you curious, it makes you laugh and makes you want more, you know, like the best kind of experience that we have in any aspect of our lives, you know, if you're an engineer, there are great examples of play in post-graduate learning. If you're an artist, if you're a writer, if you're a scientist, psychologist, you know there is no place play can't reside, but we have to understand that we will value different things depending on our disciplinary context. The animal behaviorist will talk about play in one language. The anthropologist will talk about it in another. So talking the right kind of language so we understand each other is another way. I think start small, experiment, find your champions, the moment that students say, they like it you can bet your bottom dollar that will be a shift. I'm talking about students who say, you know, I was trying to grasp a complex concept like gravity or ergonomics or semiotics or whatever, and my teacher did X with me and it went from being a crazy world's confusion to something that I got, because it's those key concepts that enable us to progress in learning.

Graphic: Connection as Important as Information

James: During the pandemic, right at the very beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, many, many universities that weren't particularly well set up in digital online education had a few weeks of unholy panic, where it was all about how can we get material to students? How can we upload content? And it was all shove, shove, shove. Information, information. But actually what students and staff most needed in those times was yes, they needed to know that they could still access the material on X, but actually, that was only one bit of it. They wanted to still feel supported, connected to each other, heard, able to express their anxieties, knowing who to turn to given that they couldn't pop down a corridor. And I think the thing that we really learned is that playful learning enables connection. It enables those kinds of social and interpersonal relationships, which also enable learning, and if you haven't got those, then you know, you won't necessarily navigate the content in the richest way possible.