Calling all playful HE practitioners to join exciting book project

Dear colleagues

We would like to invite you to take part in our project to bring together global, scholarly examples of play in Higher Education.


Is play exclusively for children? image source

Play in Higher Education is currently largely unsung, but now creeping to the fore of the attention of the tertiary sector. We have done already some work with Prof. Norman Jackson and the Creative Academic online magazine which illustrates this well. In addition  we noticed that a number of conferences on Play in HE are being held this year – surely a sign of the zeitgeist?

So do please join us in building understanding of the contribution play makes to all disciplines in the tertiary sector and circulate to your colleagues worldwide so we can make this collection truly global.


… of all ages, image source

If you have any questions about the project do please get in touch with us and consider joining the Play in HE community at .

For further info about this exciting project, please click here


All best

Dr Alison James & Chrissi Nerantzi

Exploring the Issue of Play, open invite to contribute to the next CAM issue @academiccreator

Play in higher education? Seriously?

Often we are reminded that universities are not playgrounds and that play is childish and inappropriate… Isn’t research a playful experimentation with ideas, concepts and situations, recognised as an essential activity that drives innovation, while play in a learning and teaching context at this level is often still interpreted as undesirable especially within higher education? In the next issue of the openly-licensed Creative Academic Magazine, we will explore the importance of play in higher education to create critical and creative thinkers and doers who have the curiosity, capacity and the vision to make the impossible possible.  There will be a potpourri of contributions and perspectives shared through practitioners and students eyes and minds that offer a valuable insight into the opportunities creative play presents for learning and teaching, students and their tutors. We are looking for articles that are written in a vibrant and accessible language, ideally around 500 – 1500 words max. Media-rich resources are also very welcome as this is a digital edition. Contributors will be asked to submit a doodle of themselves together with a short, 50 word bio, written in a creative way.

All voices are welcome!!!

If you would like to contribute to our survey around play in HE, please click here. Please share this invite with others who might also be interested. The deadline to submit an article is the 1st of May. Chrissi Nerantzi and Dr Alison James

To play or not to play? or week 4 #creativeHE

Don’t bin your ideas! Share them and see them grow and evolve! image source

Friday evening and finally a little bit of time to look back at our last gathering this Thursday (it is actually Sunday morning when I am adding these notes to WordPress after I started writing them in notes on my iPad on Friday evening). Does it matter? Perhaps this delay is actually healthy for reflection? I noticed this time that it was more valuable to add bits over a few days and I know I will be coming back and editing further after I will have published this post. Thinking is messy, reflections are messy, trying to put them in a linear arrangement is not an easy task as the mind just keeps hopping around… and seeing new and exciting connections all the time… Where to stop? What to analyse? What to do? Can we afford to ignore internal voices? But what also about the external ones? All go into the sense making pot, I think.

What do we ask our students to do at university? image source

On Thursday we played with small colourful plastic bricks, a mountain of them as you can see from the photos. The purpose was to experience a model-based learning approach that has the potential to foster pan-participation through playful making, sharing reflection, learning, ideas and dilemmas based on models we create and the metaphors they represent. Do we find it more natural to externalise our deepest internal thoughts through metaphors? Are we making emotional connections stronger that way without even realising? What are the implications?

Sharing our stories through models, image source

We used Lego bricks and the LEGO Serious Play (LSP) method or at least a variation of it. For me it is important, with anything I use, to make sure that it could work for the specific learning situation. Could it work as it is, or do I need to make adjustments? Often, perhaps too often, we don’t ask ourselves these important questions and are then surprised when things we try don’t work… well, not everything we try works anyway, but removing our own criticality can make it even worse? For me it is extremely important to be flexible, proactive and adjust approaches when needed so that what we do is of value and participants get the maximum out of it. But also provide choice! Asking ourselves how and why we do something are perhaps more important to what we do… if that makes sense and I can parallels here when we are given “stuff” to deliver and we often feel constrained… but within these constraints lie the real opportunities, we just need to spot them and do something about them! This often means taken risks… and trying something new. What are the implications of not trying something new? Perhaps this is a valuable question we should ask ourselves more often…

our Kerry facilitating the LSP warm-up activities, image source

As soon as the bricks appeared on the table in little plastic bags, they didn’t really stay there for very long… Colleagues took them out of the bags and started putting little models together. This just happened. I have seen it before, it seems to happen all the time, and confirms to me that it is really hard   not to touch the bricks and play with them. It almost feels as if the bricks are magic and turn us again into a child where we enjoy play and are curious about the world and share this openly with others without guilt or shame.

we all reflect, we all build! image source

Inviting a colleague who participated in the LEGO for Higher Education workshop series a few months ago and therefore had some experience of the LSP method already also through implementing it in their own practice, worked really well. Kerry made me smile throughout as I could see that the key messages and concepts of the approach were there and enacted successfully. It was also a lovely change I think from me introducing and leading learning activities. We talk about empowering learners and putting the learner in the driving seat… but too often we are still the ones orchestrating everything even if we achive an active participatory learning experience!!! Is this really student-centred learning? Perhaps it is a mild form of it. But we can and should do more? What will help us let go? I think scaffolding the process that leads to autonomy is really vital and I think creating the conditions for empowerment and autonomy are  important. Then we can switch. Explaining our intentions, expectations, the process and approach to the learners is, I think important so that they recognise why this is good for them, their learning and development.

We learn so much through teaching others and often forget that it is actually one of most effective ways of learning. But could students misinterpret our intentions? Could they just turn around and say “I am the student” and refuse our invite to take a more leading. mentoring, supporting role of their peers? For me it is also a way to recognise expertise and mastery in students and this is a good thing, right? I think some do and will be vocal about it too! How could we manage this? What would you do? Peer mentoring and peer assisted learning are perhaps still approaches widely under-used, is this right? What needs to happen so that we value such approaches more and integrate them more organically in our sessions and courses? Helping others, just because we want to and we can, can be motivational and boost our confidence and self-belief for example, they can also boost our understanding of the subject. I have seen financial rewards been used to promote such practices. Is there any related research out there that confirms that this works? Reading this HEA publication might help gain further insights.


Value Jar responses from this week. Could not read all responses, unfortunately.

It is amazing how we have new ideas from making things.
The activities in play, should be introduced as a fun activity to introduce the method. as the weeks develop more challenging activities in play should occur. Students should be given an explanation of the activities so they understand the reasons behind the activities. A new and exciting method to develop students.
Being able to visualise what I might not have been able to visualise at the start of the session.
Today’s session allowed me to explore the idea of using LEGO as a basis for the discussion of quite personal feelings and ideas. Explaining knowledge and understanding in a new and interesting way.
It was interesting to do the LEGO tasks again and to act as a facilitator. These sessions give me time to think and litter my thinking between sessions.
Playing with ideas leads to innovation. Making allows us to find new points (evads – couldn’t read handwriting, need to confirm) we can (… again, couldn’t read handwriting) ideas. Reflecting on our making helps us to understand our ideas, knowledge.
I think I could use LEGO as a way of students finding it easier to talk about their work: through a representation of their work, it takes the pressure off a bit.
I think it is wonderful that people are so excited to come and are sharing ideas withe ach other with no guardedness.
Excellent session to link theory to practice. Using LEGO makes me keep silent. Silent is good for my creativity.
LEGO – exploring ideas, creatively through play. Building/growing, very practical demonstration. Value using Lego in learning. Good for building team/group.

My favourite pic of he day 😉 image source

I think play won on Thursday, with and without LEGO, we showed that it can make us feel more relaxed, open up, connect with our inner self and others and make exciting new discoveries. Stuart Brown in his book Play. How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination and invigorates the soul wrote:

Play isn’t the enemy of learning, it’s learning’s partner. Play is like fertilizer for brain growth. It’s crazy not to use it. (p. 101)

While the following might help some more skeptics, especially when thinking about play in higher education…

Next week will be our sort of reading week. A peer-led session by Susan and Emma focusing in on our portfolios, assessment and the online space. I will be with you in spirit and am looking forward to finding out how it went.

See you all on the 5th of March in the Studio. Info will follow nearer to the time. I can’t wait to see you then. I might be more excited about this as anybody else at the moment as I am the only one who knows what is going to happen 😉



I am part of the Creative Academic team together with Dr Alison James and led by Prof. Norman Jackson. We publish the Creative Academic Magazine and will start working soon on the second issue. You will be happy to know that the theme for it will be play. Read our short introduction regarding the next issue below and get in touch if you would like to contribute a little something, ok?

Exploring the issue of play

Play in higher education? Seriously? Often we are reminded that universities are not playgrounds and that play is childish and inappropriate… Isn’t research a playful experimentation with ideas, concepts and situations, recognised as an essential activity that drives innovation, while play in a learning and teaching context is often still interpreted as undesirable especially within higher education?

In the next issue, we will explore the importance of play in higher education to create critical and creative thinkers and doers who have the curiosity, capacity and the vision to make the impossible possible.  There will be a potpourri of contributions and perspectives shared through practitioners and students eyes and minds that offer a valuable insight into the opportunities creative play presents for learning and teaching, students and their tutors.

Deadline to submit an article or digital artefact is the 1 May 15. 

Chrissi Nerantzi and Dr Alison James

draft post version 2

saying yes to learning through play or week 4 reflections #lthesep12 @pgcap

Well, I planned to capture my reflections on Tuesday the day after our face-to-face session and started writing this post a few times in my head but I just now managed to click on create new post. This was Sunday morning. Then a disaster happened… and I had to abandon my half written post and start again on Sunday evening… anyway…

It feels somehow late and my reflections are not fresh anymore in my head. I have already gone through the emotional ups and downs and re-living what happened on Tuesday but also many times before when I used a game approach, so it will be interesting to see where this reflection takes me. My fingers have started hitting the keyboard and finding the words and phrases my mind is telling them. Where should we start?

Ok, I guess I should start from what this week was all about. Creativity, everyday creativity when it becomes an everyday habits can turn our teaching and learning practices into exciting and stimulating experiences. And while I usually use habit as a in bad habit, this time I feel that habit, as in establishing creative habits is actually a good thing for us.

Creativity is important to keep our offer fresh and engaging and make our students think outside the box. Creativity is a necessity and needed in all disciplines, all professional areas, all aspect of our lives. In order to encourage and enable creative thinking and hopefully trigger lasting changes in thinking, we played a mixed-reality game. Playing games in Higher Education? Yes!

This game is not a new idea, but and idea that has evolved semester after semester and changes have been introduced based on own observations and on feedback. I have played previous versions of this game in teacher education in Adult Learning and Further Education but when I took the idea to Higher Education, I was shocked with the resistance I was confronted with. Comments such as “inappropriate”, “childish” and “patronising” still echo in my mind. But maybe this is a good thing. Maybe the more critical comments helped me see things from a different angle and push me to think deeper and put my own practice to the test and evaluate the game and get some evidence that the game real works! The criticism also pushed me to refine my idea and underpin what I thought was a useful, worthwhile and fun learning activty with literature. My rationale for playing the game is now more clearly formulated and together with the findings of my research linked to this help me to convince others that there is value in learning through games but I am not convinced that it should be this way. I think there is a lot of value in discovery learning and trying new things, immersing ourselves into different learning experiences, immersing ourselves in the unknown and finding out for ourselves and with peers the value of such activities. The key elements, I think, to make this happen, is trust. Trust in our teacher, trust in our learners, trust in each other but also the will to be open to experimentation.

LTHESep12 week 2


1. How did I feel?

Excited! This week is always my favourite one!!! I was happy to discover that my current students embraced the “Sell your bargains” game. The same happened with the last cohort and I am now seeing much clearer why this is the case!

I was very pleased that they completed Stage 1 and had thought about a threshold concept before meeting in Manchester on Tuesday. I am also very happy that they did their research around threshold concepts despite the fact that we didn’t touch this in class. It shows again, that we can and should trust our students that they are able to study on their own and try and make sense of theories. I think this is easier if coupled with direct link and application to own practice, which we did in the case of the game.

There were some more skeptical students but that is fine. I think as the game progressed, they warmed to the idea and the usefulness of the game. All students who partcipated, worked well with their partner and came up with some really innovative learning and teaching interventions. I don’t think many of these ideas would have been generated in an ordinary classroom. I think we need to get rid of ordinary classrooms anyway. Learning can happen anywhere and most of the learning happens outside the classroom anyway…

LTHESep12 week 3 Sell your bargains game

learning together through sharing problems

I was very pleased how the pairs worked together and I think my rationale for pairing worked well. I had a number of criteria for paring and I would be interested to find out what my students thought about this and what they think the criteria were. Anybody?

2. What did I learn?

I am pleased that I keep pushing myself and my students to actively experiment with ideas and concepts in a more playful way. If something doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. We will work on making it work better the next time. We learn so much more when things don’t go according to plan. Difficult situations make us think. They make me think and re-think but also un-think. And if we learnt something from something that didn’t work, it was a great learning opportunity. Too often we focus on the result, but what about the process?

I learned that we do need to do this to discover what is possible and remove misunderstandings and misconceptions about play and games for learning in higher education. I learned that reflection is a vital ingredient of creativity as well, if we want to create something new and of value, something that is alive and dynamic. Something that can evolve and inspire learners and teachers to be resourceful, creative, ask questions, do the unexpected and surprise themselves and others to engage in deep and profound learning that is owned 150% by the learners themselves.

3. What would I do differently?

Loads of things! I think it is now time to change location for Stage 2 when we meet in Manchester City Centre. The Big Wheel used to be there. Now it is gone ;( I am thinking of Bury Market or Salford Quays and will investigate other areas too, with loads if cheap shop for next time. But if we go for a no-money approach, I might be looking for a completely different location…

LTHESep12 week 3 Sell your bargains game

Where did it go???

Also, the £3 spending money to get a resource is too much. I am thinking of NO money or just one pound per person. At the moment, I am thinking to play it with NO spending money next time.

LTHESep12 week 3 Sell your bargains game

Sian’s and Jo’s bargains

Too often we think we need money to get resources for learning and teaching. But there are so many freely available. Stuff that we can re-use and re-purpose or construct from items that are of no use for others. The more I write about it here, the more I am convinced that I will go with the no-money approach next time. So there will be limited time and limited and no money at all! How resourceful and creative can we be? Are we more creative when we have loads of time and loads of money? Hmm…

LTHESep12 week 3 Sell your bargains game

Rob and Helen, one of our pairs

What else? Recording the videos and a location where it is a bit more quiet. I am wondering, if we could run part of Stage 2 at location and then come back into the classroom and create the clips or the players create these within the 1h. This might be another option. Each pair then uploads the clip to our YouTube channel. But how could we then use the time when we come all together? I think we could then have an informal conversation about the process and share ideas and approaches. I think that might be useful instead of doing the filming then and would keep all the group together. So many ideas again to change for next time. This is all very exciting!

Also one of my students suggested to do the filming through images. I understand that some don’t want to be seen in the clips and I need to respect this, as the clips will go on our YouTube channel under a creative commons licence. So, images would be a great alternative and maybe drawings too? We do need to listen to our students’ voices. Many times, they have great ideas that help us move our own thinking and ideas forwards but also into new directions.

Having a second game facilitator really made a difference but if I go with the above option I will be fine, even if a colleague is not available. I just need to make sure that our students have a camcorder, smartphone or tablet on which they could record the mini clip and this might be the tricky part and needs to be checked in advance of the game.

Let’s play more! Let’s create more opportunities for playful learning in Higher Education. Plato said “We can discover more about a person in an hour of play than a year of conversation”. Just imagine how much we can learn when we combine the two 😉

Voting for our most innovative ideas is still open until Monday the 22nd of October 2012

all our photos on Flickr. Click here to access them

please access our voting form where you will also find links to all participating video clips.

Do you want to find out more about learning with games in Higher Education? Read: Whitton, N (2010) Learning with Digital Games. A Practical Guide to Engaging Students in Higher Education, Oxon: Routledge.

fish ‘n’ chips and thoughts at the seaside down South #ECEL2011 #CMC11

playfulness exposed

playfulness exposed

This is Brighton where I attended and presented at the 10th European Conference of e-Learning. Not sure why we keep using the e- or distinguish between e- and non-e since it is, or should be considered, now part of normal learning. But what is normal learning? We seem to have lost and forgotten all about the playfulness of learning. The fun we have or used to have when we were jounger, when learning through play was and still is a reality and accepted.

  • What stops us from having fun in learning when we are adults?
  • Why do we stop having fun as adult learners?
  • Why do we stop playing when while learning?
  • What stops us from having fun when we are teaching othes and learn with others?
  • Why is it wrong to have fun and learn through play when we are adult learners and especially when we are in a university?

I would love to hear what others think about the above. So, please feel free to comment if you are reading this.

If Prof. Maggi Savin-Baden is right when she said during the ECEL2011 conference (paper by Savin-Baden, S. , Tombs C. and Wimpenny, K. Implementing and Evaluating Problem-based 3D Virtual Learning Scenarios) that playing with learning is important, as well as playing with and playing around and that

“We need to stop seeing the curriculum as a predictable, ordered and manageable space, but instead review it as an important site of transformation characterised by risk and uncertainty”

– why do we keep replicating what was always there, what we were always doing? Prof. Anne Boddington in her keynote “Designing Education and Reshaping Learning” provides her answer to these questions perhaps by saying that 

“we forget to question the structures we inherited, the frameworks within which we sit need to change.”

Anne also passionately noted that learning is an adventure but also a social activity and that we need to move away from ‘me’-learning towards ‘we’-learning and asked us all what universities are for. And if would agree with Prof. Grainne Conole’s keynote “Trajectories of learning – new approaches and directions” who stated that content and expertise is freely available now, what does this really mean for universities and what are universities really for? Anne defined universities as a place and a space to

  • sustain conversations
  • shape the future of human life
  • stimulate innovation
  • shape new structures of and for learning
  • shape new pedagogies
some food for thought

some food for thought

Learning, teaching and researching in parternship, in one community as Anne suggested?

And if this is indeed the way forward, how can we make this happen?

Learning through play? @pgcap #coresep11 #CMC11 MOOC

arriving or the journey just begins, yes, it just begins

Arriving or the journey just begins. Yes, it just begins...

the city our classroom or open thinking space

The city our classroom or open thinking space. No borders.

Are you ready to play? What stops you?

Are you ready to play?

Come on, let's give it a go!!!

Come on, let's give it a go!!!

What happened to learning through play?

Just wondering, what stopped you before?

Ideas flow and grow when we share them

Ideas flow and grow when we share them through play, remember?


Learning is yummy, don't you think?

What would we do if we didn't have each other?

What would we do if we didn't have each other?

Very well done to you all!

Very well done to you Fabrizio, Kirsty, Neil, Deaglan, Frances, John and Fiona (who is not on this picture)!

Special treats for our Stage 2 winners Fiona and Neil

Special treats for our Stage 2 winners - both had so much fun on the Wheel!!!

… and our Stage 2 winners are…

I love making things… #cmc11

100% fruit, picked by the whole family

Warning! This is not a polished piece (did I have to say that? Anyway… let’s just start). I always loved making things. Well at least as long as I remember myself and from what others have told me and the photographs I have seen and some of the evidence that still exists today. I love drawing and painting and writing stories and making jewellery and little boats out of old wood and Christmas and Easter decorations and little dolls but also making jam (just made some with blueberries and apples), baking and cooking and knitting scarves (used to knit even jumpers when I was a teenager – weird thing to do for a teenager, but I guess, I was a weird teenager… ) now my eldest son Nassi, who will be 10 tomorrow, has started knitting and he loves it.

Nassi in action

The other day Nassi told me ‘I thought knitting was for grannies but after he started he couldn’t stop and I have seen him knitting in the morning in his bed and in the evening too. I love making curtains and pillow cases and little blankets for my boys and tableclothes and duvet covers etc etc. and I would love to make my own clothes (working on this at the moment!!!)

The list is probably endless and I seem to be constantly in the mood to make something… sometimes(?) I make a mess too. This is part of the fun.  The stuff that I make are things for the house, for myself but also for my family and friends but it doesn’t stop there (could it?) Nobody forces me, nobody makes me make anything. Sometimes, others might think that what I do is not a good idea. But this doesn’t (usually) stop me… (I like the phrase ‘only dead fish swim with the stream’ and use it a lot – too often we see people going with the masses with whatever the majority says/wants – I find that boring!).

What I make helps me communicate and connect with myself, ideas, concepts and people but also with problems and understanding things that are difficult/impossible? to understand. This making habit (is this a bad habit?) is also present in my professional life. I can’t stop myself!!! Flashcards, games, costumes and loads of other aids for teaching are part of my ever growing toolkit. Soon, I will need a room just for all my toys… I used to have an attic to store them… now we don’t.

my dad is a maker too, his purple crop in 2008

Of course, these days not all my creations are low- or no-tech physical creations. Some live in the digital world as well and they definitely take up less room and are not so heavy to carry around and I can share them more easily too. They help me connect with different and more people, ideas and concept and let me and us explore the world around us from different perspectives.

sleeping bag by Ody (7) using one of his old socks

I haven’t mentioned yet the thousands of digital photographs I have taken so far… – another one of my passions.

Some might think/say that it is not good to have a passion… do they talk about obsessions though? Anyway, I always loved taking photographs but before DC (digital cameras), I felt so so very restricted, just 36 photographs to take on one film? What to take? And what not to? More films were an option but I had less control of the quality of the final product. First because I was an amateur photographer (and still am) and didn’t know how to operate my camera properly (who reads and follows instrucions?) so most of the images were for the bin anyway and then there was a cost involved as well. The films were not cheap (well, I guess you could get some in the Poundshop) but waiting for the photographs to be printed was sometimes (only sometimes?) a traumatic experience and one where I felt useless and creativeless (if there is such a word in the English language). Should I give up trying? I was so releaved when technology progressed and became affordable (because this is usually the big issue for the majority of people, and I am one of this part of our society) and I got my first digital camera. A whole new and exciting world opened suddenly in front of my eyes! Wow! I couldn’t stop and I am still an active (hyper-active) photographer. I love the fact that I can take loads and don’t have to worry about it (these days the SD cards can be huge and fit thousands of photographs). I can delete, if I want to, but I can also edit and do all kinds of fancy things which I was not able to do before. The middleman is gone now and I can express creatively even after the photographs have been taken and share them easily with family and friends and connect with the wider community too, thanks to the web and the user-friendly platform and tools. A the web! It is always nice to hear that people like something you have done and find out if they have been useful and in what way.

All these things that I make, give me pleasure, probably in a slightly selfish way, but I also love to give and to share what I make on my own and with others. Sharing gives me the opportunity to make somebody smile (if they like it, of course) and be useful for others. We don’t share stuff to get something in return. Well, I don’t but if somebody acknowledges your work, your contribution this is great and can be motivational too (I found this article on sharing online recently, which might useful reading for some – and I think I should revisit this and reflect on this as well).

Lego cinema by Ody and Nassi

My boys are little (or should I really say big creators? because they are). They love making things in the physical and the digital world. Ody, my youngest took the camcorder the other day and created the clip below. On his own. He was behind and in front of the camera. He thought of the story, special effects, everything on his own. A one man production team (see clip below).

What I am trying to say here, and I am not sure if I am just mumbling… but the above come straight out of my head and are unprocessed thoughts is, that since I started reading David Gauntlett’s book ‘Making is Connecting’ I have all the above in my head (and loads of other stuff that I probably didn’t include) and when I went out this afternoon with my boys and took the book with me to the playground I felt the need to scribble some of my thoughts into the book (I always read with a pencil in my hand, a habit I picked up when I was translating…) and here I am now sharing them on the web, because I want to, because I can and because I would be interested to hear your voice, what you would like to say. This is strange though, I am hoping that there is an audience out there who would have read the above and feel that they would like to add their story too and will do so because they can… humans always wanted to connect wth others. We are social beings, Aristotle said it and many others too. We enjoy being part of a community, we love to be included in what is happening and to co-shape the present and the future. To make things and to make things happen. To be and learn together (of course we need some time for ourselves as well). I am so glad that Frances (Bell) showed me this book because it does confirm to me, what I always thought. We are all makers, creators and networkers too. All the web does is provide a platform and the tools to make it happen on a massive scale. We all can do it! Finally somebody said it and wrote a book about it! I am just on page 60 and am looking forward to what is still to be discovered.

I will probably revisit this post after the sparklers in my head normalise and let me refine and rationalise my thinking a bit more… will this be possible/is this needed? Not sure at the moment… I just wanted to get all this out of my system before I say Goodnight.

Goodnight everybody.