The Value of Play in HE is live!

Anyone who has ever designed a survey will be familiar with the endless iterative scurryings and tweakings that go on as you create it. All the elements that seemed straightforward, clear and sensible (in your head) suddenly seem plagued by ambiguity, misleading semantics, technical trip-ups, ethical tigertraps, and general design grimness when you try to construct it.  You get to the point of wondering if you will ever be able to press launch.

But, dear reader, it has come to that point.


(see Note 2)

I am delighted to say that as of 2pm today my survey into experiences and perceptions of play and its value has gone live. Over the coming weeks my dream is for it to be distributed as far and wide as possible, so that I can add to the picture that has started to emerge of play practices in HE. I’m also so excited to see how its findings will contribute the ‘out and about’ phase of the project (April 20- April 21) when I’m going to be engaging in play related interviews, activities, workshops and events to take it all further.

Do please, if you can, fill it in, circulate it, spam it,  share appropriately, let me know if you think there are people I should be talking to that I don’t know about.  And THANK YOU.

Note 1: if you have not yet clicked on The Value of Play page to find out more info about this venture, do please click on the links and explore!

Note 2: Thank you Sassy Girl on Giphy and Suzanne Faulkner – I have longed to find a reason to use this!

Ponderings from #playlearn19

I’ve just come back from a short but wonderful visit to the Playful Learning Conference 2019 in Leicester; a torchbearing endeavour in the drive to normalise play in adult learning. This piece is mostly about that, with one or two tiny meanderings.

(But before I get stuck in, let’s celebrate one of a myriad indications that playfulness is already manifest in work, learning and society. Only this morning I was alerted to this fabulous Registrarism piece on university rankings. The use of tortoise racing and BINGO as a means of decision making is absolutely the way to go. And I love the idea of The Fortunate 500.)

Anyway, back to PL19.   It was a joyful and energetic experience, giving absolute permission to play and discuss play without risk, surrounded by believers. I was honoured to be asked to give the opening keynote and it was a career first. I can safely say I have never before dared start a talk to 120 people with stories of Scottie the dog (bag)’s travels round Dorset.

120 friends who are not dogs

Scottie about to make 120 friends who aren’t dogs

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Whoop! Hello research scholarship!

Happy news! I have recently been awarded a scholarship by the Imagination Lab Foundation in Switzerland, to continue my research into play.  This is a wonderful opportunity to be able to explore play practices in higher education through some particular filters and in specific contexts. Using Brian Sutton Smith’s Seven Rhetorics of Play as my research lens I will be looking at the ways in which play is currently being used in higher education to teaching management concepts and theories.

(I tried to find a good picture of management concepts etc to put in here but was in a hurry and just found lots of grim diagrams. So let’s have an entirely spurious picture of a cat in a tie, courtesy of Their caption is ‘middle management cat questions your productivity’ – so it is actually quite relevant )


This research aims to extend knowledge of the ways in which play and playful learning is used in business, management and leadership contexts in higher education, including institutional understandings of, and strategic commitment to play and playful learning as part of the tertiary experience. Through it, I hope also to challenge the instrumentalist view of education and build on the empirical evidence emerging of the benefit of play practices at university.

Sutton-Smith’s Rhetorics will provide a lens through which to investigate three value systems at work: those inherent within the forms of play adopted, those of the universities in which these take place, and those of the wider cultural systems in which the universities exist.

I am indebted to Professor Johan Roos and Dr Marco Weiss for their support in enabling me to conduct this research and am really excited about it. As I write down the words about it they all yell ‘this is HUGE’ at me – but it will be wonderful to get my teeth into the project. So I am starting to look for as many participants as I can with an interest in play, management and HE, who would like to contribute or be involved in some way. (More anon).

It will also feed nicely into the work I am engaging in at Winchester as institutional project lead for an OECD investigation into the teaching and fostering of creativity and critical thinking. Not only is this a fascinating area to explore, I also get to work closely with my fabulous and esteemed colleagues Professor Bill Lucas and Professor Paul Sowden. So much learning going on I think I need a cup of tea and a biscuit and a calm down.

What mushrooms teach me about university learning

This might sound a bit off-piste for an HE blog post but I promise it’s not an April Fool.

It’s just that this week sees the launch of the third Play and Creativity Festival at the University of Winchester and I have decided to combine one of my hobbies with a play session on HE. On Friday I will release into the wild a workshop on how rummaging around for fungi can help you reflect on learning. It’s got mushroom memorabilia, visuals, a quiz and all kinds of stuff going on (and I really hope it works).

Lost you yet? Read on and let me try and explain this a bit more.

My love of mushroom photo foraging (no picking, just pictures) stems from rides around the countryside on horseback. When you are lucky enough to be several feet off the ground in great natural locations you have the opportunity to spy a) into people’s gardens and b) over and under logs, trees, streams, walls, bushes, brambles and all. Such viewpoints give you a great glimpse into the unexpected – soft, gelatinous jellyear fungus or colourful corals on dying wood; firm, white clumps of mushrooms popping up in damp, shady places or bright, wavy shelves of colourful brackets jutting out from birch trunks. Their structures and ways of producing themselves so spectacularly and surprisingly – even in the most mundane of places – are wonderful and uplifting. They are fascinating and absorbing and invite you to know more, to observe their finest details, to differentiate between the myriad of types and variants that are found.

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Universities of the Future

This is a piece I wrote last week after an excellent visit to Bournemouth University to work with PG Cert students and staff on this theme. It seems very much in the air (the topic, not Bournemouth) at the moment as at our Play and Creativity Festival at Winchester next week we will be exploring the same question, but using cardboard, luggage labels, newspapers rod and all things sustainable.



Will this catch on?

I was asked this question last week about using LEGO to explore research. It came from someone new to LEGO SERIOUS PLAY so it should not have surprised me, but it did. And in welcome ways. I realise that we are making such progress with the acceptance of play as part of complex learning that I assume most people have caught up now. The question reminded me that many people are still unsure of its presence and impact in university contexts of all kinds.

The combo of LEGO and research has been very much on my mind recently… Continue reading

Fallen leaves, new leaves


leaves on campus

I have finally had time to revive these pages and it has made me realised how abandoned my blog has been while I have been busy doing other things.

A bit like the glorious images you can find on Instagram here, just not as exotic…

It has rather been like tidying out the attic and realising both how much dust has gathered while you have been elsewhere, and also how much enjoyment the things in there have brought, even if they need a bit of a clean up.

So my resolution to self, having had my pages- polish- and- purge is to turn over a new leaf to keep these posts alive, rather than just writing in more formal locations, and update them with stories of the different activities I am involved in. This is as much for my benefit – to capture the learning and contacts and inspirations that I gather through my daily activities. So many questions and occurrences and so little time, and so important to make the space for those that matter… especially when we often spend parts of our working lives having to learn and remember things that are expedient but which we would rather not have to know.

At the moment my own learning and development is blissfully supported by Autumn, as it involves foraging for and identifying mushrooms and fungi. It is teaching me so many things that are analogous with our approaches to learning in formal settings (book in the offing!) but two for now are

  1. remember to look up as well as down

treetops frenshamEssential advice when we can get so anchored and overwhelmed in the attrition and uncertainty of some aspects of our higher education existence…


2) There is growth and newness to stimulate our curiosity and it’s been around us all the time. We just have not known how to notice itme holding tiny mushrooms on pine cone