LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® in HE: new online facilitator training

Artist Charlie Millar’s wonderful LEGO®-clad gate. For his artworks please visit

I am proud to say that Micael Buckle and I have finally launched this brand new LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®  facilitator training, after brewing up the idea over several years. It was initially sparked at a Brickminds Conference and then what with global pandemics, job changes(me),business commitments(him) and a whole host of other things, it took a while for us to give it shape. Before running it, we road-tested it with wonderful colleagues across a number of institutions who are accredited facilitators in the method. In addition to their great feedback,Micael also discussed it regularly with Professor Johan Roos, cofounder of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® . We are pleased and delighted that the programme has received his endorsement.

In creating LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®  in HE (or LSPinHE for short), it was very important for us to honour the essence and key principles of the original method, while giving it a new and distinctive character. The original method is, of course, highly adaptable and can be applied to any complex issue to which there is no straightforward answer.However, in my use of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® in HE institutions during the last fifteen years, I met many people who wanted a training programme in the method which spoke to their HE activities and preoccupations.

So LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® in HE does three things differently:

  1. it focusses on the needs, interests and contexts of higher education and speaks its language. No, despite me spending over three decades in HE, we don’t get knee-deep in educational jargon. But we do understand the terms, phrases, and features of communication that are natural in its context.
  2. it includes an extensive range of new materials and exercises created specifically for HE users, whatever their roles. These include an extensive library of resources and dedicated readings which support the theoretical underpinnings of the method, including those relating to teaching and learning.
  3. it converts the four day, face to face format into a two day online intensive, so that people from around the world can participate, without worrying about paying for travel or accommodation, on top of the course fee.

Micael and I will be co-facilitating the training at set points in the year, and are also very happy to provide bespoke training within universities. (We already have some exciting tailormade collaborations in the pipeline!)

The current dates and other information about LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®  in HE facilitator training are in this brochure:

If you have any further queries after that, do please contact Micael via or me at

Wanted! Student views on play and playful learning in HE

I am in the process of writing up my two year study The Value of Play in Higher Education, and will shortly be uploading draft sections of my final report to this site. To be honest, sifting through all the materials has felt like repeatedly wading through treacle due to the richness of the responses I have had from interviews, events, conversations, and surveys. However – Ta Daaarrrr!- from the very beginning some clear messages have been slowly and consistently emerging.

Among these I’ve gathered some incredibly powerful perceptions from educators as to what they believe the impact of play on students to be. And (I know – don’t start a sentence with ‘and’) – this has been an educator-facing study. However, what I don’t have as yet are the views of students. So I want to fill that gap now.

I know. It’s nearly Christmas. We are in year 2 of a pandemic. Everyone is tired. I’m tired! Why launch a survey in December?

Because I am an optimist. And (yikes) because playful learning is all about, and all for, students anyway.

So here it is. Project info, ethics, and consent all bundled up with some questions to get you in the festive spirit. The survey will be open from now until February 1st next year. With any luck that will give us all enough time to celebrate/recover from the end of 2021 and get 2022 off to a shining start.

Here is a 90 second video that tells you a little bit more, and the link to the survey is here:

Feel free to share far and wide and thank you so much for helping build an international picture of students views of playful learning:)

What are you waiting for?

(You can answer this question in whichever way you want and with regard to any kind of goal of outcome; mundane or magnificent, frivolous or fundamental. You can also ask it any way you like – emphasising any word will subtly change the question. Your call.)

I’ll admit it. This is probably a strange post for my blog as it’s out of step with my usual stuff on play, HE etc. I think I’m partly following my heart in terms of wanting to write about random things, not just the obvious, to find out what I think about them. I don’t always know till I’ve finished.


So I’m sharing my meander through my brain on this one because I have finally realised what a vast amount of time in our lives is spent waiting. It’s part of pretty much everything we do; ingrained, among other things, in the phrases and tones of voice we use for it and in the queues, spaces and rooms in which we do it.

Most of the time what you/we are / I am waiting for is for something to happen. It’s such a common occurrence we naturally assume we know how to define it. Yet thinking about waiting led me to look it up in the dictionary as I’ve never bothered to before. (This is the problem with the academic life; you end up with an almost Pavlovian need to clarify meanings, even when they are elusive or unsatisfactory. Just this week I was discussing learning communities in a webinar and found online dictionary definitions of community somewhat barren. It’s a similar story with waiting). An online search revealed it to be

“the action of staying where one is or delaying action until a particular time or event.”

This seems an understated and rather static description. Where are the nuances of agency or passivity ( when we choose to wait, or when we feel waiting is being imposed on us)? Surely it is not just about “delaying “but about the nature of the gap between action/s and what we do in it? The liminal state? The transition between where you are and what you want (money, love, lunch,Nobel Peace prize)? What about the emotional impact of waiting or the existential connotations that attach themselves to the times when we are waiting for something monumental, serious, life changing?

How do we wait and what does it feel like?

Does this just sound a bit faux-philosophical and pointless?

Why on earth does it matter? Have I just been indoors too long?

Your immediate reactions might well be “yes”, “it doesn’t” and “probably”. However as I’ve been writing I think I have unearthed a point and it is this: paying attention to how we wait helps us shed light on our personal and subjective experiences. Some of us are patient, stoic, resourceful, productive, and zenlike; finding in waiting some respite from, or pause in, a frantic day. Others among us endure waiting with little grace; impatient, frustrated, resentful, and desperate for it to be over. How we feel will obviously also depend on other things like circumstances or mood or infinitely more significant factors such as the graveness of the outcome for which we are waiting. This piece by Reverend Williams in this post Why is waiting such a hard thing to do? gives poignant examples of the times when the act of waiting is torture, caused by worry or dread. Waiting is at its worst when we are highly anxious about something and we have no indication as to when it will be over.

What am I waiting for?

Right this minute? For my feet to warm up. My tea to cool down. The rain to stop. The grey to lift. And a thousand insignificant-but-important (to me) other things. If you want to seriously ramp up what I’m waiting for then the resolution of global injustice and the conquering of the pandemic are high on my list but are currently beyond my control.

Actually, what is absorbing a great deal of my headspace right this moment is trying to move house.

Lawks, does that involve a lot of waiting. Waiting which can be tense, tedious, exciting, baffling, worrying and deeply destabilising – like trying to cross a river in a gale via stepping stones which are wobbly and slippery and did I even mention the fog that comes in from nowhere, not to mention the fear that the promised dry land on the other side is just hallucination.

Bit too dramatic? Ok…but…

Waiting and transition

…at the very least, moving house puts you in a limbo state. You no longer live (mentally) where you actually do (physically) and you haven’t (physically) got to where (mentally) you have already moved to. It is uprooting and unsettling…not unlike our efforts to navigate existence with Covid 19 in the world.

We are trying to live the way we used to do (with adjustments) while actually doing things very differently and sometimes also wishing we were somewhere else in time or space. Waiting for things to start, to stop, to not be so changeable and scary. To be able to travel and hug people without wanting to get hosed down afterwards in case of contagion. To be in real rooms not Zoom rooms.To be sharing material objects, food, contact. Waiting for the return of good times, freedom, “normality”, or whatever it is we most want in our lives.

So why am I writing this post?

I’d love to pretend that I have written it with the intention of coming up with a nice big Ta Daarrrr! Reveal of Solution and Point. I haven’t though. It’s not been written with answers or a plan or the aim of turning waiting into an Olympic sport. It’s just sometimes waiting creates a space in which we ask ourselves bigger questions than we expected we might. Our experience of waiting just feels like a universal topic that is worth airing without a predefined outcome, in the hope that it resonates with someone somewhere.

There is no concluding section. I am just going to stop.

I feel better for getting that off my chest though.

What about you?What are you waiting for?

Playing in a pandemic

Hello! and Yikes. This is longer than I meant to be. But so much is going on with play that I wanted to share some thoughts, an update on my research, and publicise some great things other people are doing. So either hop through the bits you want, like the proverbial Spring bunny, or make a very LARGE [insert name of beverage of choice here] and sit down for the long haul.

STOP PRESS!  I’m delighted to be giving a talk for The Playful Intercultural Dialogues Series TODAY (Sept 10 2020). If you can’t join us you will be able to find out more on the Playful University Platform soon (see link to this below). UPDATE 11/09/2020 – sorry you missed it -but recordings coming soon to the Playful University Platform.which you should check out anyway…

Now…play in a pandemic…what we’ve been doing, and what we need to do to protect playful practices in teaching, learning, work and research…

Like most people, I’ve spent the last 5 months rethinking how to do stuff, not least how to conduct play research into The Value of Play which was supposed to be interactive and face to face and international. Instead of travelling the world to run playshops I’ve been sitting at computer. Like most people, I’ve Zoomed myself into a catatonic state, while also having inventive, unusual and rewarding meetings with new and old colleagues. Some people,  not like me, have been entrepreneurial as well as communicative.

Screenshot 2020-07-09 at 11.16.11

I have been dazzled by people how people cope with their endless online meetings: choosing a dress code,  having special lights or props handy, waving around seriously great teacups. My cat crashed at least three webinars, and during research interviews I met husbands, wives, children, and other pets (No. I know your family aren’t pets. Or are they? Possible essay title?).

Depending on the weather or time of day I have talked to people as they run round their gardens trying to find a signal, or have myself waved my phone in the air – Dom Joly style – trying to talk to someone in America. Whatever we call it, and however we recognise it, we have played our way through the pandemic. Not only that, but being “silly”  ( a word that my research participants have used  a lot , along with “mad”) as a matter of human wellbeing is now being endorsed in articles about play, such as this one.

Throughout lockdown, I was struck by how play featured consistently, darkly, lightly, humorously, bleakly. We have played to ward off our fears, steady our nerves, entertain ourselves, keep fit, connect with each other, cheer our neighbours, stay safe, keep calm and raise morale. Play has been not just a pastime, but a means of survival – something that I discussed in this webinar here – may have to register but it’s free to watch if you fancy it).

Some dressed in inflatable dinosaur outfits to shop; partly for protection, mostly no doubt for amusement. Others went running round their neighbourhoods dressed as Spiderman to cheer those shielding indoors, watching from windows. Play crept into our public service announcements,  sometimes with a shard of rage – as in this anti-litter campaign in York:

Screenshot 2020-08-24 at 18.38.23

Card, board and digital games were for life, not just for Christmas. If you had a stash of jigsaw puzzles you went from being an old fogey to an absolute winner; they, along with loo roll, compost and flour, swiftly became a rarity.  Pavements were chalked with hopscotch outlines and drawings thanking the NHS.   Rocks were painted, rainbows were drawn, windows were decorated, bunting hung out. Even our clapping for keyworkers on a Thursday night, accompanied by spoons on pans,  vuvuzelas and horn blowing from trains, was a form of play.

While some forms of play have sky rocketed in our broader lives, the upheaval in HE thanks to Covid 19 raised questions about how to safeguard playful, creative and interactive teaching. With virtually no notice educators were catapulted into transforming the format and medium of their courses. Since the crisis took shape conflicting views have been voiced as to what should be a priority for university learning.

Let’s start with the positive stuff. Play and imagination are deeply intertwined and mutually enhancing, even if the full impact of this is not always given credit in the context of HE. To address at least the visibility of one of these a special edition of Lifewide magazine dedicated to The Work of Imagination has been produced. Alongside  this work to deepen understanding of the imagination there have also been developments in play networking and ideas exchange. Through my research I’ve discovered that several universities are instituting their own internal play communities with the aim of enriching teaching. As we shift to online and ask ourselves what this means for play colleagues are setting up networks precisely to address this challenge. Here are just three examples.

In America, Lisa Forbes and David Thomas at have set up the international network Professors at Play to raise the profile of play in HE and connect teachers and researchers. (I’m also delighted that they have invited me to speak at their virtual Playposium on play on November 6th  – do join in!)

In the UK Andrew Walsh and Alex Moseley have just launched the Adult Play Network to bring together educators to share practice; branching out from their work in the Playful Learning Association Meanwhile, in Denmark, Rikke Toft Norgard and Henrik Hansen are organising a series of webinars on play – details here – as part of the the CHEF project The Playful University. I’m honoured to be presenting this one called Play to Connect on September 10, as I mentioned at the start of this post.  In addition, there is also the Playful University Platform (PUP), with videos  from 2019’s Playful University Conference in Aarhus  and a collection of Voices of Playful Academia

Challenges to playfulness and creativity

These are great to see. What is more depressing is the kind of conversation I have with academics who tell me that their institutions just want lecturers to upload materials to the VLE and to stop bothering with play and creativity.  For the sake of everyone in HE, we have to hope that the positivity of these networks prevails  One reason why is clearly expressed in the Durham Commission Report on Creativity and Education (2019)

Screenshot 2020-07-09 at 12.01.58While the Durham report is predominantly interested in schools, its point is entirely applicable to universities and no one in the HE play community needs convincing of it. Here, if you needed it, is the stark reminder why play has its place in HE.

It is supported by the views of participants in my data gathering for  The Value of Play in HE  So far I have had just over 100 respondents to my survey on play practices in HE (whooop thank you!) and carried out 57 interviews to explore these practices in greater depth. There are some fascinating poles and tensions emerging from my first attempts to code the data, as well as confirmation of the benefits and challenges of teaching playfully that many of us are already familiar with.  As soon as I have completed my first analytical trawl I will share more detail of these. For now, two of the repeat motifs coming through from this first coding are the importance of play for ‘humanness’ and connection within HE learning.  There are powerful statements about educator values, including a rejection of teaching to formulae and a desire to challenge dominant pressures and poor practices in teaching. In the choppy seas of a corona-shaped HE sector a key consideration will be how protect and support all of these.

Already as I go through interview transcripts I can see how things have changed from March to now, in terms of what academics thought they might need to do, to what they actually are having to do as they plan for the start of the new year. To help with some of this, Chrissi Nerantzi and I co presented a webinar for the SRHE in June 2020 called Getting Creative in Learning and Teaching in A Time of Crisis. In  it we shared a range of ideas about how to maintain engagement and connection online. Two of my research respondents were blunt about the need to avoid at all costs the tigertrap of trying to replicate practices, or lose the value that play and playfulness brings. One remarked how well her group had bonded through play pre-lockdown. When her university closed  in March she commented “I was like right,  I don’t wanna lose that, I don’t want to lose the playful aspect. There’s no way I’m just going to do a narrated powerpoint and given them a link to it – to me that’s not teaching and learning online anyway”. Another made a tart distinction between “quality online learning” (what he wants to provide) “not remote emergency teaching” (which he felt his university was resorting to in the panic of Covid). A third was blunter still. Interviewed early in lockdown he commented “Thank God for Covid, that’s all I’m gonna say. Up until five weeks ago the university believed that the best thing it could be was a 1970s residential university, minus the football team and the marching band. It was all about the on campus, those of us who were doing online were doing it by stealth”

Now, a number of people reading this may not recognise this view of the antediluvian institution, on the backfoot with tech. They will have been  delivering sophisticated online provision for many years and don’t understand what the fuss is about. I hear, however, many accounts of universities who  have been springboarded into embracing the digital after dragging their heels and did not have the resource, expertise or culture in place when suddenly it was most needed.  We now have to make sure that however we proceed as educators, coaches, developers, researchers,  and a myriad more roles, that we maximise the opportunities to play and connect on the Covid (semi/virtual) campus. My talk for the SRHE and today’s talk for PUP make a range of suggestions about how to do this. I’ve also just drafted an article arguing for a new or revived respect for the seriousness and validity of play in academic practice, drawing on emerging data from my research. In these and other talks it is clear from respondents that they see play as supporting their  values in reinvigorating tired thinking and practices, ensuring that no student gets left behind and is part of an ethical and social commitment to create a better world through education. In some cases this might feel like an act of rebellion against the values of the system:

“Sometimes I think my values as an educator do not fit the values of the HE Business these days, because my values are about enabling students to transform themselves and how they transform themselves is up to them…it’s not about can they get the best paying jobs so we can go up the ranking slightly, or do they even finish? What do students see as important? Who do they want to be afterwards? [My job is preparing students for] Inhabiting a future them…”(TVOP respondent)

Going forward we need to ensure that play in face-to-face, virtual or blended forms is encouraged, and that myths or misconceptions about play are dispelled through providing proper, open, fearless spaces to explore it. The ventures, groups, events and publications that are being created and supported are welcome steps in creating critical mass for play and playful learning as legitimate higher education practice.

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