The Playful Academic – innovation through play

By Maarten Koeners

How might we use play to support an improved educator and student experience?

To find answers to this question we have been using play to create spaces and experiences that allow us to think, learn and create. By using play, we can push an idea, combine it, contradict it, relocate it, stretch it and see where all that leads. Indeed, learning through play is increasingly recognized as a fundamental part of the human experience and a potent paradigm to improve pedagogical practice (Koeners and Francis, 2020). Imagine a place of learning where progressive failing, building resilience and developing individual and collective skills, values, and creativity are fostered. A place where academic drive can be created and nurtured through joy, engagement, and play – where learning to solve problems and overcome obstacles is a reward in its own right.

In this episode of the BERA (British Educational Research Association) podcast I talk – and play games – with Nick Johnson about the University of Exeter Educational Incubator has given me the platform to pursue my aim for achieving positive change through play.

We talk about the founding of The Playful University Club, hosting festivals like The Festival of Compassion and The Kinder Exeter Festival, addressing the changing perceptions on education through an Arts & Culture Exeter funded fellowship on the Lecture For Nobody, publishing a BERA blog series on the Playful Academic, establishing and using our Games Library funded by the Exeter Alumni Annual Fund. I conclude our conversation with some recommendations and share about my most recent projects – in collaboration with Adam Lusby – hosting a weekly Playful Lab and a 3‑day INNOPLAY Studio course at the Innovation Centre.

Taken together, we aim to form global connections on the creation of holistic pedagogic practices for students, educators and innovators – enabling individual and institutional play and playfulness to foster a culture that supports joyous, authentic transition to the co-creation of knowledge and skills, while counteracting a number of barriers to innovation and wellbeing.

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The University of Exeter’s Education Incubator scheme. Promoting pedagogic innovation and collaboration with an aim to enhance learning across the University and beyond.

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