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The Playful University believes incorporating play within higher education can counteract the fear of failure, the avoidance of risk and other negative aspects of a ‘winner-takes-all’ mentality within universities 

‘Learning works best with play’, declares founder of The Playful University project

Learning through play can perform a crucial role in higher education by removing barriers to creativity and improving wellbeing, argues a group of academics advocating the development of ‘playful universities’.

With the launch of a new website, education incubator project The Playful University is gaining momentum with its goal of making the University of Exeter a place where learning is created and nurtured through joy, engagement and play – and where learning to solve problems and overcome obstacles is a reward in its own right.

In a recently published review in the International Journal of Play (Koeners and Francis, 2020), Dr Maarten Koeners and Joseph Francis from the College of Medicine and Health argue that incorporating play within higher education can counteract the fear of failure, the avoidance of risk and other negative aspects of a ‘winner-takes-all’ mentality within universities.

“When we connect with our personal playfulness our view of the world can become more joyful,” said Dr Koeners.

Rebranding teachers as ‘Playful Academics’, The Playful University has already launched a range of initiatives, including monthly club meetings, games nights, a games library, as well as workshops, field trips, an Arts and Culture fellowship, student placements and a festival.

In its first monthly club meeting, educationalist Ian Gilbert spoke about how to teach students to think differently by using “thunks”, beguiling questions about everyday things that stop you in your tracks and make you look at the world in a new light.

Games from The Playful University Games Library, which is funded by the Exeter Alumni Annual Fund, are available on loan for teachers to incorporate within their classes and can be used in a variety of functions including as ice breakers, for workshops or to demonstrate the mechanics of problem-solving.

The games have proven not only to increase joy but also aid problem solving, cognitive flexibility, social competence, intellectual dexterity, individual resilience and adaptability.

In November 2021, the University of Exeter in close collaboration with The Playful University will be launching the Festival of Compassion, which aims to create and support a compassionate community cross-campus and with the general public through activities, workshops, and invited speakers.

Anyone interested in volunteering, either with contacting speakers, acquiring funding, or if you have ideas about activities or wish to speak, facilitate or lend a hand, can contact playful-university@exeter.ac.uk or Maarten directly on m.p.koeners@exeter.ac.uk

Date: 11 February 2021

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