Why shouldn’t adult learners have as much fun as younger ones? This question, which seems to be shared by many, prompted two American academics with atypical backgrounds to take action. In 2020, Lisa Forbes and David Thomas created Professors at Play, an online creative space to encourage the use of play and fun in higher education. Here are their top tips for actors at this level of education to better integrate play and its benefits into their practice!
Do a reflective exercise
Integrating play into higher education is a bold move and goes against the grain of traditional higher education. That’s why Lisa Forbes recommends first taking the time to reflect on the dominant narratives that have persisted for generations, consider what it means to you to be a member of a university department, and identify what you can change. Part of the goal is to create your own narrative and take an approach more aligned with who you are.
Get out of your comfort zone
David Thomas advises seeking out a colleague, in or out of your discipline, who can support you in this. He also encourages you to dare, overcome your shyness and get out of your comfort zone. To break out of your complacency, he gives this little exercise: every day, before going to class, whether it’s in a videoconference or in person, choose a word at random from the dictionary and find a way to integrate it into your course. Do it for yourself! If you’re feeling a little braver, you can share the challenge you set yourself with your students and ask them to find the word!
Build up to it gradually
Because play is a continuum that can be embodied in small and large initiatives, it is up to each teacher to choose the ways in which they feel comfortable. The important thing is to take small steps and respect your comfort level with play because it is true that it can become intimidating and oppressive if you set the bar too high. Just because it’s about play doesn’t mean that introducing it into a classroom is necessarily easy or natural. So, for example, start with an icebreaker activity and see what happens before trying something else. Remember that games can be used to teach a concept or even the entire content of a course, or they can be unrelated to the content and be designed to lighten the mood and foster interpersonal connections.
Put attitude first
It is important to remember that play transcends tools and technique and is embodied first and foremost in the attitude and approach of the teacher. In this sense, the teacher must be careful not to separate technique from attitude, or the fun will be perceived as “forced,” for example, offering a game to students but teaching the rest of the course in a stressful way. Without a consistent attitude on the part of the teacher, a game alone will not sustain the spirit of fun in a class.
In online mode, David Thomas particularly likes the Zoom feature that allows him to create chat rooms, where he sends his students out in groups and gives them a goal that is out of the ordinary, like finding something they agree they don’t like. Unlike a discussion on an agreed-upon topic, this game sparks unusual conversations that humanize people. On the same platform, Lisa Forbes uses several applications, including Google Forms, to create escape games in which her students must complete challenges in small groups. It’s important to note that various well-known games can also be integrated into both online and face-to-face models, such as icebreakers, quizzes and role-playing. And while the Web offers many tools that can be used to benefit game-based pedagogy, the most important thing is not so much the range or sophistication of the tools available as the idea of using them creatively to enable meaningful interactions.