Fun and play are the earliest forms of education experienced by many kids. But as childhood progresses, these concepts are minimized. By the time students reach postsecondary education, fun and play don’t feel as welcome – and are largely limited to out-of-class experiences.
Sharon Lauricella and T. Keith Edmunds want to change that. In their energetic and insightful new book, Ludic Pedagogy: A Seriously Fun Way to Teach and Learn, they demonstrate how scholarship and fun can – and should – coexist. They begin by asking: “What if students had fun in class? What if, when students graduate, they also remember their classes with nostalgia rather than just the parties and greasy breakfasts while enduring five courses per semester?”
The authors’ Ludic pedagogy model is structured around four elements: fun, play, playfulness and positivity. By integrating those concepts into their book, they deftly weave together the “how” and “why” of each, with colourful anecdotes of Ludic pedagogy in action.
Dr. Lauricella, a professor in the faculty of social science and humanities at Ontario Tech University and Dr. Edmunds, an assistant professor of business administration at Brandon University, spoke with University Affairs about the book as well as their ideas on how to bring fun to higher education pedagogy.
What exactly is the Ludic pedagogy model?
Sharon Lauricella: Fun is the overarching element of the Ludic pedagogy model. Fun is the motivator; fun is what gets things going, both in class and with learning. Then we have three supporting elements beneath that: play, which is an action, the activity element of Ludic pedagogy; playfulness, which is an attitude that we take on, instructors and students; and positivity, which is an affect, or the feelings that we evoke in our learning experiences. That’s our model, in a nutshell.
Why should there be more fun in higher education?
Dr. Edmunds: The research shows that students and faculty are more engaged if they enjoy something. If it’s a standard lecture class, students are more likely not to attend; there’s less desire to be there. But if you’ve incorporated fun, the students are going to experience FOMO [Fear of Missing Out]. Fun is what motivates students to attend and also to engage.
Dr. Lauricella: There’s engagement, and also retention. We retain information more readily when we associate it with something positive or that we’re enjoying. That retention is twofold – retaining information and student retention. Students are more likely to stay in the class, to stay in their program and to stay in their university, college or academic program when they are enjoying their studies.
Dr. Edmunds: We’re not suggesting that every university or college turn into a clown school where the prof comes in juggling. Fun can be very simple. It’s just a matter of getting away from the stereotypical “chalk and talk”, where the prof drones on in a monotone voice and the students are just the passive vessels into which information is being poured.
Dr. Lauricella: There’s also a sense of connection that’s possible, where students can connect with each other and with the instructor as well. If you go to class, you sit down, you listen, you leave, those connections are not natural, they don’t happen. Part of my responsibility is to provide the time and space for students to connect with one another and cultivate those relationships with each other.
What prompted you to write this book together?
Dr. Edmunds: It was July 2020, so [we were in] the depths of the pandemic. I was just sitting in my backyard scrolling through Twitter, because there was not much else to do, and there was a lot of concern about what the upcoming online school year would look like. I just tweeted out into the universe: “In discussing all these other concerns, are we thinking about how much fun classes will be?” And that’s when @AcademicBatgirl [Dr. Lauricella] responded.
Dr. Lauricella: Keith’s tweet made me jump up and down with joy. There was all this panic around online teaching, but there wasn’t much talk about connection. So when I saw Keith’s tweet, I retweeted it with a comment, with a lot of “Yeses”. Yes, this is what we need, we need fun! And from there, Keith and I became online friends. We took some time to research and build our model, and then it was time to get our work out in academic discourse beyond Twitter. We did this via Inside Higher Ed and Faculty Focus. This led to interviews and we spoke at various conferences and workshops. Then we published our first paper in Educational Considerations.
ALL THE YES TO THIS YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES https://t.co/n7MwHGTOKz
— Dr Academic Batgirl (@AcademicBatgirl) July 23, 2020
What are examples, either from your own classrooms or others, of this philosophy in action?
Dr. Edmunds: Humour is one of the elements of playfulness. So I go to class a few minutes early, and I tell Dad jokes. It creates a sense of levity before I get students to think about business models, or whatever I’m getting them to do that day. Just having that sense of humour creates a little bit of fun. So that’s very simple; I’ve got a shelf full of joke books and I top up my brain with a couple of new ones before I go in.
Dr. Lauricella: The Dad joke thing doesn’t work for me. What I did was totally redesign how I delivered a fourth-year elective course on listening. I took the 33 students to a local conservation area for four days. We did activities, games, roleplays and had discussions, but we also went outside. We went on a night hike in the dark and called for owls (they called back!), and we sat in silence both individually and as a group. We listened to each other’s ideas, experiences and laughter.
Dr. Edmunds: Here’s another example from a fourth-year undergrad capstone course I teach: In the first couple classes, I have them do speed dating. Every student has to talk to each other. At the beginning, there’s grumbling, and they’re like, “this is stupid.” But at the end, more than one student has said, “that was great, because I’ve been in six classes with that other person, and I didn’t even know their name!” That kind of simple activity has value in making those connections that Sharon was talking about.
Dr. Lauricella: We can also use ChatGPT as an example of how to incorporate Ludic pedagogy. I teach a communication ethics course and that’s going to be a significant part of this upcoming course. I don’t want to go into that discussion with students with a sense of policing and fear. I want to go into that with a sense of curiosity and exploration. So, let’s go through a bunch of activities and play with this tool, let’s explore this. That’s Ludic pedagogy to me: let’s mess around with this, let’s see what this means for us as communication professionals.
Do you have any advice for instructors who want to add more fun to their teaching but aren’t sure where to begin?
Dr. Lauricella: I have a three-step questionnaire that instructors can ask themselves. When you’re designing a class, or a lesson, or an assessment or anything that you’re going to do in class, the first question is: will this make my students more interesting at parties? And a liberal definition of parties could be family dinner with your grandparents or going on a date. Students need to know how to apply their course content somewhere else. Will they be able to understand the information so wholly that they can articulate it simply to somebody else who doesn’t know it at the level that they do? And I always say to my students, “listen up people, this is going to make you interesting at parties.”
The second question is: would I want to do this? So, if you were a student, would you want to listen to this lecture? Would you want to do this assignment? Would you want to write this essay? If you think, “I would not want to sit with the colleagues in my department and do this assignment,” then assign something else.
The third question is: “will I hate my life when I am assessing this assignment, when I’m grading?” If I’m not looking forward to interacting with what my students produce, then there’s something wrong there. I’ve got to rethink what I’m assigning my students to do. So those are some really interesting questions for instructors to think about.
Dr. Edmunds: Another way somebody can start to implement Ludic pedagogy is by trying something, anything. You don’t have to put the whole book into play all at once. If we’re giving students permission to fail in our classes, to play with ideas and fall flat on their face and learn from it without any academic penalty, we should give ourselves permission to do the same thing. Try something new and if it fails incredibly, laugh it off with the students, say “look it didn’t work, we’ll try something else instead.” So you can start with trying a joke, trying an activity, approaching material with a different attitude, whatever. Try it and then just build from there.