A Ludic Lexicon: the Playful Learning Conference 2022 from A-Z
Updated: Aug 25, 2022
This post shares impressions from this year's Playful Learning Conference in an alphabet format. The conference was back in (very) sunny Leicester after a 3 year gap: you can read about my experiences at the 2019 event here.
Hello again everyone, this post contains a list of personal highlights from the much-anticipated return of #playlearn202122. You can get a much broader picture of the conference (as well as further resources) in the programme. Most of the photos in this post are by excellent conference photographer Hsuan-Yi (Alan) Chi: check out all the conference photos here. I hope this will provide a flavour of what went on and whet your appetite for Playful Learning 2023!
A is for Absurd
One of the dictionary definitions of 'absurd' is 'silly in a humorous way': that to me sums up one of the key aspects of this conference. Although the event was underpinned by serious pedagogy, there was a refreshing relish for absurdity across all aspects. This was exemplified by the exhibits created by attendees for the Museum of the Future below...
B is for Bento Boxes
As a fan of making and multisensory learning, creating boxes out of card was very much my cup of tea. At #playlearn202122 there was both the chance to fold a bento lunchbox and fill it with playful learning perspectives with Kim Holflod and an opportunity to build a cardboard Comicube and learn about how these 3D objects have been used in museum design with Katriina Heljakka.
C is for Compassion
One of my favourite conference sessions and a favourite subject: Deepti Kharod and Sandra L. Guzman-Foster invited us to participate in a variety of activities including dancing with Dandiya sticks as part of an inspiring and ideas-packed workshop on play as a way to build compassionate learning communities.
D is for Drama
E is for Elliott
Elliott Spaeth's keynote 'Inclusive learning: Playing fair by throwing out the rules' was a fascinating talk which left us questioning our own learning and teaching practice. As someone who enjoys quiet, reflective learning, I was grateful when Elliott gave us the choice to either work alone or with a partner: I then thought about the ground rules I use for Lego Serious Play sessions, e.g. 'Everyone contributes': maybe it's time to throw out that particular rule?
F is for Feedbox
Did I mention that the conference theme was time travel? Feedback was invited via a rocket-shaped time capsule Feedbox where ideas were beamed straight to the 2023 conference.
G is for Glow Sticks
The conference featured a fabulous interactive film night with a screening of Back to the Future, 'not ok' flags to wave at film content deemed inappropriate, popcorn, hot dogs and of course glow sticks to build our very own flux capacitor.
H is for Hero's Journey
The session 'Planning a Hero's Journey' delivered by Robert Farmer interested me due to a previous workshop I attended by Alke Groppel-Wegener (sadly Alke was not able to co-present ). This interactive workshop resulted in attendees designing a walk around the conference grounds based on the Hero's Journey - I witnessed a bicycle-shaped planter complete with plant being used as the hero of one particular heroic quest.
I is for Improv
'When Comedy met Coaching' was a fun session led by Claire Ashworth using improvisation and storytelling to develop practical coaching skills. Lots of useful ideas here amongst the laughs: who would have thought that comedy and coaching had so much in common?
J is for Journal of Play in Adulthood
As with previous Playful Learning conferences, the Journal of Play in Adulthood, edited by Andrew Walsh, will curate a special issue from #playlearn202122. Anyone who has presented at or attended the conference is welcome to submit a contribution, deadline 31st October 2022. A diverse range of submissions are welcome, and having contributed to a previous issue, I would recommend it as a supportive and accessible route to publication.
K is for Katriina
Katriina Heljakka has already been mentioned in relation to her session 'Let’s design a playful museum: Lessons learned with the Comicubes', but she gets a second mention due to her embodiment of the playful learning ethos in clothing. For her presentation Katriina wore a jacket made from blue fox soft toys (any link to a certain local football team was apparently accidental). It doesn't get more playful learning than that.
L is for Laughter
There was a lot of laughter at #playlearn202122: not something I always associate with learning and teaching conferences. Apart from the humour and playfulness within the sessions, there was an overall atmosphere of friendliness and approachability that made for a relaxed and welcoming feel.
M is for Memes
Having never used memes before, I was intrigued to see how John Parkin used these in his 'Making memes: creating memes to develop conceptual understanding' session. We were shown how Greta Thunberg quotes had been adapted into memes (below) and given the chance to develop our own using the Meme Generator website. Some excellent memes created! A stimulating and useful session - John has added some further resources for those who would like to progress to making a GIF.
N is for Nattering
As well as laughter, chatting with fellow playful practitioners was a key factor at #playlearn202122. Attendees were encouraged to take time out from sessions and make use of the informal spaces around the venue for informal catch-ups. There was also a Conversation Corner for those who wanted to chat to others about playful learning topics.
O is for Online
Although I have focused on face to face activities here, it's important to say that there was a (free) online element to the conference, led by Katie Piatt and Rachelle O'Brien. Delegates at a distance also had the option to purchase a box of playful learning goodies prior to the event, comprising puzzles, activities and of course clues hidden in dissolvable, multi-coloured packing peanuts. You can see what online attendees got up to at #onlineplaylearn22 .
P is for Podcasts
A new feature at this year's conference was having podcasting team Mark Childs and Mike Collins, collectively known as Pedagodzilla, on hand throughout to chat to presenters and attendees. You can catch up on the conference via podcasts here. Mike has also written a lovely blog post (far more in-depth than this one) about his experiences at #playlearn202122.
Q is for Quiet
Thankfully for those like me who sometimes needed to get away from the conference craziness, there was a quiet space where attendees could go to chill out and even indulge in a bit of mindful Lego!
R is for Rest and Relaxation
As already mentioned, this was a conference where you had permission to take time out, whether to play in the board game café, make something for the Museum of the Future or to simply relax and have a drink in the restful outside space shown below.
S is for Searching for Clues
Variations on treasure hunts were popular at #playlearn202122: it was common to spot people searching the conference grounds for clues, giant puzzle pieces or pictures of trams (see Tramorabilia below).
T is for Tramorabilia
Alison James chose to use a tram-based scenario (what else?) to share outcomes from a study on the use and value of play in HE. This Tramorabilia session, billed as an escapehunttrailgameactivitything had participants working through a series of activities including Tram Spotting, Theoretical Rhetoricals, Pitch and Play, Voticon Emoticon and Trespassers! all supervised by tram driver Alison (pictured below) plus me as assistant/tram conductor.
U is for Unexpected
I could also have used the word Unpredictable. Playful Learning always has a few surprises up its sleeve: this year, to reflect the fact that the conference was covering 3 years in one, attendees were invited to travel back to 2020 via a time portal (see below). The portal proved to be a little unstable, but did double up as a handy screen for costume changes later on.
V is for Vegetarian
#playlearn202122 was a vegetarian conference: it was very restful for non meat-eaters like myself not to have to check which foods I could eat. There was also a great vegan selection, especially the playful and delicious build-your-own desserts (see below).
W is for Wheel
As mentioned earlier, I am very much a kinaesthetic learner, and this play activity wheel from Vici Daphne Händel's session inviting us to translate digital games into playful, physical and social learning activities appealed to me on both a tactile and pedagogic level. The wheel, comprising 5 concentric circles containing different game and play eIements, can be used to develop physical learning activities derived from video games or TV shows.
X is for eXuberance
I think the photo below says it all!
Y is for whY not?
The conference invited us to get out of our comfort zones and try something new in a safe and non-judgemental environment. The more performative aspects of playful learning are certainly out of mine, but there is something liberating about embracing the silliness. Whether it was comedy, memes or acting as a tram conductor, I had an unexpected amount of fun trying new things.
Z is puZZle
Naturally puzzles are an integral part of the playful learning world. At #playlearn202122 these ranged from an early morning challenge to locate and assemble a giant floor puzzle (see below) to physical padlocks, the web and AR for escape room design in Luca Botturi and Masiar Babazadeh's session (one of several escape room-based workshops - see the programme for details). Online participants were also required to solve puzzles in order to access the contents of their playful packages. So if you love puzzles, this is the place for you!
This is just a snapshot of the conference, keep an eye on Twitter and the Playful Learning website for further reflections and resources. Playful learning activities continue throughout the year (and around the country, both face to face and online) from the Playful Learning Association: sign up to get regular updates.
See you at #playlearn2023!