As we all skip, amble or trudge through our 4th semester of remote teaching, a recent essay from the teaching arm of The Chronicle of Higher Education offers ways to incorporate play into college classrooms. In the complete essay, linked here, author Sarah Rose Cavanaugh fleshes out each of the strategies offered in this streamlined version, and for most provides a research-based rationale and ideas on how to make it happen in a Zoom or Teams environment. For those who are content with just the facts, here are Cavanaugh’s 5 ideas/arguments for incorporating play into college classrooms, all of them tweakable for multiple disciplinary contexts:
- Play is a natural way to learn, as in doing so we are usually testing possibilities, strengthening cognitive and physical repertoires and imagining future scenarios that demand emergent knowledge and skills.
- Play offers mental breaks from dire news, a particularly compelling truth when students’ media feeds and daily conversations teem with danger and threat from phenomena over which they have very little—if any—control
- Take a few minutes (3-5 max) to have every one find a fun gif that either demonstrates a concept you are studying or captures how the learning is going, then do some screen-sharing in breakout rooms or with the whole group. It’s amazing how apt and memorable some of those gifs can be, so this strategy has the additional bonus of making course material adhere to brains in lasting ways.
- Use improv “warm up” or community-building activities and don’t call them icebreakers, as the first rule of icebreakers is that everyone hates icebreakers. Have students find an object in their room or home that could demonstrate a concept from the course; have a snowball discussion in which students move from pairs to quads to octets building on conversation about cases, examples or dilemmas relevant to concepts they are studying.
- Move, move, move: 30-second yoga stretches, twists or jumps are investments of time that re-start waning attention spans and bring everyone in on the oxygenating fun, even if a few videos turn quickly off.