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Animal behaviourists see play as having various specific functions. These include developing physical musculature, rehearsing and acquiring skills required for adult life, getting rid of surplus energy, and learning how to navigate a harsh and predatory environment. We may feel that these, and many more, are also features of our own relationship with play. Or perhaps we take the notion of play for granted and don't really think about its complexities and its value in our day to day existence, beyond having fun or letting off steam. And perhaps we have never thought of play as an essential tool in our personal survival kit. In this interactive webinar, we will reappraise what we know about play, how it features in our lives, where and why we play, and how play may matter to us more than we realise.

Things you need to bring to this webinar:

• A handful of building bricks (LEGO or others, depending on what you have to hand. If you don't have bricks and can't get hold of any, then make yourself a little bundle of things you might like to build with. Not a whole truck full though – we only have an hour :)
• A piece of paper and a pen
• A self-portrait that you have drawn - take no more than 3 minutes to produce this.

Alison James is a Professor, National Teaching Fellow, Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (now AdvanceHE), a professional coach and an accredited LEGO® Serious Play® facilitator.

She has had a long and varied career in academia; until December 2019 she was Director of Academic Quality and Development and Professor of Learning and Teaching at the University of Winchester. Prior to that, she was Associate Dean Learning & Teaching at the University of the Arts, London at the London College of Fashion. Over her career, she has worked in different institutions and across all levels and subjects as an educational and staff developer, researcher, policy maker, manager and teacher.  Underpinning all of these roles has been a commitment to creative, playful and interactive approaches to pedagogy, a blend of realism and optimism (sometimes tough in our present educational climate) and plenty of room for humour. At the heart of her teaching and research lies a commitment to and interest in the individual journey – how people become who they are, how they learn, and what drives them in life. This is one reason that drove her to train as a coach, to support people in workplace roles and also to develop and establish student coaching practices.

At the heart of her scholarship, you will find a fascination with the three elements of creativity, imagination and play and how these fit with adult and advanced learning in all kinds of contexts. These interests underpin her publications, two of which are Engaging Imagination; helping students become creative and reflective thinkers (2014) with Professor Stephen Brookfield and The Power of Play in Higher Education: Creativity in Tertiary Learning with Dr Chrissi Nerantzi. The first of these is a staple on university teacher training courses internationally and the second has seen its chapters downloaded 13,871 times in 26 countries (December 2019 statistics).

Alison left institutional life at the end of 2019 to focus on research sponsored by the Imagination Laboratory Foundation which aims to extend understanding of how play-based and playful learning is used in HE, with a particular interest in the teaching of management concepts and theories. While its main field of enquiry is higher education in the sense of universities and institutions, her findings are also revealing interesting connections with playful practices in the workplace. Most importantly, they are showing how the importance of play in adult life goes far beyond the confines of just having fun when the work is done.

Hand in hand with her academic work and play practice/research is Alison’s activity with LEGO® Serious Play®. She uses (and adapts) this methodology extensively within and outside HE to enable people to reflect on and explore matters important to them. Topics have included sustainability, evaluation, Erasmus partnerships, team identity, strategy and direction, handling change, overcoming stuckness, threshold concepts, relationships, widening participation and countless others. She has worked with educators, corporate executives, conference teams, students, public audiences and many others to explore topics and questions in this way.

To find out more about Alison please visit her website at https://engagingimagination.com
Dale Sidebottom
Professor Alison James