The Power of Play in Higher Education: A Conversation with Alison James


Why are academics encouraged to be rigorous and exhausted, instead of innovative and engaged? What learning outcomes are we sacrificing by being so serious? Dr. Alison James joins us to share insights from her research and practice of emphasizing play in higher education. This episode explores:

  • How having fun can strengthen problem solving skills and learning outcomes.
  • Why higher education doesn’t take play, creativity, and fun seriously enough.
  • What led her to prioritize play when other educators weren’t.
  • A discussion of her books The Value of Play in Higher Education, and The Power of Play in Higher Education.

Our guest is: Dr. Alison James, who is Professor Emerita of the University of Winchester. She is the author of numerous articles and publications on play and creativity in university learning, and of the three year study The Value of Play in HE, supported by the Imagination Lab Foundation and available free here. She is the co-editor, with Chrissi Nerantzi, of The Power of Play in HE: Creativity in Tertiary Learning, and the co-author, with Stephen D. Brookfield, of Engaging Imagination: Helping Students Become Creative and Reflective Thinkers.

Our host is: Dr. Christina Gessler, who is a freelance book editor. She has served as content director and producer of the Academic Life podcast since she launched it in 2020. The Academic Life is proud to be an academic partner of the New Books Network.

Listeners to this episode may also be interested in:

  • Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life, by Dacher Keltner
  • Hanging Out: The Radical Power of Killing Time, by Sheila Liming
  • Enchantment: Awakening Wonder in an Anxious Age, by Katherine May
  • The Fun Habit: How the Pursuit of Joy and Wonder Can Change Your Life, by Dr. Mike Rucker
  • The Well-Gardened Mind: The Restorative Power of Nature, by Sue Stuart-Smith
  • This conversation about seeking meaning instead of happiness
  • This conversation about the importance of spending time in nature
  • This conversation about the need to take a break from overworking and underliving
  • This conversation about belonging and the science of creating human connections
  • This conversation about the value of living a “good-enough” life

Welcome to the Academic Life! Join us here each week to learn from experts inside and outside the academy, and around the world, and embrace the broad definition of what it truly means to live an academic life. Missed any of the 150+ Academic Life episodes? You can find them all archived here. And check back soon: we’re in the studio creating more episodes for your academic journey—and beyond!

Your Host

Christina Gessler

Dr. Christina Gessler is the creator, show host, and producer of the Academic Life podcast. She holds a PhD in U.S. history.
View Profile