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Lego and the University of Cambridge are looking for the world’s first professor of play

January 17 2017, 1:30 PM EST By Nikhail Gogia


Work hard, play hard. Life is all about balance, but what if we told you that you can work for one of the most coveted institutions in the world and be in charge of playing?

That's right, the University of Cambridge, in partnership with the Lego Foundation, are looking for the world's first professor of play. The position was created to head Cambridge's brand new Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development, and Learning, also known as Pedal. All applications for the role are due by this Friday, January 20.

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So what are the qualifications you might ask? The university plans to award the position to someone with a background in educational psychology in order to boost research on the topic of play in a child's development. However, Prof. Anna Vignoles, who is the interim director of Pedal for the time being, noted that one does not need previous experience as a professor. “There may be people applying for this post for whom this will be their first chair – it’s more about what they can bring in terms of their research,” says Vignoles.

The Lego Foundation elaborated further as their global head of research, Bo Stjerne Thomsen, noted that they are looking for someone with a "childlike mindset." Stjerne Thomsen went on to say that he's hoping for “an academic who is playful, extremely curious, open-minded, imaginative and creative – someone who can think of new ways of doing research and work across different disciplines.”

The position is being funded by the Lego Foundation, who owns 25% of the Lego business. They have already invested an endowment of £4 million to the University of Cambridge, which will be split up with £2.5 million going towards the professorship, and the remaining £1.5 million to the Pedal Centre. How the Pedal Centre will use this funding will be left up to the incoming professor of play, as the the foundation has pledged to commit to the final candidate even though they will not be involved in the hiring process. They will also continue to support the program for the indefinite future.

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“Children are now increasingly accessing early-years provision at very young ages,” says Vignoles. “There are a number of scholars who are working on interesting aspects of that in developmental psychology. We’re confident that we’ll attract an outstanding scholar.”

“The value of play is relatively under-researched,” Vignoles adds. “You have people who are claiming that it enhances learning, that it’s important, that it’s good for children’s wellbeing. All of that might be true, but actually there’s remarkably little evidence for that. The aim of the Pedal centre is to conduct rigorous research into the importance of play and how playful learning can be used to improve students’ outcomes.” 

The collaboration between the Lego Foundation and the University of Cambridge was initiated due to the university's experience in interdisciplinary play research, while also having a successful history in translating this research to policy-makers and practitioners.

Stjerne Tomsen went on to say that, “What we want is to get the UK government to encourage more playful learning in schools, rather than testing. If children are being taught with standardised assessments and results, those children will expect to receive assignments and be led towards pre-defined goals for the rest of their lives. But the skills you need now as an adult are collaboration, problem solving and coming up with ideas. In that sense, play is critical. You use your imagination to plan things, to predict outcomes, to understand how to solve a problem by looking at it from different perspectives.

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Do you think you have what it takes to become the new professor of play at the University of Cambridge? Stjerne Thomsen insists that you'll need to demonstrate a passion for research. 

“We hope the Lego professor will speak to the needs that exist in education right now – and we can point to what the attitudes to play are, how teachers teach and what parents expect from education. New research studies may fulfill gaps in academia, but we help our academic partners to address the question of how it would make sense for a government or teacher to use that research.”

Applications for the professorship are due on January 20. Will you be applying?!

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