University of Cambridge teams up with Lego to launch ‘professorship of play’
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Has anyone ever told you that having a love for building imaginary worlds out of Lego blocks was a pointless hobby and wouldn’t get you anywhere?

Well, now you can prove them wrong, as the prestigious University of Cambridge is looking for a professor of play, development, and learning.

The professorship is funded by a £4 million endowment from the Lego Foundation, which was also used to establish the Center for Research on Play in Education, Development, and Learning (PEDAL).

The successful candidate will not only lead PEDAL and determine the direction of its research, but will also be able to enjoy all the perks accorded to any Cambridge professor, including a cushy salary averaging £83,981 annually.

The centre will examine the importance of play and playfulness in education around the world with an aim to produce research which supports excellence in education so that children are equipped with 21st century skills like problem solving, team work, and self-control.

Professor Anna Vignoles, interim director of PEDAL and a member of Cambridge University’s faculty of education, told the Guardian that the value of play is “relatively under-researched”.

“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,” she explained.

Not just anyone will fit the bill, though. The job posting on the university’s website states that they’re looking for “outstanding scholars in the field of educational or developmental psychology in early years development”.

Despite having no involvement in the selection process, the Lego Foundation says it is hoping for a candidate with a “childlike mindset”.

Bo Stjerne Thomsen, global head of research for the Lego Foundation, specified 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.”

Stjerne Thomsen added that through the centre’s research, the foundation hoped 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.

“For us, this is a unique opportunity to build research and interventions that can inform government policy, and also teachers – who are very good at teaching, but need other perspectives on the curriculum,” he said.

Vignoles, however, clarified that the professorship is a research and teaching role, not an advocacy role: “We don’t know what the impact of play is on particular outcomes. We’re going into this to investigate it.”

If you feel that you tick all the boxes, then you had better be quick – the deadline for applications is this Friday (January 20)!

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