Mondays at 12:14 and 42 seconds UNCG faculty, staff, and students are engaged in an innovative pedagogical play-to-learn approach coined as Monday Play.
Championed by Dr. Omar Ali, interim dean of the UNCG Lloyd International honors college and associate professor of comparative African diaspora history, Monday Play is part of a new human development and pedagogical approach that uses play as a development tool. The approach engages participants by using improvisation and games to learn, grow and create knowledge as a collective whole.
The conversation about play and development is emerging at the forefront of the psychology and human development agenda across the country. In September, an article in Psychology Today, Psychologist and psychology research professor at Boston College Peter Gray connected lack of play and the decline in student resilience in higher education. Gray asserts, “… [there has been a] dramatic decline, over the past few decades, in children’s opportunities to play, explore, and pursue their own interests away from adults. Among the consequences, I have argued, are well-documented increases in anxiety and depression, and decreases in the sense of control of their own lives.”
According to Ali, who has spent his 22 year career in Academia researching human development, this is a different yet necessary approach to human development and growth.
Monday Play uses the theatrical concept of improv to help create successful work and classroom spaces. Through improvisation, participants are able to learn to affirm and build on what others say without negating each other’s ideas and statements. Ali emphasizes adding as example, “The classic “Yes, And ” in theatre improv is something that is applicable to all areas of life … This is what we are encouraging … AND we are pioneers in higher education to create spaces (non-assessed spaces) where we as a campus community can engage in this practice.”
While most people seem to be particularly interested in this approach from a pedagogical perspective, Ali adds that this is not just a classroom thing, it applies across the university.
“This approach challenges the University to rethink how we interact with each other–how we create a community where everybody grows and develops.”
Ali highlights that across the country, in different spaces, disciplines, and industries the definition of success is often centered on the individual. Recently Ali challenged students at the Lloyd International Honors College at UNCG to be pioneers by helping redefine this definition of success. “We still need to keep our GPA’s high to be in the program, but we also want you to serve,” he tells students. “We want to redefine success as being a person who goes to different spaces and creates an environment where everybody grows.”
Honor’s student and Developmental Psychology major and Monday Play advocate Dominique Edwards asserts that play is an essential tool for human development. “Development is lifelong” she continues “play isn’t just for children. It is for the classroom, it is for the workplace, and it is for the community.”
As a student herself, Edwards sees the benefits of play in the classroom. “In most classrooms, participation is a big part of the a student’s success, and in reality there are students that have an extremely hard time participating because they are too shy or they have perceived short comings that keep them from speaking up in class.” Edwards and Ali both believe that introducing play to the classroom allows students to get out of their shell and get into the performer’s mentality.
This play-to-grow approach is also making its way into the UNCG workplace. Sarah Kasik, Professional Development Coordinator in the Human Resources office is suggesting Monday Play for faculty and Staff Members. Kasik, who attends every Monday Play time sees the benefits of this approach in the workplace. “We host a professional development series for faculty and staff every couple of months, and last year Dr. Ali introduced this play-to-grow approach at one of the workshops. Everyone loved it, and participants requested more play time!”
According to Kasik it helps participants who join in the workplace further accomplish the work-life balance. “The fact that we do this on Mondays sets the tone for the week, and it also changes the work environment. It doesn’t feel like you are working and essentially people are motivated to work harder because of the climate of the workplace.”
Dr. Ali understands that everyone isn’t in the position to play. “Some will say this is not serious stuff, there are more pressing matters –budget cuts, raises, etc. play is not serious- I agree, but are we going to mope around about it or do something positive? Maybe we can create new ways of understanding the serious things happening in the world by taking a moment to play and think together.”
Monday Play is open to all members of the UNCG community. Mondays at 12:14 and 42 seconds to 1:00 p.m. at the Faculty Center on College Avenue.
Story by Nancy Maingi, contributor