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PLAYTrack Bootcamps


Play is an ambiguous and fleeting human endeavor, sometimes appearing as a brief flash during serious work, and sometimes as a prolonged shared activity mediated by tools, toys or imagination alone. So how do we study play experiences, as they float into work, learning and social interaction? This Bootcamp series explores this question and within this addresses methodology and approaches from different research fields.  



Technology, toys and the future of play

Wi-fi enabled dolls. Console games requiring physical action figures to use different characters in the game world. Programming toys hope to seed computational thinking and the joy of coding in stil younger and younger kids. We have come a long way since toy steam engines and wind-up elephants. But how does the march towards marriage of digital and physical toys affect fun, learning, thinking and the way kids play together? What are the frontiers of play in the age of digital media, smart homes and the internet of toys?

Meredith Bak: "Historicizing High-Tech Toys: Motives and Methods"


Giovanna Mascheroni: Exploring the affordances of internet-connected robotic toys


Bieke Zaman: "Technological transformations for and with children"


Ludwig Maul: Boosting Creativity through Digital-Physical Play



PlayThings: understanding play with toys

The PlayThings research bootcamp supplies tools for studying play though the lens of toys. Although some forms of play are imaginary, bodily or interpersonal, play is almost always an interaction with the surrounding material environment. And nowhere is play more clearly visible in our culture, than in children’s and adults’ interactions with toys.

From imaginary transformations of sticks into guns and magic wands, over function and role specific toys like dollhouses and pirate hats. From rough and tumble play facilitated by playground architecture, too elaborate emergent creations and narratives emerging from construction projects with sand, LEGO or MineCraft blocks. Toys enable, inspire and sometimes supply constraints for play but als act as social and physical invitations to join into interactions with players and the world – and for researchers to observe and decode how play unfolds.

This bootcamp collects four exiting international researchers’ methods for studying play: From toys, to digital playthings and the material properties of playground spaces.

Katriina Heljakka: "From the Wow, Flow and Glow to How"

This presentation approaches play and playthings from the following methodological perspectives: The principles of studying play(ful) engagement, hybridity of play materials and the generations of players. 

Helle M. Skovbjerg: "Play Tools and Practice – Ethnographical Investigations"

In order to understand play situations as interactions between children and play tools, the triangulation between materialities, body and practice must be emphasized. Based on a fieldwork in two schools in Denmark, this talk will address the interplay from the child´s perspective, as a body doing certain practices by taking approaches from phenomenology and practice theory when framing methodological choices made in the fieldwork. Principles from visual ethnography, such as video and production of photos made by the children were used as example of a practical methodology. I introduce aspects of play understood as a dynamic between materiality, body and practice with the goal of inspiring not only for new design approaches for play, but also to underline the importance of understanding play and play materialities within a broader cultural practice.

Helle Marie Skovbjerg is Professor in play at the Design School Kolding. Helle Marie Skovbjerg research is working on conceptualizing play through the “mood perspective” with different play materialities as a source of inspiration for children´s play. Helle Marie Skovbjerg is interested in the interaction across traditional dichotomies as technology/non-technology, and particularly how these practices shift in relation to toys and media.

Alexia Metz: "Toy play through a transactional lens"

Participation can be conceptualized as an interaction between the task, the person, and the environment. Changes in any of the these impact participation, either facilitating or inhibiting it. I’ll apply this transactional model to child’s play: describing the task (play), the person (the player), and the environment (playmates, play spaces, and playthings). When these elements interact, a child participates in playing. We’ll consider the characteristics of each of these elements and the benefits of playing. I’ll use a study of my own to illustrate how this model can guide research. We focused on the interaction of the person (toddlers) and the environment (playthings in a play space), measuring how changes in the number of playthings in the play space impacts playing. Specifically, we tested the hypothesis that an environment with fewer toys leads to higher quality of play for toddlers. I’ll talk about how we designed the study, working to isolate the variables and measure the desired outcomes reliably. Each participant (n=36) engaged in supervised, individual free play sessions under two conditions: Four Toy and Sixteen Toy. With fewer toys, participants had fewer incidences of toy play, longer durations of toy play, and played with toys in a greater variety of ways. We’ll discuss the limitations of the study, its interpretation and application, and future research ideas

Dr. Alexia Metz’ background includes occupational therapy (BA, Eastern Michigan University) and neuroscience (PhD, Northwestern University). She now teaches in a clinical doctorate program for occupational therapy at the University of Toledo. Her research and clinical interests, including children and their everyday tasks, children with special needs and their families, sensory processing, and interprofessional collaboration. She uses use both quantitative and qualitative methods in my research. The courses I teach include neuroscience, children’s therapy, and occupational therapy’s role across the lifespan.

Seth Giddings: "Everyday moments of postdigital play"

This talk focuses on small-scale, intimate and everyday moments of play. I am particularly interested in the coming together of the human and the technological in the constitution of everyday play: the relationships between human hands and minds with toys, videogame systems and the environments of play.

The methods I use are a mix of theoretical enquiry (theories of play, technoculture, materiality, media) and empirical work in the tradition of ethnography and participant observation.

Together, this becomes ‘microethology’: ‘micro-’ because of the small scales and timeframes of the playful events described; and ‘ethology’ because we are interested in the study of behaviour - technological behaviour and agency as well as the human.

This bootcamp tacl will especially draw on my work on the microethology of LEGO, from studies of children playing across virtual and actual LEGO (videogames and physical toys) to recent work on actual LEGO play as technological and imaginative, and to current developments in hybrid toy-game systems such as LEGO Dimensions. I will address some of the methodological challenges in capturing and interpreting this ‘postdigital’ play.


Seth Giddings is Associate Professor of Digital Culture and Design at Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton, UK. His research and teaching address the design, testing and everyday use of playful technologies from popular videogames, participatory media and toys to experimental mobile games and robots. His book Gameworlds: virtual media & children’s everyday play is published by Bloomsbury (2014). He is a co-author of New Media: a critical introduction (Routledge 2009) and the editor of a companion volume The New Media & Technocultures Reader (Routledge 2011). He is currently working on Toy Theory: materiality and imagination in postdigital play.


Co-creation with children in research and in practice

This two-day bootcamp approaches co-creation with children from two different perspectives: the researcher’s and the practitioner’s. Day 1 is dedicated to theoretical and methodological aspects of designing co-creative research projects. Day 2 treats practical tools and ethical dimensions when children enter into co-creative processes with private and public sector professionals and it includes hands-on sessions. Together the two days explore the assumption that if adults and children are to enter into co-creative processes as symmetrical partners, strategies to handle the inherent status difference that exists in any child-adult relationship are necessary.

Day 1: Documentation techniques and research methods

Alison Clark: "Participatory methods with young children"

Mara Krechevsky: "Making Learning Visible"

Amanda Bateman: "Stories about children’s competencies"

William Parnell: "What happens when we make learning visible?

Jeanne Marie Iorio: "Making place and more-than-human relationships visible through Documentation"


DAY 2: Children as equal partners in co-creative processes?

Jeanne Marie Iorio: "Walking with place"

William Parnell: "The Power of Images and of Young Toddlers: Intersections of Digital Cameras and 100 Languages"

Alison Clark: "Ethical considerations in working with participatory methods"

Amanda Bateman: "Introducing Conversation Analysis in Early Childhood and Learning Stories"


"What´s going on in there?" - Means and challenges of doing research with and about kids

This bootcamp is dedicated to developing, using and disseminating methods to study Play and Playfulness and as if it would not be hard enough to investigate these topics in adults, they by definition bear a special interest in children - with kids being the actual experts in Play and Playfulness. The event is therefore the first in a planned series dedicated to expose the challenges as well as some tested solutions of studying this specific participant group (with a focus on primary school age). 

Azzurra Ruggeri: Active and Ecological learning

Katherine McAuliffe: Measuring cooperative decision-making in children

Katharine (Kate) Cowan: Multimodal Methodologies for Researching Young Children’s Play


Pretend Play & Imagination

For a long time, pretend and imaginative play have been thought to reflect a critical feature of human children’s cognitive and social development. This bootcamp brings together four researchers to present their own work and engage in most interesting discussions about how play and imagination affect the way that children come to learn about the social and natural world.  

Jacqueline D Woolley: Development of the fantasy-reality distinction

Alison Gopnik: The evolution of childhood and the purpose of immaturity

Robert Lecusay: Why Preschool Teachers' Perspectives on Early Childhood Pretend & Exploatory Play?

Stephanie Carlson: Role Play - Significance for Cognitive and Social Development


(Some) Qualitative lenses on play and learning

Thorkild Hanghøj: Collaborate or die! Studying different aspects in game-based learning environments

Stine Liv Johansen: Media Use and Children's play

Mariane Hedegaard: Play observation and how this has to be anchored in theoretical concepts to allow interpretation

Lars Geer Hammershøj: Indications of the cultivation and creative processes of play

About the Bootcamp

In this bootcamp, we zoom in on the ways play behaviors, play experiences and playful learning can be observed through qualitative lenses. The presenters discuss their work in play research and describe their chosen tools ranging from field studies in video game- and technology infused classrooms, to conversation analyses of children’s play interactions.


Cultural Transmission Studies

About the Bootcamp

The topic of the Bootcamp is "Cultural transmission studies", i.e. methods exploring how we learn across generations, how cultural practises evolve, diverge and converge over time and what are the cognitive requirements for (and benefits of) such cultural evolution. In addition to observational studies in animals and humans, a growing field of research is bringing these processes to the lab (simulating several generations within a short time), allowing experimental control of environmental and strategic conditions and thus a more nuanced understanding of the potential cognitive mechanisms involved. 

Kristian Tylén: Cultural transmission in the lab: some central tenets

Nicolas Fay: The Cultural Evolution of Human Communication Systems

Emma Flynn: Investigating cultural transmission with children

Rachel Kendal: Comparative studies of cultural transmission and cumulative culture.

Cathrine Hasse: Cultural transmission or cultural transformation


(Some) Quantitative lenses on play and learning

About the Bootcamp

In this bootcamp, we zoom in on the ways play behaviors, play experiences and playful learning, with a special focus on gaming, can be observed through quantitative lenses. The presenters discuss their work in play and learning research and describe their chosen tools ranging from stealth assessment of games designed for learning to structural equation modeling. The bootcamp is set up to allow participants to gain an overview and inspiration on the methods discussed in general, as well as playful learning more specifically.

Andreas Lieberoth: Introduction to the field

David Williamson Shaffer: Quantitative Ethnography

Valerie Shute: Stealth assessment in video games


Engagement, Immersion and Presence in Media and Real World Experiences

About the Bootcamp

Commonly, the terms  "immersion" and "engagement" are used more or less specific to refer to the degree of involvement in an interaction/experience, in the strongest case causing not only pleasure and enjoyment, but also having  positive influence on memory and opinion building, as well as/or possibly productivity/creativity. As such, the cognitive states correlated to this involvement have been of equal interest for scholars as well as practitioners from various disciplines keen on exploring or building on/fostering of these effects. Such further investigations and interventions critically depend on tools to qualitatively and quantitatively describe the states in focus. In this bootcamp we have invited 8 speakers that have used/developed different methods serving this purpose ranging from questionnaires to imaging data and from the lab to classroom interventions.

Katalin Balint & Brendan Rooney: Reading the mind in films

Matt Bezdek: Neuroimaging methods to measure the mind at the movies

Stephen Hinde: The dual task instrument

Andreas Lieberoth: Having to play versus wanting to play

Félix Schoeller: Aesthetic chills as a measure of engagement/emotion

Mette Steenberg: Engagement in reading

John Mason: Engagement in the classroom