Open Source

Open/free/libre pedagogy and the right to play (leikkiä)

Ulla-Maaria Mutanen wrote a piece about design as play. The article is published in English in the Finnish Design Yearbook 2006. There are seven themes in the book: imagine, ease, flow, respect, play, dare and share. The terms would make a nice tag cloud.

Ulla-Maaria’s article is about “play”. In Finnish language there are two terms that are both translated into the English word “play”. These are “leikki” and “peli”. I assume that in Finnish Ulla-Maaria would have used the term “leikki” – not the word “peli”. The meaning of the word “leikki” is actually rather different from the English word “play”.

In a “play” (Finnish: peli) there are “voluntarily accepted but absolutely binding rules” (Huizinga, 1949). In “leikki” there are rules that can be changed anytime during the play (leikki). For instance, when children are playing with a dollhouse it is “leikki” (play), but when playing football it is a “peli” (play). When playing with dolls there are hardly rules. Boys can be girls and cows can fly, as long as the players agree that it is possible in that particular play (leikki). But when playing football you are expected to follow binding rules. There are exceptions. E.g. children playing football on the streets of Ciudad Bolivar in Bogotá may adapt the official rules of football to fit to the environment where they are playing at. Even in this case you do not have a right to change the rules while playing. In “leikki” (play) this is possible.

Ulla-Maaria wrote that free/libre/open source software development is for many developers some kind of “play” – again in Finnish I would call it “leikki”. In free/libre/open source software development peer review, collaborative authorship and the practice of releasing draft-versions during the process are essential. You try out (add your dolls to sit in a dinner table), you explain for your friends what you are doing (now the family is going to have dinner), your friend may intervene (I’ll put the mother to sit in the end of the table, because she is the head of the family), you may agree or negotiate about it (I think the dog of the family is the leader, let’s put him to sit in the end of the table) and you may anytime jump out of the box and make the whole family to live in a doghouse.

A real creative play (leikki) requires open space with very tiny objects and some tools. A sandbox or a beach is a good example. UNIX operating system is another good example. With a very little practice and with simple tools you can build a cake, castle or a whole city. Of course you must have the spirit to play and some friends to play with, but after this it works out pretty well.

So, am I now proposing that we should move from the current school practices to play in sandbox and with UNIX operating system? No, I am not. But when promoting innovation – cultural, social and technological – we should understand the role of playing (leikki) in it.

In pedagogy I would promote a harmony and balance between “serious study work” and “creative play” (leikki). They feed each other. If you have done (some serious) studies of sculpturing and art you probably will master better in a sandbox play. If you know your basic math and logic it will help you in the UNIX environment. Still the innovations are done in the sandbox and in the Unix environment – not while reading a textbook or sitting in a lecture room.

What I am worried about is that we are loosing the time and space for playing (leikki). University programs are full of courses, which you are expected to pass in a tight schedule. There is a pressure to make school days longer and to have more and more supervised extra-curriculum activities.

Fight for your right to play (leikkiä!)!

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