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With playful learning becoming more common, it makes sense that student assessments might also follow suit. Playful possibilities for assessment: Fluffy Ducks and the Queen’s Gambit by my CU Denver professor Remi Holden emphasizes that static rubrics are not effective measures of dynamic, playful learning. His argument speaks of his experience revamping the Educational Technology Master of Arts program at the University of Michigan-Flint. 


Lofty Goals of Educational Technology

This is not your ordinary program in educational technology. The goals of the program included the following (Holden, 2013):

  • Transforming how teaching and learning intersect with technology

  • Helping “pro-social tech-tinkerers” develop media that just might change the world

  • Sustaining communities of educators committed to immersive learning experiences


Playful Teaching & Learning

Remi and his process-oriented colleagues actively worked to experiment with their designs, embrace failure, and commit to reflection. Their focus was to engage students playfully over eliciting the “right” answers. In their process of playful pedagogy, the following principles were applied to courses (Holden, 2013):

  1. Play requires the acceptance of constraints

  2. Students should be playing with things (applications, codes, etc)

  3. Play assumes failure

  4. Playful teaching and learning fosters community


Products of Playful Learning

Playful learning can generate a generous variety of outcomes that challenge standards and think outside the box. Holden’s experience with the Global Program at Michigan University produced the following outcomes (2013):

  • An online economic justice simulation for high school students

  • Website & curricular resources about human rights in China

  • Community gardening in Michigan

  • Environmental conservation in Mexico

  • Global citizenship in the Congo

  • Social studies through digital and analog tools

Of course these projects have been dramatically simplified, but it is important to understand the grand scope of what can be produced from playful teaching and learning. There is no way to group these projects into categories, let alone assess them with a single rubric. It appears that self-directed learning and educational pull shaped the projects.


Assess(ment): Verb Over Noun

Playful learning is active and should be measured as such. Using a standardized rubric in any of the above examples seems a bit trite and could potentially squash their brilliance. What rubric standards could begin to capture a project’s essence?

  • Engaged learning?

  • International citizenship?

  • Courage within the possibility of failure?

  • Forward thinking?

Actively assessing a project insinuates it is alive and allows for discussion of the idea’s greatness. Additionally, assessing the product of playful learning requires an engaged educator. An educator who cannot simply check a box and never know his/her student’s abilities. By playfully challenging students to give their best effort, the same can be asked of teachers in assessing such learning.

Playful assessment completes the playful teaching and learning cycle..




Holden, J. (2013). Playful possibilities for assessment: Fluffy Ducks and the Queen’s Gambit. Retrieved from