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Archaeologist Aris Politopoulos launches Histories We Play as part of new Leiden Teacher’s Academy position

Anyone who knows Aris Politopoulos will be aware of his passion for teaching. Almost winning the Leiden University Teaching Award in 2020, he is known for his use of digital tools to improve his classes. Now he has been accepted to the Leiden Teacher’s Academy. ‘Here I can meet people with innovative ideas and get inspiration for my own teaching activities.’

Histories We Play

Aris applied for a position at the Leiden Teacher’s Academy for obvious reasons. ‘I am really invested in education, and I am constantly trying to develop new methods for teaching archaeology.’ For his application he needed to propose a project to work on. ‘My project is called Histories We Play. I want to employ play and storytelling as a way to teach students about archaeology, but also to teach them how to tell affective and engaging (hi)stories to a wider audience.’

Stories matter

Asked for an example of this, Aris looks back at the Honours Course he taught. ‘The past two years I have been part of the Honours Course Past at Play, together with Angus Mol and Sybille Lammes, in which we used video games, board games, as well as game design as tools to think about the past.’ Stories, Aris points out, matter. ‘We tell stories about the past all the time, and those stories have shaped modern societies in a way. These stories about the past usually deal with kings, power, and big men. We need to flip the narrative, and start focusing on more diverse stories, like the experiences of lower classes and those of women.’

Who needs an Alexander when you have a Charmander?

150 Pokémon

Play can help tell these diverse stories. ‘It is often through play that people can learn unexpected things. Scholars looking at play have investigated this. Since it is something that is fun to do, it is something that people want to engage with.’ He laughs. ‘For example, when I was a kid I knew all 150 Pokémon by heart, but not all Greek historic figures. Video games tell unique and evocative stories, and through a combination of narrative and play, you have the potential to learn.’

Play and learn

Part of Aris’ involvement in the Leiden Teacher’s Academy will be to focus on this project. ‘Furthermore I will be involved in things like the Leiden Teacher’s Academy’s blog, education workshops, and any other activities.’ If all goes according to plan, Aris will teach an elective seminar in which his students will make their own game. ‘All games that are developed in this course will then be exhibited for people to play.’ Play… and learn.

About the Leiden Teacher's Academy

The Leiden Teachers’ Academy aims to reward top talents in education and stimulate educational innovation. Lecturers who are selected as Teaching Fellows join the Teachers' Academy and are awarded a grant for educational innovation projects. The Teachers’ Academy also organises an annual symposium on innovation in education. A strong incentive for a university-wide qualitative improvement of education.

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