You are here

  1. Home


WHO button
WHY button
WHAT button
WHERE button
HOW button
EXTRA button

Who we are

In the Rumpus research group, we explore what fun is.

We are an interdisciplinary group, with expertise in childhood studies, psychology, educational futures, learning analytics, learning design, innovative pedagogies, international development, and mechanical engineering.

What brings us together is our interest in fun.
What is fun, and why is it important? When does fun matter? Is fun the essence of play? Can we have fun without play? How do fun, play and learning relate to one another?

Some of our research involves finding out what fun means to different people around the world.
In Nepal, children have told us that mountains are fun. In the UK, mountains themselves may not be fun, but rock climbing might be.

A key area of our research is about how fun relates to learning and education.
Is learning easier, or more enduring, when you are having fun? Is ‘making learning fun’ an empty promise? Is it a distraction? Or is it something that can have a real and lasting impact?

We work at The Open University and globally to understand fun – and to have fun while doing so.

Photo of Anna Childs


Anna Childs was once a lecturer in mechanical engineering and is now working in international development, via a route that took in research on student identity in immersive online communities. Highlights of this research include meeting her now husband in an underwater cave shared with a giant octopus, and a star role as the fairy godmother in the OU’s virtual pantomime in Second Life. Anna currently works closely with Childreach Nepal, a national charity that takes a child rights approach to school-based community development in rural Nepal, and believes that fun is massively underrated and under-explored in the theory of change that keeps children safe, healthy and in school. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. The Rumpus often meets at Anna’s house, where her guinea pigs are vocal contributors to the lively discussions.

Photo of Mimi Tatlow-Golden


Dr Mimi Tatlow-Golden was studying children’s self-concept factors in Dublin. She found a LOT of talk about fun in children’s accounts of the activities and people (and pets) that were most meaningful to them. She is delighted to have found colleagues at The Open University who are also interested in fun. Mimi is a Director of the OU’s Centre for Children and Young People’s Wellbeing – CCW: Body Mind and Media and she also studies aspects of children’s lives such as food, digital media, school, and their rights. She consults for the World Health Organization and works with colleagues at universities in Oslo, Liverpool, Dublin, Australia and lots of other places.

Photo of Rebecca Ferguson


Dr Rebecca Ferguson first met other members of the RUMPUS team while exploring educational futures in SecondLife. Working with teenagers to design an island, discover the local laws of physics, race boats, and uncover the history of the world proved to be enormous fun. We have retained that sense of fun in all our collaborations since then. Rebecca is still investigating educational futures, particularly in relation to learning at scale and learning analytics. She is an executive member of the Society for Learning Analytics Research, academic coordinator of the FutureLearn Academic Network (FLAN) and lead author on the annual Innovating Pedagogy reports series.



Professor Kieron Sheehy is interested in the relationship between learning and fun, and how different conceptualisations of learning influence how fun is constructed and expressed. This is much more interesting that it sounds. He has worked previously with other members of RUMPUS in various ways, including developing innovative pedagogies with new technologies. He is interested in Skunkworks approaches to research development and this led to the RUMPUS, where he has acquired a new respect for Guineas Pigs.

Photo of Mark Childs


Mark Childs entered Higher Education 20 years ago as an administrator before making up the numbers on a research team, then was passed off as a researcher when a nearby VLE project needed one at short notice. He has been researching and teaching about educational technology ever since; and has not yet been found out. Mark’s PhD was on learning in Second Life, the highlights of which were meeting his now wife in an underwater cave shared with a giant octopus and playing the devil in a medieval mystery play. Mark has been part of the Playful Learning special interest group and conference since the start, where this year he attempted his own approach at pirate stand-up.

Photo of Sarah Huxley


Sarah Huxley's PhD research will dive into Exploring the role and meaning of ‘fun’ in non-formal learning processes in multiple cultures. The interdisciplinary study will draw upon education, anthropology and human geography. The analytical framework will include examining inter/intra generational learning processes, as well as how spaces/places shape social relations ('spatiality'). She will be working closely with Coaches Across Continents (CAC), whose aim is to facilitate learning (and personal and collective change) via ‘fun’ processes through non-competitive soccer-related games. This is an assumption embedded in a lot of learning-focused (non formal) development work, but has not been examined or explained. Sarah's hypothesis is that ‘fun’ is interconnected to the power of play, but remains undervalued, understood and under-utilised in educational practices. It remains secondary to formal schooling, and she wants to explore if there is evidence as to why it should be, an integral part of children’s learning processes.

Sarah has 20 years experience as a social development specialist in International Development focused on children and youth. She is driven by creating and facilitating opportunities for young people to have a meaningful role in shaping their own futures. A particular interest, is learning processes and behaviour change in non-formal settings and spaces. Her work in development has always encountered narratives and explorations of tools relating to ‘creativity’, ‘empowerment’ and ‘participation’.

When Sarah is not busy hunched over her desk, she can be found on the Norfolk coast - rock pooling and chasing after her unruly dog.

Photo of Emily Dowdeswell


Emily Dowdeswell is a Post Graduate Research Student at the OU’s WELS/CREET hub, working with Dr Mimi Tatlow-Golden and Prof. Kieron Sheehy and the RUMPUS research group. After a first degree in social anthropology (BA Archaeology and Anthropology), she worked in the music industry and almost became a lawyer before returning to education to study a masters in the arts, creativity and education. Her doctoral research will explore with children their perspectives of fun in the hope of understanding how we can better engage with fun for the purpose of learning. Perhaps she will discover how we can better engage with learning for the purpose of fun!

Photo of Alexandra Okada


Dr. Alexandra Okada is an educational researcher, honorary lecturer and a senior fellow of the Higher Education Academy. She examines “FUN” in the context of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) to help learners, educators, parents, technologists, researchers and policy makers foster scientific literacy through engaging science. Her academic work centres on building new frameworks, methods and tools for learners to ENJOY the process of developing and extending their competences scientifically in context. Alexandra is a research member of the Association of Science Education in the UK, the head of teachers’ professional development network for Engaging Science in the UK and in Brazil.