Media Technology MSc

Course Material “Playful & Creative Science”

Fall 2019
by Bas Haring and Maarten Lamers

Media Technology MSc program, Leiden University

Doing academic research is a major component and educational goal of the Media Technology MSc program. This course offers a logical continuation of the course "Research Fundamentals". Whereas that course is more about commonplace science practices, "Playful & Creative Science" discusses unconventional, playful ways of doing science. The course is organized along three main steps in the scientific cycle: (i) asking questions; (ii) executing research; and (iii) formulating answers.

The objective of this course is to show how scientists have been playful and creative in those three mentioned steps. To achieve this, the course

  • explains that scientists are less restricted to all kinds of rules, than often thought-and-taught;
  • gives confidence to students to find own ways within science;
  • helps students being playful along the above mentioned three steps in the scientific cycle;
  • shows that scientists (sometimes do) produce other outputs than just scientific articles, and provides numerous inspiring examples of such "other" output.

Class attendance is compulsory and an active in-class attitude is expected of students. Lectures are combined with class discussions, homework assignments, and student presentations.

Richard Feynman

Lecturers: Bas Haring and Maarten Lamers
Teaching assistant: Dorottya Márton (email address in Blackboard)
Location: room 413, Snellius building
Schedule: see the Media Technology calendar
Level, credits: level 500, 6 EC
Language: English
Requirements: - attendance in all classes
- a good grasp of verbal and written English
- active participation in class
- a completed bachelor degree

For a passing final grade,
(a) the overall grade must be 6 or higher, and
(b) all assignments must be completed 5.5 or higher, and
(c) all classes must have been attended.
Evaluated works include various homework reading tests and a final project.

Communication: Media Technology Forum and Blackboard.
Literature: no book, selected reading materials.
Homework: Homework must be submitted via the course Blackboard page before class on the due date.

Willem Johan Kolff

Tentative Course Schedule

Date Lecture
Homework due Topic
Nov 8 1 - Teacher introduction.
Course introduction & history.
The research cycle.
Unconventional questions.
Nov 15 2 Read [Skinner]
and [Vienken]
Unconventional methods (ad hoc)
Nov 22 3 Read [Levitt, p.90-109]
and [Althöfer]
Unconventional methods (data)
Nov 27,
4 Read
[Levitt, p. 19-38 & 45-51]
and [Chen]
Unconventional output.
Dec 6 5 Read [Brasseur] and
Lookup Prof. Robert Dur.
Guest lecture by Prof Dr Robert Dur.
Dec 11 - Find research no class, but homework due.
Dec 13 6 - Unconventional output.
Jan 15 - Project paper no class, but paper due.
Jan 17
7 - Project presentations


Lookup Robert Dur

Lookup Prof. Dr. Robert Dur online, and gather some information about him and his work. No need to write it down, but you may be asked to explain what you found about him in class.

Find Playful or Creative Research

This homework assignment can be done alone or in couples of two. Find a scientific study that you consider to have a playful or creative research question or method. Do not use an example that was mentioned in class.

Write a paper of max 500 words, meeting these requirements:

  • In at most half of your text, describe the study. Mention when it was done, who did it and where they were from.
  • In the remainder of your paper, argue what you find playful or creative about the study. Perhaps by comparing it to more conventional works from the same field.
  • Provide a full reference to the study, and possibly a weblink.
  • Give your work a title and add your name(s) on it (at top of document, obviously).

Also, prepare to verbally present your work in max 2 minutes during class.

Evaluation criteria include: Is it indeed an academic study, in an academic context? Is your description of the study understandable? Do you clearly state what you find playful or creative about it, and why? Does your argumentation make sense? Was it submitted properly and in time.

Submission: Submit your work as a single PDF file via the Blackboard Turnitin link. Make very sure that submission was completed correctly and that you receive a confirmation of it. Late submission may affect the evaluation.

Final Project Assignment

In this assignment you will do actual research, or generate unconventional output for an existing research. The focus of your work should be on being a creative or playful academic. You can do the assignment alone or in pairs (recommended). There are three ways of completing this assignment:

  1. You come up with a creative or playful research question. It should deepen existing insight or investigate a novel insight. Then you answer the question in a (possibly traditional) academic manner. Beware that this is a difficult thing to do, to come up with a creative or playful question. Also, playful or creative is different from just funny or absurd; realize this.
  2. You come up with a creative or playful method to answer an academic question. Here too, your work should deepen existing insight or investigate a novel insight.
  3. You find an existing academic study and express its outcomes in an unconventional manner. The target audience should be fellow academics from the field in question.

Give your project a title. For 1) and 2) write a condensed research paper of max 2000 words. Use a traditional academic structure for this, but do not include an abstract. For 3) write a paper of max 1200 words that describes the original study and argues your choices; do not include an abstract. Submit the paper before the stated deadline as a single PDF file via Blackboard.

Present your work in max 5 minutes on the presentation day. If you do the project with more than one person, then both should present together.

Evaluation criteria include: Is it indeed academic work (1 and 2), or does it describe academic outcomes (3)? Did you make creative or playful choices, and do these choices make sense? Does the written output and its argumentation make sense? Was it submitted properly and in time? Was it presented properly and clearly?

Resources & References

Some of the online resources may only be available from the university network, due to copyright, licensing and subscription restrictions.

[Althöfer] Ingo Althöfer (2013), Random Structures from Lego Bricks and Analog Monte Carlo Procedures, Friedrich-Schiller University, September 2013
[Andraka] Jack Andraka (2013), A Promising Test for Pancreatic Cancer... From a Teenager, TED Talk, February 2013
[Bateson] Patrick Bateson (2015), Playfulness and Creativity, Current Biology 25(1), pp R12-R16
[Brasseur] Lee Brasseur (2005), Florence Nightingale's Visual Rhetoric in the Rose Diagram, Technical Communication Quarterly 14(2), pp 161-182
[Broers] Herman Broers (2008), Dokter Kolff, Kunstenaar in Hart en Nieren (in Dutch), Medisch Contact, December 15 2008
[Bryson] Bill Bryson (2004), A Short History of Nearly Everything, Broadway Publishing (wikipedia)
[Chen] Xi Chen & William D. Nordhaus (2011), Using Luminosity Data as a Proxy for Economic Statistics, PNAS 108(21), pp 8589–8594
[La Ferrara] Eliana La Ferrara, Alberto Chong, Suzanne Duryea (2008), Soap Operas and Fertility: Evidence from Brazil, Inter-American Development Bank Research Department, Working Paper No. 633, June 2008
[Feynman] + Wikipedia entry Richard P. Feynman, slightly mad genius and famous lecturer
  + Richard P. Feynman (1999), The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, Perseus Books (
[Fisher] Len Fisher (2004), Weighing the Soul: The Evolution of Scientific Beliefs, Phoenix Publishing (Google Books,
[Jones] Glenn Jones (2005), Restaurant Seafood Prices Since 1850s Help Plot Marine Harvests Through History, Texas A&M University, research in progress
[Kaswell] Alice S. Kaswell (2003), Trinkaus: An Informal Look, Annals of Improbable Research, Vol 9(3), pp 4-15
[Levitt] + Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner (2005), Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, HarperCollins Publishers
  + Wikipedia entry Steven Levitt, rogue economist
[Milgram] + Jeffrey Travers & Stanley Milgram (1969), An Experimental Study of the Small World Problem, Sociometry, Vol 32(4), pp 425-443
  + Wikipedia entry Small World Phenomenon in which Milgram's "small world experiment" is described, and criticized.
  + Thomas McMillan, The Classic Study That Showed the World Is Smaller Than You Think, Psych 101 (Mar 14 2018),
  + A scene about the small world experiment from the movie The Experimenter (2015) about Stanley Milgram.
[Morgans] Julian Morgans (2019), The Story of the Couple Who Shagged in an MRI Machine for Science, article on, September 5 2019
[Piët] Donna Piët (2016), Objects in the Margins: Marginal Items in Sleutelbakjes, Master's Thesis for the Media Technology programme, Leiden University (The Netherlands)
[Rosenhan] + D. Rosenhan (1973), On being sane in insane places, Science, Vol 179, pp 250-258
  + A good description of the Rosenhan experiments
  + Wikipedia entry the Rosenhan experiments
[Skinner] B.F. Skinner (1960), Pigeons in a Pelican, American Psychologist, Vol 15(1), pp 28-37
[Venkatesh] Sudhir Venkatesh (2008), Gang Leader for a Day, Penguin Books
[Vienken] Jörg Vienken (2009), ‘Bioengineering for Life’: A Tribute to Willem Johan Kolff, Nephrology Dialysis Transplantation, Vol 24(8), pp 2299–2301