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Playing with Lego: Collecting qualitative data

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Published: 18 May 2020

The UK is the second most popular country for international students, with 19.6% of the total student population coming from outside the European Union in 2019 (according to a study by the Higher Education Statistics Agency). But making that move from your home country to come to study in the UK can be daunting.

Senior Lecturer in undergraduate Nursing Benjamin Ajibade thinks he’s found an innovative way for researchers to help international students analyse their lived experiences - LEGO® 

He’s using the popular plastic brick toy to encourage students to tell their personal stories through metaphor, collecting qualitative research data along the way.

LEGO® Serious Play® is an open-sourced research method that involves having participants build their ideas using Lego bricks. 

Benjamin is using it to help international students discuss their barriers to success. The participants, all nursing students from Nigeria, were asked to build three-dimensional models out of LEGO® to compare their experiences of studying in Nigeria to the UK. 

We used LEGO® to prevent the bias that comes naturally from interviewing students you teach - Benjamin Ajibade, Senior Lecturer and Programme Manager in Undergraduate Nursing

The students built and analysed their models based on metaphors for their personal stories. They were able to express serious concerns, from cultural differences and self-esteem to using digital technology and family commitments. The models reflected their fears and included a scorpion, representing the stinging pain of the transition, and a diver making a ‘leap of faith’.

LEGO® Serious Play® was developed in the mid-1990s to help managers describe and challenge their views of their business. Participants build 3D LEGO® models in response to questions from the researcher. The models are then used as a basis for discussion and problem-solving.

Benjamin Ajibade is the Senior Lecturer and Programme Manager in Undergraduate Nursing at the University of Sunderland in London. His research interests include dementia studies, internationalisation and decolonisation of the curriculum and innovative methods of data collection, including LEGO® Serious Play® and gamification.