Last week I posted on why I am committed to the project that moves TD 301 from a bricks-and-mortar class to one that meets online as a SMOC. I am not doing this project alone, however. I have two collaborators, Andrew Carlson and Laura Baggs, both of whom have significant expertise in teaching in general and with this course in particular.
Dr. Andrew Ian Carlson is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance where he is head of the B.A. in Theatre and Dance. He is also the managing director of the Oscar G. Brockett Center for Theatre History and Criticism.Dr. Carlson is a professional dramaturg, actor and teaching artist. In 2016, Dr. Carlson received the Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award. He also received the 2015-2016 Dad’s Association Teaching Fellowship and the 2015 award for outstanding Theatre and Dance faculty. Read his full bio here.
My other collaborator is Laura E. Baggs, a second-year Ph.D. student in the Performance as Public Practice Program and the Oscar G. Brockett Theatre History and Criticism Fellow. She is an artist-scholar who investigates gender and issues of in/equality through performance. Baggs comes to the Performance as Public Practice Ph.D. Program with a M.F.A. in theatre practice: staging Shakespeare from the University of Exeter and a M.A. in performance research from the University of Bristol. Read her full bio here.
My first response to the idea of doing an online version of Introduction to Theatre was that theatre classes do not belong online. In other classes, I have strict rules that prohibit technology in the classroom. I tell students that learning about theatre means learning how to be present with other human beings in a shared space and time. The first day of class, I tell them that when they are online, they are not present.
At the same time that the idea for this SMOC gained traction, I was teaching an Introduction to Theatre class for four hundred students. I taught passionately, exerting constant energy to make the class engaging, challenging and entertaining. But despite some successes, I had to admit that there were limitations. I did not always connect to students. Being in a shared space did not guarantee “presence.” During many classes, there was an inescapable anonymity that was at odds with my idealized version of the theatre classroom.
Later, my colleague Dr. Charlotte Canning challenged me to think of the possibility that our students relate to technology differently than we do. They have personal connections to YouTube artists and communicate constantly through blogs and social media. The interactions are meaningful and even intimate. I recognized that I had a bias against technology that may be getting in the way of teaching students.
Today I want to teach this class because it is online. I want to find out if I can meaningfully connect to students through a camera. I want to develop tools that deliver content more effectively because they are on online interfaces. I want to discover how to create a sense of “liveness” in this format. I want to explore structures that mirror well-constructed television shows, full of rising action, dramatic turns, and central questions that create dramatic tension. I want to explore what it might mean to be present with students who are not physically present.
As a second year PhD student in PPP I am very excited to be involved in developing TD 301 as a SMOC for primarily one reason: the unique pedagogical experience which I hope will translate into an effective and engaging learning environment.
I am fresh from my first semester teaching the current bricks-and-mortar version of TD 301 at UT. Something I thought a lot about before stepping foot into the 500+ person lecture hall on the first day of class was the place of technology in my classroom. Should I allow my students to have their phones out? Should I allow students to take notes on laptops? Should I ban cell phones and laptops all together? How much would a ban matter in such a large space? These questions were fueled by a desire to create an environment for my students which would be the most conducive for their learning. What’s better: taking notes by hand or typing them? I assumed that the more technology I allowed them to have at their fingertips the more opportunities I provided them to distract themselves.
The transformation of TD 301 into a SMOC turns my dilemma on its head as we have the opportunity to use technology and media to its fullest rather than fight against it. I think this opportunity to reimagine what we know about pedagogy based on the current bricks-and-mortar version of TD 301 will enrich my training and experience as an educator and prepare me to teach the students of tomorrow. And, perhaps more importantly, I hope a born-digital TD 301 will engage our students in yet unknown ways and meet them in the 21st century.