Drama Educators Are Innovators In Using Technology In Classrooms

The size of data, the ‘knowledge economy’ feels overwhelming. For this reason, I believe it’s useful to view case studies of what others are doing in applying technologies creatively, to see what is possible and how you stand it relation to the fast evolving scene. I recommend reading the case studies in Drama Education with Digital Technology (2009). The examples of classroom practices are quite inspirational. As Julie Dunn and John O’Toole explain, viewing the relationship between ‘the actual, the dramatic and the virtual’ does not mean cutting out the liveliness of embodied practices in the virtual space as “creating for all of us a bigger place to play.”  

What’s A Learning Object?

With this in mind, I am particularly keen to explore presentational software like ‘rapid authoring software’ as part of the liveliness of teaching through drama, while simultaneously considering the creation of learning objects.

According to Wikipedia, the concept of a ‘learning object’ in the virtual world of online learning is defined as

A collection of content items, practice items, and assessment items that are combined based on a single learning objective. … Learning objects go by many names, including content objects, chunks, educational objects, information objects, intelligent objects, knowledge bits, knowledge objects, learning components, media objects, reusable curriculum components, nuggets, reusable information objects, reusable learning objects, testable reusable units of cognition, training components, and units of learning.

It is a crucial concept which, I believe, calls up key questions in the delivery inquiry-based projects in relation to

  1.  Learning objectives: what are their source? How formally or informally are they currently viewed? How are they measured and evaluated?
  2. Content & resource creation: who creates the programme and lesson plans? What resources participants use? What’s the shelf-life for documents and other artefacts? What about their transport and storage?
  3. Assessment and evaluation: how do participants, sponsors, and funders get to know about the benefits of the project? How are the benefits recorded and shared? How valid and comprehensive are the results?

There are many advantages for dealing with these questions thoroughly, which I look forward to sharing in future blogs but, for the moment, I’ll  summarise my views on drama-based teaching techniques with digital technology as follows:

  1. We should view teachers using digital tools as producers of ‘learning objects’.
  2. As more and more teachers get access to low-cost digital tools which enhance their practice,  the teacher’s creativity will distinguish their use of the technology rather than the access to the technology itself.
  3. While rapid authoring software aka ‘courseware’ has thus far focused on the business and vocational education sectors, the body of knowledge, pedagogically speaking, around working as an ‘instructional designer’ should be viewed positively and applicable to a range of teaching and learning contexts.


virtical-filmStrips copyThe Nonsense Project

The filmstrip to the left comes from a drama education and animation project which I worked on between 2004 and 2008 in a suburban arts centre, catering for after school and holiday programs for K-12 students.

Entitle The Nonsense Project,  I assembled a team of performing and animation teaching artists to explore the enablers and blockers of ‘making meaning’. The nonsense theme was worked differently at different development phases: for instance,

  • for 4 to 6-year-olds, the focus was on the concept of surprise as ordinary objects became the extraordinary, e.g. chairs became submarines;
  • for 7 to 9-year-olds, it was the concept of the ‘odd and strange’, i.e. of moving from known to the unknown worlds (e.g. as in Narnia, Wonderland) and also the creation of an island on which everything was odd and strange;
  • for 10 to 12-year-olds, it was the use of exaggerated and stylised language and movement through comic forms such as the pantomime and its antecedent, the  Commedia Dell’Arte  and
  • for the 13 to 15-year-olds, the programme took a more eclectic approach in blending surprise, the odd, strange and exaggerated and then applied them the everyday context of the school yard.

The creative team included animator(Steven Aiton), playwrights (Jenny McDonald & Shona Monger), designer (Emily Gibson), stage manager (Rebecca Fiorentino) and choreographer(Louise Gaglio). Their various inputs enabled the four boys to transform the chairs of the arts centre into a submarine.  The overall findings of the project allowed us to discover that it was not the technology which the young people found most challenging but realising a clear expression of their stories and ideas.

So how could digital technologies have helped us do our work in a more productive way? Even as early as 2005 I set up the arts centre set up with wi-fi and the animation studio with a bank of 12 laptops, which young people could move between the studio and the performance space.

However, I now realise that I just didn’t have more than an inkling at the time that there were teaching and learning models for using technologies more interactively.

What if rapid authoring software had been around in 2004?

The launch of Articulate Storyline in April 2012, the arrival of Adobe Captivate 7 in 2013 and the many technological marvels that come with presentational digital tools like Prezi have been a ‘game changer’ for curriculum writers.

An Odd and Strange Adventure - from stop motion animation to performance
An Odd and Strange Adventure – from stop-motion animation to performance

Had they been around in 2004, I would have fostered less dependence on verbal instruction, which we all know is a big part of complex projects. As the curriculum writer,  I would have done this by outlining the structure and ‘logic’ of the project with each group, in the form of static and animated slides.

As rapid authoring software has evolved out of presentational tools such as PowerPoint and Keynote,  whatever content I had in those forms would have been able to be transferred and used.

An outline of the structure and ‘logic’ of the project would have cut down the organisation and creation of documents for running the project with four different age groups. Given that the project ended up being reproduced again and again over four years and catered for approximately 320 students a year (1280 in total over the four years), the bill for the ink alone on the printing would have saved the arts centre a fortune!

Even more, having the instruction available electronically would have freed the team to better communicated and shared the projects aims and the students achievements with parents and the local community.  Instead, I now see that what we offered onlookers was only a taste of the creative process through a static exhibition that they viewed as they came to see viewing the finished performances and animations as part of an annual performance event in a local arts festival.

Looking again at the filmstrip, I now imagine the insights that the parents would have gained about their children’s abilities to collaborate and think through the creative challenge of working on the transformative animation. The artistic journey captured which in those seven frames occurred over a year’s worth of weekly classes!

Furthermore, I now also understand that cutting down the instructional input of the project, would have also allowed us to work even more collaboratively with my creative team. It is a fact of life in project work that freelance artists hold a number of contracts and move in and out of several projects at a time. Keeping a sense of continuity and focus is difficult at the best of times. Project management through the curriculum documents themselves as shared documents would have had the capacity to be more targeted than just following a brief. The concept of the documents being available all the time would have meant that the freelance artist could have prepared and reflected on their creative input at more times over which they would have had complete control. Think of all the ‘invisible’ work that is done in contract work for which there is no acknowledgement!!

Hard working teaching artists deserve cost-effective, time-saving digital tools that allow them to communicate the importance of their work better: I hope you come to enjoy the examples I will present to that end on this blog.