Creative Use Of Technology

The size of data, the ‘knowledge economy’ and just about anything we can imagine in a Web 2.0 age feels overwhelmingThis is why 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) . They are quite inspirational and, as Julie Dunn and John O’Toole explain in their chapter on using ‘process drama’ in the classroom, viewing the relationship between ‘the actual, the dramatic and the virtual’ does not mean cutting out the liveliness of embodied practices but viewing the virtual spac as “creating for all of us a bigger place to play”.  

What’s A Learning Object?

With this in mind, I hope that DramaLearning becomes a ‘bigger place to play’ for teaching artists, as they explore presentational software like  rapid authoring software as part of the liveliness of their drama workshops.  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”. The term is credited to Wayne Hodgins when he created a working group in 1994 bearing the name though the concept was first described by Gerard in 1967. 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 for teaching artists who use digital technologies into the delivery of arts projects. Questions related 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 are created for participants? 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 / or comprehensive are the results?

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

  1. While ‘digital dramaturgy’ is being explored by performance theorists in many parts of the world, for instance, in performance laboratories such as at the University of Toronto, my particular interest is in viewing dramaturgy which teaching artist work with in educational projects and programmes: in other words, seeing the teaching artists as a producer of ‘learning objects’.
  2. I think it’s only fair that teaching artists have access to low cost digital tools which can enhance their practice. Similarly, I want their own ‘art and craft’ to shape the using of the technology rather than the other way around.
  3. I am particularly interesting in ‘rapid authoring software’ and the creation of ‘learning objects’. However, as the software has been, thus far, the focus of trainers in the ‘non-arts’ areas of business, health and vocational education sectors, it already has a huge body of knowledge, pedagogically speaking, around what it means to work as an ‘instructional designer’. My focus is to understand the implications of that work on drama education.

virtical-filmStrips copy

The Nonsense Project

The filmstrip to the left is from a drama education and animation project which I worked on between 2004 and 2008 with the context of a regional arts centre.

At its core, the project was about the enablers and blockers of ‘making meaning’. This theme was worked differently at different phases of young people’s development: 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 etc) 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.

Hence, the creative team of animator(Steven Aiton), playwrights (Jenny McDonald & Shona Monger), designer (Emily Gibson), stage manager (Rebecca Fiorentino) and choreographer(Louise Gaglio) with whom I worked, enabled the chairs of the arts centre to be imagined and realised by four boys to become a submarine.  Remarkably, we discovered that it was not the technology which the young people found challenging but realising a clear expression of their stories and ideas.

So I now ask myself, could digital technologies have helped us do our work in a more productive way? This was entirely possible at the time, technically speaking, as I had the arts centre set up with wi-fi and the animation studio had a bank of 12 laptops which young people could move between it and the performance space. I just didn’t have more than an inkling at the time that there were models for using technologies in the arts  classroom…. well, not as interactively as I thought I needed to have, for which a million dollar budget was required!

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 comes with presentational digital tools like Prezzi has 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

I can say with some degree of certainty given what I’ve seen of their use today, had they been around in 2004, I would foster 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 simply outlining the structure and ‘logic’ of the project with each group, in the form of either static and/or animated slides.

**Rapid Authoring software has evolved out of presentational tools such as PowerPoint and Keynote, so 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 been particularly handy in cutting down the organisation and production of the huge number of documents for running the project with four different age groups, with savings being made repeatedly, 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 organisation a fortune!

More than that, having the instruction available electronically would have freed me to better direct how the project was communicated and shared with parents and the local community.  Instead, what we offered  them was only a taste of the creative process through a static exhibition that they viewed as they came to see the performances and animations as part of an annual performance event in a local arts festival.

Imagine the insights that the parents of the four boys would have gained about their children’s abilities to collaborate and think through the creative challenge of turning chairs into a submarine!! The artistic journey captured in those seven frames actually occurred over a year’s worth of weekly classes!

Secondly, I believe that cutting down the instructional input of the project, would have also allowed us to work even more collaboratively as a 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 has the capacity to be more targeted than just following a brief. The concept of the documents being available all the time means that the freelance artist can prepare and reflect on their creative input at more times over which they have 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 allows them to better communicate the importance of their work: I hope you come to enjoy the examples I will present to that end on this blog.