Monday, March 23, 2009

Creating a New Stage: The Technology Makeover for Drama

Picture: "Tethers of this Scene", by wetsun@Flickr

A couple of weekends ago now I presented at the Drama Queensland annual conference about the work I did last year integrating technology into my drama classrooms. The above is one of my favourite slides from the whole experience. I often find people surprised when I admit that not all my projects and (brilliant) schemes work when I present them to my students - failure isn't something embrace in educational circles in my experience. But the reality is that it's my ability to acknowledge a project's failure that gives me the ability to "tweak" it and find out what will work.

I miss my drama classes a great deal as I work in my current role. Besides the fun and sheer randomness that tends to find its way into a drama classroom, I miss the challenge of integrating ICTs in a subject traditionally anti-tech. I miss pushing at the edges of a subject that is often on the fringes of the curriculum anyway (or which is missing completely from the National Curriculum at this stage).

There's a lot of untapped potential when it comes to the drama classroom and my decent into true nerdom in my teaching has been closely tied to my drama projects. This is the quick summary of my journey with a drama focus I shared at the conference:

2007 - “Searching for Mary” (Year 10)– students interacted online to develop roles and relationships, developing narrative through real time role plays. This was my first attempt at tapping into the idea of "cyberdrama". It was pretty...meh looking back on it. The students simulated emails and text messages using discussion boards and blogs. At that point in the journey for me it was about exploring how we could use those sorts of activities to enhance character and narratives we were building in the physical space of the drama room. While I wasn't impressed with the project's ICT stuff, the use of it to explore unconventional dramatic structures worked quite well and the students performance pieces were fairly impressive.

2008 - Collaborative “Juice” (Year 10)– students from two different schools studied the same play and worked online to build character profiles. This project emerged out of a PLN moment. I was at last year's drama conference chatting with a colleague I'd connected with a couple of years ago through some workshops and we realised we'd be studying the same play the following term. We'd been trying to organise a joint project for a year or so and this gave us the perfect opportunity. This one was fun - it pushed the student's to a new level and it was interesting to see two very different groups connect the dots and realise they weren't the only drama class in the state.

2008 - A Guided Tour of European Theatre (years 7&8) – students interacted online in role and oocly as they studied and experienced different European theatre forms. We offer an elective style program for our middle school students and while the units align with the curriculum documents and the like there's room for us to have fun - and this one (while an incredibly draining way to end the year) was loads of fun. We all created characters who were on tour through time and Europe while they studied significant western theatre styles. The big focus for this one was getting students some basic drama knowledge and to have them engage in reflection - something I've always struggled to get drama students to do effectively. I found that by letting students build a Tour Group Network through in character blogs and wikis they did much better at this then I'd previously encountered.

...jeeze...2008 was a massive year for me....

2008 - Create your own…my most ambitious project to date. I gave students a space in the EQ learning environment where they were able to simulate their own cyberdrama. They explored how social media can be used to create an interactive and disjointed narrative where all the little pieces added up to one story. This one came out of one of those "failures". After 9 weeks of hitting my head on a brickwall and the rebellion mounting I admitted defeat and took it to the circle, "What would make it work?" This project was the students' idea and was AWESOME. A massive job, tiring and life consuming - but it was so worth it. Every lesson was a learning curve for us all and the students showed even the Learning Place Mentor a thing or two about the possibilities in LP Project Rooms. Remember how I said I'd always had trouble getting students to reflect before? For this project they needed to keep a creation journal tracking HOW and WHY they did what they did to build their drama. The task requirements were 500-700 words over the 7 week period. They spent HOURS collating the most amazing and astounding journals I'd ever seen in drama...and the shortest one must have been 1000 words...(the flip side, I had to mark them was so hard to stay focused!)

It was a very different presentation from the QSA one I wrote about over the weekend - there was a lot more resistance from Drama QLD delegates.

Resistance may not be the right word...negativity perhaps? A lot of "Oh you can do that in your school, we wouldn't be able to." A lot of excuses got thrown around and I find that sad - one of my personal mottos is that if there is a will there must be a way. But I can't change where they're at in their digital journeys - I can only show them the possibilities and hope that one day I won't be the only one looking for ways to utilise blogs, wikis, etherpad, chatrooms, vlogs, annotation options on YouTube, Vokis, BigHugeLabs, etc in my drama classroom.

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