Teaching Remotely: Students in museum theatre course adapt performances to online format

Thursday, April 30, 2020
A worksheet asking virtual visitors to respond to an online experience and share what they notice and what stands out.

A group of students in Associate Professor Katie Dawson’s class partnered with UT Austin's Art Galleries at Black Studies (AGBS) and a UT nursing student class. In lieu of an in-gallery experience, Dawson’s students design an online experience related to AGBS’s  “In Their Form” exhibition, and in this page from a workbook, nursing students are invited to respond to the online experience.

After COVID-19 was detected in Austin in mid-March, the University of Texas moved all of its classes online for the remainder of the semester. In this series, we explore how faculty in the College of Fine Arts are adapting their curriculum to an online format.

Associate Professor Katie Dawson

Associate Professor Katie Dawson

Instructor: Associate Professor Katie Dawson, Department of Theatre and Dance

Tell us about a class you’re teaching this spring.

I'm teaching TD351T/TD383P Drama/Theatre Applications in Museums.  I'm also teaching TD 383P Pre-Thesis: Research and Practice.

What was a challenge you faced in moving instruction online this spring?

In my museum theatre course, students partner with a UT museum (The Blanton, Art Galleries in Black Studies, etc.) to explore and research how drama/theatre can be used in a museum setting to increase engagement and inclusion for a range of museum guests. This semester we spent the first two-thirds of the semester developing and proposing three projects:

A partnership with Easterseals and the Blanton museum focused on a new workshop for neurodiverse young adults

A partnership with Girl Forward and the Blanton focused on a new workshop for female identified immigrants/refugees on the theme of wellness

A partnership with UT’s School of Nursing’s undergraduate course N321H Ethics of Health Care and the Art Galleries of Black Studies’ Christian Green Gallery’s exhibition focused on Afrofuturism and black folks’ experience of and relationship to health care.

When we were forced to move to online instruction in mid-March, students were given four ways to complete their projects, which had been scheduled for a live performance in the museum gallery in mid-late April:

  1. Develop and refine a script for their live performance but do not perform it.
  2. Develop and refine a script for their live performance and perform a small pilot of it online over Zoom with their partner.
  3. Create a new online performance (based on the live performance idea) to pilot online over Zoom with their partner. 
  4. Any member of the group could also to decide to work individually on a new project proposal (no performance) if that was the most productive choice for their circumstances and health.

How did you solve it?

I worked over spring break with my partners to see if they were open to work on Zoom. My students met over spring break to talk through the four options. I offered lots of choices. I met with Assistant Dean Julie Schell and folks in the Faculty Innovation Center to try and understand all the tools we could use on Zoom and modeled the tools in class in my own teaching so we could see what worked well and what wasn’t useful.

How have your students responded in your class?

Every group of students opted to adapt their live performance idea to the online medium. They worked incredibly hard with hours of meetings outside of class to complete the project. Groups created extensive resource packets for their partners, multiple drafts of their scripts and evaluation tools. Two groups created asynchronous and synchronous elements for their project. One group worked only through synchronous facilitation. All performances were highly successful, and our partners were thrilled with their work.

A screen that shares reflections from a group of neurodiverse young people on an experience designed by students.

Another group of students in Associate Professor Katie Dawson’s Drama/Theatre Applications in Museums course partnered with the Blanton Museum and Easterseals for a project. While the students had initially planned an in-gallery experience, they had to transition to a virtual experience after the pandemic hit Texas. In the above screenshot, a group of neurodiverse young people reflect on the experience Dawson’s students designed right after the virtual session was complete.

Have there been any innovations or solutions that you plan to carry into in-person instruction in the future?

Honestly, I think students produced work of similar or higher quality to any other time I’ve taught the course. And, they did it extremely fast, at a very complex emotional time, ONLINE, in a new format that none of us had used before. Our museum partners were blown away by their innovation and creativity. Truly. Their work taught me so many ways that we could be working creatively in an online format. I will consider creating online projects for this course in the future in addition to our live performances. Our education staff museum partners at The Blanton and The Art Galleries in Black Studies both have interest in keeping the online materials available for museum guests.

A screenshot of a Zoom call with 3 students

The last group in the course partnered with the Blanton Museum of Art and GirlForward, an organization that serves Austin area girls who identify as refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers. Dawson's students moved their in-gallery play into an imagined Zoom sleepover—part-play, part-artmaking project. "Girl, Be Well!" offered a facilitated virtual experience for the GirlForward participants and their adult mentors to reflect on art and wellness in the time of COVID-19. In photo, from left: Celia Shaheen, Jasmine Games and Xinran Liu. Not pictured is Yasmin Zacaria Mikhaiel.

For more Teaching Remotely stories, read here:

A worksheet asking virtual visitors to respond to an online experience and share what they notice and what stands out.
Students in museum theatre course adapt performances to online format
Turci-Escobar's white board screenshotted by a student saying "The amount of parallel octaves I've seen is amazing".
Music theory students make use of digital tools for real-time feedback in Musicianship II
A gouache painting of a woman seated on a couch
Students in painting class explore alternate materials in online format
Students build VR experiences on their own phones to test in Google Cardboard headset
Scenic Art Students painting a sky backdrop for Elixir of Love, design by Chris Conard.
Scenic painting class offers support to students working apart
A digital rendering of a student design for a marble run.
Fabrication courses faced unique challenges in adapting to remote format

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