My study examines three participatory learning environments in which computer-based tools and improvisational training techniques comprise innovative approaches to teaching performance studies to undergraduate students. For my analysis, I have selected to focus on two classes and one production project. I contend that performance, an interdisciplinary and collaborative art form, is best taught by using a variety of media apparatuses and improvisation games: hands-on experimentation with technical and improvisation instruments allows students to experience a wide range of expressive options, a strong sense of community and a greater leadership role in teaching/learning processes. In addition, multimedia resources provide students new options for designing, scripting and presenting stories on stage. From the standpoint of instruction, I argue that combining technology tools and improvisation techniques together leads to more egalitarian classroom operations, greater efficiency and unity among members of working groups and a more student-initiated style of teaching, one based on empowerment, autonomy and self-regulation.
The case studies compiled in the dissertation represent my own teaching and production experiences. I co-taught the course, Multimedia Improvisation, offered by Northwestern University's Center for Art and Technology in the fall of 2003. I also co-instructed the class, Staging Dracula: Multimedia Literary Adaptation, for the Residential College Tutorial program at Northwestern in winter quarter of 2005. The DuSable Project was a technology-intensive theatre production that took place in the spring of 2004 on Northwestern's campus. In my analysis of the teaching strategies employed in the separate learning environments, I consider how digital technologies and improvisational training techniques work together to provide students a wealth of creative options and instructors the ability to connect with and engage participants on a deeper level than more traditional means.
My methodology includes personal interviews, questionnaires, textual readings and participant observation. In each educational setting, I examine the technical tools and improvisatory methods employed by the instructor, identify the ways in which students "played" with instructional instruments and techniques, point to the specific performance skills honed by such methods of instruction and assess the effectiveness of technologically-augmented teaching strategies based on the criteria of portability, adaptability, accessibility and participatory engagement.
Fundamentally, the dissertation is meant to give its readers new perspectives when considering the intersection between computers and performing arts education. Because the work presents case study analyses of the functional application of technology, it will hopefully lead to scholarship about contemporary performance instruction that is more comprehensible, useful and engaging. Ultimately, the tools, techniques and methods evaluated in this work may help to create a new vision of what educators can accomplish with digital technologies in a variety of learning environments. It may lead to the development of multidisciplinary teaching pedagogies and performing art curriculums that are better able to meet the needs, interests and ambitions of a new generation of learners.