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This issue of CDTL Brief is the first of a two-part Brief that features the teaching practices of the 2005/2006 Annual Teaching Excellence Award (ATEA) winners.
August 2007, Vol. 10 No. 3 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Taking Charge of Learning- Ownership, Learning and a Conducive Environment
Dr Robin Loon
Department of English Language and Literature

Teaching in Theatre Studies presents very specific challenges not open to other disciplines in the faculty: namely, there is a crucial practical aspect in some of the modules. In theatre studies, the teaching covers the three main learning domains: cognitive, psychomotor and affective. It has always been a challenge to map all three domains over one another to produce the theatre studies student who is able to assess, criticise and apply concepts (sometimes in physical terms).

Of course, theatre studies is not restricted to performance and showmanship. In my recent role as director of the 2007 graduation production, I have had to ask all my 24 students to perform in a professional capacity (either as cast or production crew) knowing full well that they are at best at the apprentice stage. The aim of the module, TS3103 "Play Production", as with many other theatre studies modules, is not merely to ground students in sound theatre theory, but also in the practice of theatre. More importantly, through the doing, and in this case, the doing in a controlled professional context, I hope to help students acquire life skills which include time management, task-specific research, people management and a sense of company-all important work ethics and skills that will serve students well after they graduate and enter the work force. For the cast, I chose to work with a group of ten actors in an ensemble style so that there will be minimum demarcation between principal and secondary players in the performance. This was useful in enforcing a sense of company-each and every member was responsible for the quality of the final performance. For the production crew, my co-instructor (the producer) gave students a choice of roles. They could decide whether they wish to be in design, marketing, publicity or other aspects of production work. We put students through the paces of organising production meetings, balancing budgets and many instances where they would be required to brainstorm ideas, solve problems and more importantly, deal with the public. We demand that students step out of their comfort zone and struggle with this new professional persona.

What I have found to be effective in motivating students to learn is to appeal to their sense of self-worth. By this, I mean appealing to students to push themselves to excel and better themselves instead of the teacher pushing them. Very often, I find myself offering rudimentary instructions but always giving students the option to approach me should they require help. I believe that one of the first steps in improving oneself is to know when to ask for help. Instead of getting students to follow my instructions, I ask them to plan their own strategy and approach to a particular project: whether it is creating a role on stage, drafting out a marketing proposal or doing a mock-up of a lighting plan. What is crucial is that students present the plan and be open to critique from their peers, the producer and me. This inculcates a great sense of collaboration where the self is no longer fore grounded; the project and the task becomes the centre. In this situation, students become less self-conscious and more task-oriented. They learn to take and make criticism less personally and are on their way towards becoming more professional. Students have to learn to negotiate across different personalities in order to persuade their peers that their ideas are sound and effective. This forces students to be concise, focused and goal-oriented. I have found that students tend to falter initially as they were unable to overcome their desire to be validated by their peers, thereby becoming too deferential to public opinion. With more practice and more meetings and presentations, students become more steadfast (i.e. not only eloquently defending their ideas but also graciously accepting criticism). All students take ownership of their own projects while also taking responsibility for the larger production at hand. Students become increasingly capable of handling micro and macro objectives, traversing between the two with great ease.

In this module, the producer and I stress PROCESS and not product. The final presentation (i.e. the show itself) constitutes only 20% of each student's final aggregate. This being a play-production module, any final written theory examination would not meet the pedagogical needs of such a module. We have made the continual assessment of this module 100% and also transparent to students. At the onset the students are told that they will be evaluated on other qualities including resourcefulness, creativity in approach, collaboration and cooperation, crisis-management and problem-solving skills. It is extremely important to make this clear to students so that they can approach this module with a different mindset from the other academic/theoretical modules.

Finally, what counts is the student. Student-centred learning-more learning less teaching - should always focus only on the development of students' critical and practice skills. Ethics, values and professionalism can only come about with trial and error, and risk-taking in an environment that is as real as possible yet providing a safety net to students. Ironically, students are most likely to take big risks when they feel safe enough to do so. I think as teachers, this is the kind of environment we should provide for students. We need to offer students the most conducive environment and support for them to learn. Watch them as they fly, catch them when they fall.

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Inside this issue
Talking the Talk and Walking the Walk: Teaching History at NUS
Teaching: Share Your Passion and Have Fun
Taking Charge of Learning— Ownership, Learning and a Conducive Environment
Can Computer-aided Instruction Effectively Replace Cadaverbased Learning in the Study of Human Anatomy?
A Perspective on Medical Education
Excuse Me, Are You an Excellent Teacher?
The Empirics of Teaching Quality