The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent national lockdown threw a very unique challenge to the performing arts community. How do you teach Performing Arts – a very physical skill – in digital mode?
This was addressed in the recent Taylor’s University School of Liberal Arts and Sciences webinar titled ‘Arts Education: The Road Ahead Post-Pandemic’. Comprising speakers Joe Hasham and Dato’ Dr Faridah Merican of The Actors Studio and Adjunct Professors at Taylor’s University and The Actor’s Studio (TUTAS) programme, Dr. Muhammad Sayyid and Mark Beau de Silva of the TUTAS Bachelor of Performing Arts programme, Prof Dr. Joseph Gonzales of The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, and Vik Sivalingam, Theatre Director and Senior Tutor at London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts (LAMDA).
In her opening remarks, Associate Professor Dr. Anindita Dasgupta, Head of School, Taylor’s School of Liberal Arts & Sciences, noted that although lockdowns imposed by governments across the globe caused challenges to arts educators to some extent, they have quickly been creative and adapted to the situation, leveraging on various social media platforms and implementing innovative teaching methods to deliver their classes.
Joe and Dato’ Dr Faridah acknowledged that it was a time to embrace changes in the way we work in the arts, and in this case, teaching the arts online. ‘For example, my main characters for the play Bollywood Dreams still had readings online- we had to go on!’ elaborated Faridah.
In fact, the iconic golden couple of Malaysian theatre who are also in charge of the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre has been churning out weekly online content for arts lovers; ranging from online storytelling to script readings and streaming of past performances.
Dr. Muhammad Sayyid, who teaches music at TUTAS, also shared the same thought.
“I studied the module that I was to teach and found that although I could carry out the technical aspects of the module online quite easily, I had to be extra creative with the practical side of things,” he said.
Using the Lightboard technology pioneered by Taylor’s University, Dr. Sayyid taught musical notes synchronously to his students online – in real time, as if he was writing on a glass board.
He also highlighted the need for flexibility in programme structure, and focusing on micro learning and assessments. As an example, his fellow academic realised his students had trouble tuning their instruments – which was a basic skill that was previously taught in a physical class. To adapt online, the lecturer made tuning as part of an assessment, hence focusing on micro tasks to help students achieve the same goal.
Mark Beau de Silva, Senior Lecturer of Performing Arts, also with Taylor’s University shared how his Acting modules had to adapt a final assessment into an online one.
Mark urged to audience of the webinar to imagine a Romeo and Juliet online, with ZOOM sessions as the only way to send the love letters. It is with this principle, that he has now devised ways to still conduct drama class, albeit the lack of social interaction.
‘I used to be able to just waltz into class and conduct a lesson – but now I have to think on my feet, before, during, and after the class! I truly believe, one must be super creative, more so when dealing with online platforms. ‘
Mark asserts that when his students share their video monologues with him, he is amazed at how creative they are; combining the acting skills they have learned in class with technical wizardry! Mark admits that inadvertently, he had to pivot his teaching from just purely stage performance to performing for video.
“We’ve always said ‘content is king’ and now I can see how a performance arts background can truly benefit my students in producing content,” he added.
Professor Joseph Gonzales, who is internationally known as an icon for his decades in dance education and is Founder/Artistic Director of ASK Dance Company, admitted that teaching dance online is most challenging, but offered solutions by asking himself ‘how can I make the course that I teach more interactive at this time, how do I hold on to good practices?’
Joseph brought to our attention CANVAS, an online student learning system used in his university to share notes, create assignments, weekly online quizzes and share online resources.
He also mentioned how excited he is to use ZOOM, for prompt feedback from students, and notices how his students enjoy discourse with him via this platform.
‘I have also noticed how more introverted students would open up, when they’d be shy in conventional classrooms. I also utilize the ZOOM breakout rooms for when huge chunks of information is divulged. I get the students to get into groups to begin discussion, then visit them in the rooms if they have a question, before they resume discussion and ultimately reporting what they have worked on’.
Vik Sivalingam of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, and a renowned theatre director, began by stating that one of the key responsibilities as an arts educator was to ensure support to the student, and that the learning experience can be continued in a way. He finds that some aspects of the early work in a rehearsal process like script readings and ‘table work’ can be done online.
Vik echoed Joseph’s recognition of ZOOM as a useful platform especially in group discussions and stated that his students have already bonded and transitioned smoothly to online work in their respective groups.
‘It’s a new landscape, and we’re learning as we go along. I think the thing that we put front centre, is the student experience. The students, whom I view as professional colleagues provide feedback; what’s working, what is not, and all this helps us in constantly reviewing what we do.’
Vik summed up his speech by saying that blended learning is the way forward for teaching the arts, at least for the immediate future.
The webinar ended on a positive note, with most of the attendees feeling inspired with the fact that despite everything that is going on, the arts, particularly arts education, still thrives.
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