Can we please change the discourse on social media?

This summer I was fortunate to return again to the annual conference of the American Alliance for Theatre and Education (AATE) and that of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE). In considering overall themes that kept returning, especially in the ATHE conference, classroom use of social media and video-sharing platforms (e.x., Youtube, Vimeo, etc.)  kept returning. The two sessions that really stood out for me this year were “Teaching Theatre to the Youtube Generation” and “Designing Collaborative Exercises for Theatre Design,” the latter of which wasn’t necessarily intended to look at social media issues but the topic inadvertently became a major part of the discussion nonetheless.

I have to say that I’ve been disappointed overall in the discourse on this subject in the field. Too often I find the tone of discussions about technology’s role in the classroom and the theatre becomes paranoid and negative. I truly appreciated panelists in both the above-listed sessions for choosing to explore, in a practical way, how social media’s emerging presence in our lives could positively influence theatre and theatre education. In too many cases at these types of events, the mention of technology dissolves into a series of rants by professors complaining about their experiences with students texting in class. Yes, I can see how that could annoy someone. If it bothers you, state your expectations regarding technology at the beginning of the semester and enforce them. Or get over it and ignore it.

Could there be ways social media could be legitimately welcomed into the classroom, facilitating and deepening learning and artistic exploration as opposed to simply distracting from it? What if students were to tweet their “muddiest points” from a lecture to a class Twitter handle, allowing quick assessment and an easily accessible record of student understanding throughout the course? What if students were encouraged to text each other their thoughts following a performance viewing? What if conversations about communication in the theatre went further to explore the unique challenges of communicating via text, email, and social media platforms, something virtually all theatre professionals today are encountering to an increasing degree? What if theatre students were expected to make podcasts — living journals– of their rehearsal process? Could video footage kept in an e-portfolio enhance the traditional post-mortem discussion of a student production, or perhaps aid in encouraging a student to self-evaluate with greater objectivity? Which is more valuable to the Intro to Theatre student– an article about theatrical conventions in Kabuki or a Youtube clip showing those conventions in action? Access is an important aspect of the conversation for me as an educator. I use an outstanding textbook in my Introduction to Theatre course each semester that unfortunately many of my students honestly cannot afford. But all of my students have free access to Youtube clips at their public library. Could social media platforms offer possibilities for more equitable scaffolds for learning than more traditional resources?

These are the kinds of questions about technology that interest me as a teacher, and I suspect they would be of interest to others if the discourse could be framed and facilitated positively. Instead, I felt that too much of the dialogue many of my colleagues engage in seems almost fear-laden. There were comments about whether even the idea of bringing Youtube into a theatre classroom was self-defeating to the field. Is there a real concern that increase access to online video content will ultimately kill theatre? Well, I would respond, is there any evidence that increased access to recorded music via platforms like iTunes decreased live concert attendance? I would certainly be surprised if it were the case and would venture that most would still feel that the live communal event retains its place as a special experience in spite of such opportunities.

Yes, technology has its limits and problems. Professors need to be responsible in considering/controlling how openly student work should be shared, for instance. But exploring social media and strategizing around its potential challenges will yield more benefit for the future of the field than simply resisting it. Finally, as technology’s role in the workplace changes, given that theatres are workplaces, shouldn’t our students be encouraged to master those platforms that will like figure into their professional lives?

Question for the World: What role does social media play in your classroom or theatre? What role would you like to see it play in the future?

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Ethics

There are a lot of ethical challenges in freelancing that I feel haven’t been fully explored by a lot of teaching artists and theatre practitioners. Some of the most important articles being written in the field right now, in my opinion, are about ethics. One of the things I am most looking forward to at the American Alliance for Theatre and Education conference in a couple weeks, is connecting with some of my colleagues about ethical issues in the field.

The social networking age has added a major wrinkle for all of us trying to make good choices with regards to a lot of the challenges highlighted in the article hyperlinked above. So many of us communicate, professionally and personally, on multiple social networking platforms and blogs on a regular basis. Every post, status update, and tweet is a press release of sorts, upon which all sorts of judgements can be made about who you are and what your values are.

Question for the World: Have you struggled with any of the issues mentioned in the article? Do ethical questions come up often in your work?

Pardon my Rant – re: Conference Session Titles

Pawing through the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) conference guide, and thinking seriously about attending this year. Already definitely attending the American Alliance for Theatre and Education (AATE) conference, also in Chicago. (All you readers out there should come to that one, by the way, so you can attend my session on the Safe Theatre Project– just sayin.) So have to make sure the funding to attend both will work out, as well as the timing around my other professional obligations here in the Eastern Standard Time Zone.

Now for the promised rant: I have to say, I really despise vague and bizarrely titled sessions. I will refrain from mentioning examples in case one of the presenters is one day in the position to offer me a job, but those of you who are regulars in the conference circuit should be able to recall many such confusing titles in your conference books of yore. Yes, once I attend a conference I am given access to lengthy descriptions of whatever it is the session/workshop/panel is supposed to be about– but I really don’t have a lot of time to waste looking further into sessions whose title give me no earthly idea what it is their supposed to be about. Expound in your session description. Get metaphorically interesting in the panel discussion. I promise you, if people are able to surmise your session topic from the title, they are a whole lot more likely to actually attend.

Question for the World: Planning to attend any conferences this year? Which ones are you looking forward to? Any sessions catching your eye– in a good way?