As an essential element of education, I believe it is our duty to give students an inherent understanding of the fundamental questions of humanity. Modern public school education has shifted focus from process to product, from quality to quantity. At the undergraduate level, I believe we should transition our students from a test-oriented culture to a thinking one, where wisdom is valued over knowledge. I instruct students that it is their educated opinion that matters in life, not their ability to retain and then regurgitate fact.
Without the consistency of product/outcome oriented goals, I must bring in ideas, concepts, themes, motifs or objects to elicit creativity and structure from students. I am always willing to act more like a “guide of the side” than a “sage on the stage”, shifting from being a fountain of knowledge to a facilitator of learning. This means creating a structure of organization with the students so that their process does not become chaotic, but also knowing when to release the structure occasionally to allow creativity to emerge through stream of consciousness or free expression. The end product of this type of learning is intrinsic: he/she emerges as a freer thinker, who tends to ask “why” more often than “how”.
An integral sense of ownership shifts the responsibility from the teacher to the student: the students are allowed to form their own opinions of the subject, are allowed multiple viewpoints, and most importantly are able to affect the outcome of their environment. Students of all intelligences can bring their strengths to this art: from outgoing actors, to introverted writers with all forms of designers, directors, musicians and dancers in between. In the end, the final product can manifest itself into an infinite number of options from performance art, to pantomime, literary works, art installation, etc. Instead of the course then being evaluated quantitatively, the students can evaluate the course qualitatively, judging the merit of the work itself, not just the outcome.
As an educator, I have found a world of discovery and expression is awakened in the classroom oriented to process. Students love to talk, even if they at first are shy. They love to tell their stories, tales and anecdotes from their world and openly relate their learning connections, even if they seem obscure. Even more so, they need an outlet in which they have the chance for their inner thinkers to emerge. Although I see the merit and necessity of traditional academic forms, I cannot help but love how a constructivist classroom elicits a true expression of creativity and not just a demonstration of inherent talent.
Specific to the discipline of design, I believe in the cooperative experience of the design process, with secondary emphasis on design product. At the undergraduate level, students should engage in the process of research and play analysis, and use a liberal base of instruction to draw connections from the text to the world around them. Students should then, much later in the process, be given specific instruction and experience in the skills needed to apply their research to a production including, but not limited to, drawing, model-making, sewing, carpentry, etc. If the student can master the intellectual process of design, then he or she will be an excellent candidate for any graduate program in which specific design skills can be then mastered.
Additionally, I believe students need to experience as much theatre as possible, both as audience participants and active production assistants. It necessary for them not to specialize at as undergraduates, but try their hand at acting, directing, design, technology and administration. This approach has a two-fold outcome: the students will sample each aspect and perhaps discover preferences, and the students will have a deeper understanding of the entire community of skills necessary to produce an evening of theatre.
In conclusion, I infuse my classroom with a deep sense of caring for the success of each individual student. Combined with a constructivist approach, I believe that students learn best from a nurturing human being, not a remote and distant instructor. This is the cornerstone of excellence that is possible at a small, liberal arts community, where every instructor and course stimulates the student as a scholar of the human experience.