Performance enhancement

Kenneth Taylor

New technologies can enhance your drama lessons and help with stage and lighting design for a theatrical production. Kenneth Taylor looks at how students' performance can benefit from the digital revolution.

It is a truth universally ignored that drama teachers have been using ICTfor a long time. A misnomer has developed that equates ICT mainly with the use of computers. And there is a secondary misconception, which seems to suggest that ICT involves one learner working with one computer. The drama classroom proves otherwise, often being enriched through the judicious use of stage lighting, sound effects, music, video and sound recording and playback, and the creative use of an overhead projector.

The question that drama teachers are currently wrestling with is: "What do the new technologies offer that might enable me to do even more creative work and enable my students to deepen their understanding and skill in drama?" ICT should never be used for its own sake. But it can support (or develop) existing practice and add a creative level. Just as new technologies are entering the theatre and appealing to new audiences, it must be available in our classrooms. So what are these new technologies and how might we use them?

Most new technologies are digital and can be accessed through a computer (but they do not have to be). Some can be used to enhance traditional technology. For example, software such as Wysilab enables the student to design stage lighting on a computer screen and send all the cues for a production to an electronic lighting desk, while stage design software can produce diagrams and plots. The development in digital music means that a teacher can make digital copies of tracks of music (that they own) to play back in the drama classroom from their laptop. Currently MP3 is the format for this (although already this is being superseded). Because these files are small and easily accessible it is much easier to have a variety available in every lesson.

Although teachers may have used analogue video in the past, digital video opens up many more opportunities. It is now easy to link a digital video camera to a computer, upload the video file, edit it on the computer and then export it back to the camera. Digital editing need not be expensive. iMovie and Movie Maker are free programmes provided by Apple and Microsoft Windows respectively. The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) offers advice, suggestions and definitions through their web site (see below). It is also increasingly easy to find good examples of video clips and animations to use as starters, often provided on advertisers' websites as QuickTime movies.

This can all be done in the drama classroom and within a single lesson! But why might we do it? The major reason is the speed with which drama students can have the opportunity to view and develop their own performance - teaching them not just to be passive recipients of the media but creative, critical exponents of it. The technology also makes it easy to display material at parent and open evenings and thus further celebrate achievement.

Digital still photography means it is no longer necessary to wait until the next lesson for students to see their photographs. Students can see themselves, within the lesson, in the frozen pictures they have created, and there is no argument about the quality of the tableaux. The images can be analysed, further attempts at the construction can be explored and more images captured. These can be sequenced and even printed if required. They can even be recycled on to the drama department web pages or student journals. These images can be viewed live in the lesson by connecting digital cameras to the television. The feedback loop between creativity and analysis is instant and the very nature of digital impermanence often encourages experimentation.

Finally, the internet holds much that is of use to the drama teacher. A search engine such as Google can be used to search for images and sounds. We can research information on particular topics, find other drama colleagues tackling similar problems - next door or in another country - and share resources, for example by using the Yahoo! group Drama_UK. We can use the internet to host whole projects that link students from different schools and cultures. An example is the Vertex project funded by Middlesex University, a school-based action research project which explores the educational applications of using shared three-dimensional virtual worlds.

If you have not yet explored how ICT can enhance the drama lesson I strongly urge you to borrow and use a digital still camera in your lesson. Then try a digital video camera. The following links may help to get you started.

Kenneth Taylor is PGCE drama course leader at Middlesex UniversityEmail: See the Becta ICT advice site: Project: search engine: iMovie: QuickTime: Windows Movie Maker:

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Kenneth Taylor

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