Office Hours: Teaching Performance During COVID (Leah Elyce Roy)
Updated: Jul 6
Out of necessity, faculty have creatively transformed their classes since the pandemic began. In this series, West End Learning celebrates their efforts and shares best practices, lessons learned, and recommended resources that extend into the future of higher education.
Leah Elyce Roy
Leah Elyce Roy knows all about adaptation. As a Teaching Professor for Performance at Wake Forest University, she understands through her own studies that responding to what is, rather than what ought to be, is the only way to move forward.
Leah, a self-described “geek about pedagogy,” met COVID’s challenge enthusiastically, eager to reimagine her in-person theatre courses in a hybrid environment. Teaching both Introduction to Western Theatre and Voice and Movement, Leah had two very different challenges.
To pivot online last year, Leah explored new ways to connect students. “Knowing that I was going to have to be more intentional about creating community, I created a lot more collaborative assignments... I wanted them to work alongside or near or with each other, but on their own content.”
Her Introduction to Western Theatre class was reimagined to take full advantage of the online environment. She uses “a curated selection of tools so it doesn’t get old. We do some discussion boards, but then some weeks we do Flipgrids. They (the students) can see each other as well, so it can build an online community. The engagement has been surprisingly high.”
The exercises that resulted allow the students to interact while learning the curriculum. “I really like the notion of me framing the question and then having the students go out and find the information… it just seems like it’s much more meaningful to them to piece it together and we can discover the story, as opposed to me yammering away for 75 minutes.”
“One of the six elements of drama is music.” This is why Leah now creates integrated Spotify playlists in Canvas for each play that they read. She includes music from the play, then opens the playlist up to the students so they can add music that reminds them of the play.
Participation is optional, and it includes posting on the accompanying discussion board why each song has been added. What is in the song that inspires someone to include it on the playlist? Whether it’s the lyrics or mood or some other element, student choices and commentary show that they are engaged with the learning material and thinking creatively. One student added songs by the Grateful Dead to the playlists while explaining how each song related to the particular play being studied.
Leah changed her approach to evaluating class participation as a result of the shift to online learning. Instead of rewarding only those who answered questions and added to live discussions, she developed a "Menu of Participation" to encourage different forms of engagement. Students select two menu items per week to show that they’ve connected with the materials. Menu options include:
● Speak up in Zoom class
● Take notes for the Zoom class
● Participate in optional discussion boards
● Respond to someone’s Flipgrid
● Send thoughts about the material directly to faculty
The menu’s flexibility allows students to build their communication skills and maximize their impact on each other’s understanding of the topics.
Leah employed many creative solutions for her Voice and Movement for Actors course. One day a week focused on articulation and took place on Zoom. The other weekly meeting was in-person but distanced at (or around) the theatre so that the students could work on movement. In addition, students completed some exercises at home, filming or recording their performances to turn in for her review. Yet, despite the COVID-necessitated adjustments, the students couldn't ever experience the heart of the class: moving and speaking unmasked in a theatre. “I had hoped I could course-design my way around that, but alas.... we couldn't get all the way.” Leah is pleased with how the course worked, but looks forward to getting back in-person for voice and movement.
In response to the move to online learning, Leah created many virtual experiences she plans to retain and develop for future classes. For instance, she figured out a way to help students perform movement exercises through voice recordings. “I recorded myself reading a ton of exercises out of the books, and turned them into sound files that the students could use. They would go through the exercises at home, and then we could come back and we could talk about it over Zoom, or we could talk about it in class, where it felt a little bit safer.”
Looking ahead, Leah is optimistic about how her current efforts will benefit future students, and how her classes will evolve. “I’m always refining my classes. I love thinking about course design. And I think that helped me a lot.”
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