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Capturing Remote Performance Work

Mark Childs, Centre for Academic Practice, University of Warwick


ANNIE is a project supported by HEFCE under phase 3 of the Fund for the Development of Teaching and Learning, and undertaken jointly by the University of Warwick and the University of Kent at Canterbury. It involves carrying out many different activities, chosen to reflect as wide a range of educational and technological situations as possible. The scenarios essentially involve three types of approach:

  • accessing of expertise from outside of these institutions.
  • delivery of expertise located within the institutions to students at a distance.
  • use of distance learning mechanisms to deliver courses within the same institution.

In the current academic year 10 pilot activities are planned, involving three other UK universities. In the 2002/03 academic year these will be disseminated through pilot studies involving a number of other institutions in the UK and the rest of Europe, and subsequently through on-site and national training sessions in further UK institutions. Of the 10 activities planned for this academic year, four have already taken place. The feedback from these activities has already provided us with some guidance for further work in the field.

Rationale for distance teaching using technology

The pedagogical rationales and the issues and concerns the lecturers had with involvement in the ANNIE project showed a high degree of homogeneity. All of the activities were:

  • chosen to provide remote access to, or provision of, expertise
  • involved students studying theatre and performance, for which acquiring high degrees of ICT literacy is not relevant
  • located within the same school and so could be expected to have shared requirement to provide students with diversity of experience and information and to avoid disruption to the students' learning experience
  • affected by the same constraints of time and resources encountered by any module taught as part of a degree programme
  • delivered in dual mode (in this analysis, i.e. involves both distance and face to face teaching, although there are subsequent distance only courses being supported by ANNIE)

The combination of pedagogical and logistical factors, together with the constraints lecturers are faced with in running their courses, and the nature of the content of those courses, leads to the adoption of particular modes of implementation (distance or dual, discrete or continuous) and also which technologies are chosen.

Academic staff who had no technology-related content to their course were those who chose to use the technology purely for logistical reasons, and not to use any of the collaborative or student-led learning capabilities of the technology. There is not necessarily a connection between these two; it is feasible that a session could be conducted using computer-mediated communication for a subject matter that is completely unrelated to technology. There may be a prevailing attitude within the discipline that technology-based delivery is only appropriate to parts of the syllabus that are technology-orientated (a possibility which will be investigated in further evaluations). A similar project in another discipline may produce a different set of assumptions about appropriate uses of technology. The divergence between lecturers using technology only as a logistical mechanism for achieving traditional goals over a short length of time (and hence using videoconferencing) and those attempting collaborative or reflective learning and hence using computer-mediated conferencing is particularly marked in these case studies. Observing whether this applies to implementing technology within another environment would be a useful test of the external validity of these conclusions.

The development of the case studies was carried out in consultation with educational developers according to a set of considerations, including:

  • Which technology will best meet the pedagogical aims of the activity?
  • How can we use the technology to best meet the learning needs of the students?
  • Will employing technology for this activity have a deleterious effect on the rest of the learning activities within the module?
  • Is there any superfluous use of ICT within the case study? That is, are we doing something simply to find a use for the technology, rather than ensuring the activity is pedagogically led?

This led to certain technologies being rejected in favour of others that more closely met these criteria, according to the experience of the educational developers with these technologies. There is therefore the possibility that the high degree of correlation between pedagogical aims and technological implementation may, in part, be due to this development process. A similar set of case studies, carried out at a different school or informed by the experiences of different educational developers may not produce such a close correlation.

Despite the reservations over the external validity of the correlation, the above analysis does provide a basis for any further descriptions and evaluations of activities involving remote access to and delivery of expertise. They will also provide a benchmark for comparison with the case studies that use entirely distance learning. Further comparison, with work carried out as part of other projects will also provide a valuable test of the external validity of these principles. These will both be the subject of further papers.

Piloting performance work through distance technologies

Teleconferenced vivas

First year students in Warwick presented their work for a course on American Experimental Theatre to their lecturer who was in Frankfurt for that week. The session enabled the lecturer to maintain contact with his students and provide input to their work at a crucial stage. Apart from a few problems with the facilities (not least their cost) the session worked well. The main recommendation for future sessions is that the lecturer be given the opportunity to practice running such sessions at a distance.

Telematic performance workshop

A performer in Vancouver conducted a series of workshops with a group of students in Warwick. PCs and webcameras were set-up in the studio at Warwick, enabling the students to have space to perform around the PCs. A virtual performance space on was created for the students and lecturer to improvise performances, and also prepare and display rehearsed performances. Audiences watched either by logging on to the website, or in the studio where a data projector projected the visuals from one of the PCs onto a screen.

Screenshot of Telematic Performance Workshop

The workshop will be repeated at De Montfort University in April. Next time, though, we will use far more technical support, to enable the equipment to stay up and running consistently.

Virtual residency

One of the cornerstones of a degree in theatre studies is the contact students can have with theatre companies and other practitioners in the fieldWorkshops are very . effective, but an extended relationship between performers and students can be much more rewarding, providing an opportunity for the students to become much more aware of the work of the company, and for the practitioners to inform some of the work of the studentsby a theatre . This usually takes place in a residency company at the university. The problems with this are the cost, and the other commitments that the theatre company are likely to have.

A visiting theatre company prepared and followed-up their face-to-face work with Warwick students on the "Aspects of Practice" module with computer-mediated communication sessions, extending the period with which they could work with the students. During their face-to-face workshop they also facilitated the students’ work with technology-based performances, such as video, Internet chat rooms and mobile phones.

Blast Theory Theatre Group virtual residency took part in at the School of Theatre Studies at the University of Warwick during February and March of this year. The centrepiece of the residency was two face-to-face sessions in which the performers worked with students in the studio. Blast Theory work with technology and multimedia, which means that the documentation of their work is available via their web site, CD-ROM and videos. The students could therefore explore a large amount of the company’s work in the weeks leading up to the workshops. After the workshops, the communication between the theatre company and students was extended with follow-up work and discussions via the course web site.

The next step is for students to publish their performances to the web, providing an opportunity for the theatre company and other students to comment on the work, extending the virtual residency still further.

Blast Theory can be found at

The Aspects of Practice course website is at

Video lecture/software demonstration

A lecture and software demonstration for the stage design software "Virtual Assistant" was delivered to a group of students in Kent from the office of the "expert" (the lecturer and software developer) in Exeter. Rather than use room-based videoconferencing equipment, the link was made via two PCs and standard desktop videoconferencing. The image on the PC based in the lecture room was projected onto a screen for the class. Apart from some audio problems when the students were giving their feedback to the lecturer, the session worked well, providing a cost-effective alternative to room-based videoconferencing.

The Visual Assistant

Further work

planned in the next few months includes:

  • Eastern Physical Performance
    A videoconferenced workshop session between students in Kent and in Exeter.
  • Virtual scenography
    Another video lecture at Kent, but this time with a lecturer based in Kansas
  • Copyright and the Internet
    A pair of sessions between Warwick and a subject specialist at the BBC. One lecture will be via room-based videoconferencing and one using the PC-based and projection set-up described above, enabling a direct comparison of the two methods.
  • Media Rich seminar.
    Our first entirely distance-based activity of the project. Students will work independently through a series of activities using web-based multiple media learning materials.
Developing and disseminating good practice

The final goal is for the evaluation of these activities to identify the appropriate academic principles, structures and procedures needed for organising teaching from distant locations. The aim is not only to determine the most effective uses of available methods and media, but also how to build in quality assurance mechanisms – building a "How to" guide for accessing and delivering remote expertise.


Mark Childs
Educational Developer, ANNIE Project
Centre for Academic Practice
Tel: 024 76574057 (internal extension 74057)


The work described is part of the ANNIE Project, funded by HEFCE under phase 3 of the Fund for the Development of Teaching and Learning (FDTL), led by the School of Theatre Studies at Warwick in partnership with the School of Drama, Film and Visual Arts at the University of Kent at Canterbury, and managed by the Centre for Academic Practice at Warwick.

Project staff:

Jay Dempster, ANNIE Project Manager
Professor David Thomas (Warwick) & Professor Christopher Baugh (Kent) Directors:
Mark Childs (Warwick), Cat Fergusson (Kent) Educational Developers

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