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Dramatic Environments and the Production of Theatre

* With Special Provisions For The Visually Impaired *

* Course Assignment for Peer and Tutor Collaborative Assessment and Marking *
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The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen, nor touched... but are felt in the heart. [Helen Keller]


Yannis K looking through the computer screen. - Alternative to mental pictures, for sensual balance! The idea for this course was born out of the needs and expectations of blind adults who have been persistently voicing their desire to stage-act and "make theatre".

DEPTH is to set a learning environment which would facilitate adult learners into appreciating the art of performing, and equip and encourage them to take part in collaborative drama production.

In the eve of the next millennium, drama production has taken new dimensions with the use of technology, particularly, the Computer Mediated Communication Systems. Apart from technologically rich on stage productions, radio and television presentations, the repertoire of theatrical production has been enriched by the staging of online performances which have drawn the attention of a global audience (The Association for Theatre in Higher Education).

With the advent of new theatrical forms -- multimedia operas, live, networked video performances, and online, solely text-based MOO theatre -- comes a new set of criteria and new understandings of the so-called virtual realm as a stage. The creation and development of dramatic virtual environments (DVEs) offers unique learning opportunities into a educational domain which has always been regarded as multidiscipline and holistic.

As Jill Dolan, President of ATHE states:


Factors which influence the design of the course (McCormack & Jones, 1997)
The outside world The educational institution, local region and country in which the learning experience takes place and the associated policies, procedures, laws and general trends.
The course or class The academic program in which the students enrol, including the content, field of knowledge, mode of delivery and other academic characteristics.
Students Their age, background, culture, language and preferred style of learning all influence the design of the classroom.
Educators The people responsible for creating and teaching the subject also influence the classroom through their background, age, preferred teaching style, experience and personality.
Technical Factors Computers, software, networks, medium, technical support and training required to implement the Web-based classroom.

In response to pre-recorded social requirements of individual learners and in an attempt to restrain the "'lexitechonomic' systems hegemony in our Life-world making" (Gary Boyd, 1997), DEPTH will be offered to hellenic (greek) speaking adult learners who are unwilling or unable to participate in face to face settings due to distance, lack of desire, or/and disability. Consequently, access to a computer and the Internet is a requirement for joining the course. Course participants might be residents in the course site town, from different hellenic regions or, even, distant hellenic communities from all over the world.

The language of DEPTH will be hellenic, and the course can be delivered as a stand-alone and self-contained (Khan, p.14) life-long learning course for social and personal development from a wide spectrum of private or state educational organisations in Ellas or in the Hellenic Diaspora. It will be scheduled to run for a full term.
[If adapted, DEPTH may also be offered as a online module to formal undergraduate courses (Theatrical Studies Department, AUTH)]

There will be no academic pre-requirements other than a strong desire to participate in collaborative theatrical productions. Learners will be expected to have seen/heard stage, heard radio or watched/heard television drama performances. In a pre-course introductory task, starting one month and finishing two weeks prior to course opening date, learners will be asked to submit a maximum of two titles of playwrights -- or books they have visioned as drama -- along with a short introduction of themselves and a brief note on their reason for joining the course.

Online hypermedia courses require multidisciplinary teamwork for their design and delivery. It is anticipated that the DEPTH team should consist of: the director, a full-time academic to be responsible for all aspects of the course; the hypermedia developer, to develop the online technical and artistic environment; the editor, to help check overall development of content; the instructional designer, to provide input on the educational aspects; tutors, responsible for helping students on campus.

Tutors will be assigned a maximum number of 15 students and the whole of their working schedule will be devoted to collaboration. This can be achieved by introducing collaborative assessment of the learning process which is facilitated by the nature of the discipline and the course methodology.

Frontier, a powerful multi-platform scripting tool will be used to create an open, EBBS like, Web Bulletin Board System to meet the demands of many-to-many asynchronous communication and group collaboration.

Outlining instructional design, the author will attempt to meet the instructional design criteria suggested by Khan and Vega (1997), Collis (1997) and Keller (1983) in msg#204 and refined in the relevant H802 collaborative activities (msg#247), by making use of the focal points listed by Boyle (1996):

In line with these principles, the course will adopt a constructivist approach. In constructivism as a philosophical educational approach it is argued that since knowledge is socially and culturally constructed (Brookfield, 1985), it is the learner who constructs knowledge for themselves. Hypermedia systems can facilitate this approach very well and, therefore, the ones used in the course will emphasise active, constructivist learning, being viewed as learning rather than teaching tools.

In utilising the tools throughout DEPTH's cycles of activities, learners will be encouraged to use Kolb's model of The Experiential Learning Cycle (having an experience - reviewing the experience - concluding from the experience - planning the next steps). The suggestion is to use the order of:

Considering learning as a collaborative process where we are all learners involved in a collaborative experience where understandings are developed, construction of knowledge will involve active learning through participation and dialogue. Working in Cycles of Time Scheduled Activities students and staff should be able to


Building a virtual community is about building an online version of what Ray Oldenburg calls "the Third Place". In The Great Good Place he calls home the First Place and work the Second Place. He says:

Collaborative communication is the main feature that promotes and maintains such a community. Collaboration involves articulating a shared purpose and direction and working toward joint decisions. This distinguishes it from other forms of co-operation which may involve common interests but are not based on a collectively articulated goal or vision. Ann Austin and Roger Baldwin note that while there are obvious similarities between co-operation and collaboration, the former involves pre-established interests while the latter involves collectively defined goals.

Collaboration is a process in which the group as a whole must be self- governing and in which all participants are equally represented in the making of joint decisions. An effective leader must guide and co-ordinate that decision-making process. "The power of position is of little help in this world of peers," Chrislip and Larson observe, "nor are the traditional hierarchical, political, and confrontational models of leadership. Those who lead collaborative efforts ... rely on both a new vision of leadership and new skills and behaviours to help communities and organisations realise their visions, solve problems, and get results." (Ioannis-k in RG's group). The promise of collaboration is not only that it helps us redefine our relationships with each other, but that it helps us create, in Marvin Weisbord's words, "a joint relationship to the wider world."

To succeed in building and maintaining a Collaborative Learning Community Online the DEPTH team will need to construct a facilitative environment for collaboration which in turn will enable constructive learning. Getting to know each other (Helen-c , Troy-c , Ernst-e ) is evidently an issue that needs to be addressed in the initial stages. Apart from the pre-course activity scheduled, there will be plenary forums reserved for social interaction where learners will be encouraged to socialise. Yet, more rigid relationships will be build in the context of group collaborative activities.

A mode of scheduled learning activity cycles will be introduced in pursue of the final learning outcome, the online production of a dramatic act which will take place on a social or educational MOO. The possibility of constructing DEBTH's own MOO using public software already available on the course host institution's own server can be considered. Textual/hypertextual textbook will be available on site covering theory of drama, performing principles and techniques, and the appreciation and delivery of sensory stimuli. The textbook will also be available in audio and Braille versions.
Cycle #1

On commencing, the titles and outlines of 10 plays will be presented to learners who will be asked to read and identify with at least three of them, so that the formation of the first collaborating groups may be facilitated. Early choices of participants are taken into consideration in assembling the list of ten.

In groups of three to five, learners will be supplied with the script (hypertext) of their one, mutually chosen playwright, as well as its stage performance on video and/or audio cassette. Group participants will be facilitated into communicating their initial observations in asynchronous mode on the course WebBoard.

The activities to follow will involve collaborative reporting on their exploration of theory in the performing arts field and the critical appreciation of its implementation on the teaching of the plays in focus, with a facilitated ascending complexity in collaborative communication engagement and techniques.

Ensuing learning cycles will be dealing with separate sensory stimuli essential in dramatisation, their integration and their relation to everyday experience, situations and concepts. Discussion on the appreciation of colour/light/darkness, sound/voice, movement/mobility, smell/taste and tactile experience will forge useful exchange of notions and trigger awareness.

Towards the end of the first third of the course, a learning cycle concerning WebChat and the sensory stimuli implementation in the art of drama will be introduced. Within this cycle, a number of issues would be negotiated in synch and asynch mode:

WebChat will also be used for meetings with 'Real World' expertise so that learners can test their learning outcomes against extrinsic evidence and be facilitated into critical reflection.

In both communication modes learners will be encouraged and facilitated to depict their mood and their environment with the use of different sensory stimuli via the textual medium. An excellent sample of such dramatised communication can be observed in the early messages of Simon-r in this year's plenary and RG forum (#117), [#45 & #226 and Tony-D's #225 for reference] and in Helen's famous Super-Lurking messages (thread starts with Msg #176).

The MOO Experience

In the second half of the course, learners would be ready for a first MUD/MOO experience. After the initial familiarisation with the MOO environment, learners will experiment with turning the MOO props and scenery into a stage for dramatisation by attempting to materialise and implement previous findings and conclusions. Groups will become in turn collaborative wizards, manipulating the environment and staging from pre-scripted short acts to improvisations.

Control with a Moo/MUD is, by definition, distributed; unlike conventional dramatic media (e.g., the novel, the stage play), MUDs eliminate the boundary between artist and audience, empowering the participants with complete creative control and making them share responsibility for the creation of their own experiences. Distributed control is a compelling strength of the MOO experience It is the place where one is able to participate in a creation of a theatrical piece that uses space which is not stopped by the boundaries of four walls.

In 1984, William Gibson's novel Neuromancer named the place where Internet users worked Cyberspace. Writing in the genre of science fiction, he envisioned this place as "a consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts. A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding"

At the time the novel was published, the Arpanet (developed by and for the US Department of Defense in 1970) had already been replaced by the Internet, offering nearly global connectivity to anyone with the means to own and use the necessary equipment. Although the Internet has not yet reached the fully graphical interactive environment Gibson envisioned, his initial classification of the space as a shared hallucination was in many ways accurate.

As a multi-user synchronous environment, MOO fulfils Gibson's early conception of cyberspace as a place for learning. In the time since the novel's publication, educational software based on one-way, human-computer interactivity has become widely available. CDs for the study of Shakespeare's plays, Asian theatre forms, and theatre architecture have appeared for use in courses and research. These publications function through the medium of hypertext, linking dramatic and scholarly text, graphics and video footage for the user to navigate.
Although these are valuable pedagogical tools, they remain rooted in the human-computer model and might be considered comparable to reading a script.

But the focus of the theatre is in stage performance (whether scripted or improvisational), in the exchange between actor and audience in production. Similarly, recent research into pedagogy indicates that the best class sessions are interactive, filled with discussion rather than lecture.
What MOO offers to the theatre is the opportunity for human-computer-human interaction in addition to the possibility of single-user explorations.

So, this might be the right time for learners to make choices about their final roles in the major collaborative or individual projects which will mark the end of the course. They will be asked to submit a relevant proposal for evaluation and further comments from all participants. This will be a fairly long but desirable process through which participants will decide on their final productions, which could be anything that can materialise online - even audio and/or video presentations of, possibly, individual acts. Learners will be encouraged to work in collaborative projects but, since every proposal will be evaluated collaboratively, the decision will finally be made by the individual.

As with every other DEPTH activity, major projects will be assessed collaboratively according to pre-set but negotiable criteria and, concerning finals, proposed and mutually accepted members of the public will be invited to co-operate in assessing performances online. Assessment criteria will be positively biased towards creativity rather than conventional artistic predefined judgements. Every view will be taken on record and count towards final marking, but opinions such as the ones rejecting colour schemes on account of personal taste, albeit being respected, they will be considered subjective(!?). The DEPTH team will emphatically promote post-course communication, where students and teachers can enjoy informally sharing perspectives upon and memories of different stages in the online exchange with each other. It can be used as an opportunity for everyone to say "good-bye," "thank you," and perhaps begin to speak about possibilities of working together in the future.

Special Considerations


Ann E. Austin and Roger G. Baldwin, Faculty Collaboration: Enhancing the Quality of Scholarship and Teaching (Washington DC: George Washington University, 1991), p. 4.

Boyd, G. (1997) - The Life-Worlds Of Computer-Mediated Distance Education - URL:http://www-icdl.open.ac.uk/mindweave/resource12.html

Boyle, R. (1996) - A review and critique of constructivism - in Carlson, P. & Makedin, F., (Eds.) Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, proceedings of Ed-Media : Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). Boston: AACE

Brookfield, S., (1985) - A Critical Definition Of Adult Education - Adult Education Quarterly, 36, (1), pp.44-49

Collis, B. (1997) - Tele-learning in a Digital World, ISBN 1-85032-157-4 UK, p.454

Cornell, R. & Martin, B. L. (1997) - The Role of Motivation In Web-Based Instruction - in WBI, ISBN 0-87778-297-0 USA, pp. 96-97

David D. Chrislip and Carl E. Larson. Collaborative Leadership: How Citizens and Civic Leaders Can Make a Difference (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994), p. 127.

Jonassen, D.H., Davidson, M., Collins, M, Campbell, J. & Haag, B.B. (1995). Constructivism and computer-mediated communication in distance education. The American Journal of Distance Education, 9(2), pp.7-26.33

Khan, B. - What is it and why is it? in WBI, ISBN 0-87778-297-0 USA, p.14

Khan, B. & Vega, R..(1997) - A Survey - in WBI, ISBN 0-87778-297-0 USA, pp.376-378

Kolb, D. A. (1984) - Experiential Learning: Experience as the source of learning and development - New Jersey: Prentice Hall

Laurillard D, (1994) - Multimedia and the changing experience of the learner - in Proceedings of APITITE 94 Conference, APITITE 94 Council: Milton, Vol 1, pp19-24 - URL: http://edtech.nepean.uws.edu.au/mmn8/laurillard.html

Laurillard, D. (1993) Rethinking university teaching: A framework for the effective use of educational technology - (Routledge: London).

Marvin Weisbord, ed., Discovering Common Ground: How Future Search Conferences Bring People Together to Achieve Breakthrough, Innovation, Empowerment, Shared Vision, and Collaborative Action (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 1992), p. 11

McCormack, C. & Jones, D. (1997) - Building a Web-Based Education System - John Wiley and Sons, ISBN 0471191620

Oldenburg, R. - Our Vanishing "Third Places" -----Ray Oldenburg is author of "The Great Good Place" (ParagonHouse 1989), and teaches sociology at the University of West Florida in Pensacola.----- http://policy.gmu.edu/edge_city/olden.html

ARTS DEPARTMENT, AUTHhttp://www.auth.gr/structure.en.html#Arts

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Last updated: Thursday, June 11, 1998 02:49 AM
Copyright 1998 Yannis Karaliotas
H802/MA in ODE