Evaluation and Curricular Development

Theater and dance are best learned in an environment where practice and theory are linked. To develop student understanding of the relationship between theory and practice, we integrate evaluation of student learning within the learning process. Direct evidence of learning outcomes is manifested in collaborative performance assignments that increase in sophistication and complexity as students advance through the curriculum. In addition, writing assignments across the curriculum provide evidence of students’ understanding of essential concepts and the development of their critical abilities in evaluating their own work.

A student majoring in theater and dance undertakes a curriculum with broad opportunities, as well as course sequences in different sub-disciplines.  A  variety of 100-level and 200-level courses introduce students to various techniques and topics, and well as emphasizing collaborative practice. Intermediate and advanced courses theater and dance are more specific-discipline oriented, and are augmented by required courses in the history, literature and theory of performance. Evaluation and consequent feedback are integrated at all levels.

Our public production season is the laboratory for our curriculum. We produce an average of seven or more performance events a year that provide direct evidence of student learning to the community at large, as well as to department faculty and student peers for evaluation. Every theater and dance production represents one or more of the following learning outcomes: a senior capstone project, a particular course’s performance outcome, a faculty research project involving student work, an integrated laboratory assignment, or, occasionally, an outside professional performance that provides participatory and/or critical skill building opportunities for our students.

Thus, students’ learning is evidenced on an ongoing basis each year through their participation in our production season; our laboratory is also our assessment mechanism. Any given student will have multiple interactions with the making of theater and dance over the course of the major. 

In addition, students provide an annual reflection, detailing their evolving interests and progress in the major. These reflections provide information to the entire faculty and staff of the department, so that academic and career advice may be individually targeted. These reflections also provide us with regular direct evidence of each student’s progress.

Finally, selcted majors may undertake a senior honors project. During the junior year, all majors participate in a collaborative senior-year season planning process with faculty and staff toward integrating the senior work of all students, including those doing honors work.  As students develop collective and individual proposals, create and complete projects, and document and evaluate the process in a written thesis (for honors students), faculty members provide frequent progress assessments. Public performances and the written thesis provide evidence for a comprehensive evaluation by a cross-disciplinary group of faculty assigned to each major.  The integrated senior project, and the precedent planning process constitutes our major comprehensive examination and is also the basis for our honors program. 

We track indirect evidence of learning outcomes by staying in touch with graduates of our program. In many cases, we continue to work artistically with graduates and/or advise them on post-graduate opportunities. Many of our graduates develop significant careers, and we list graduates’ accomplishments on our web page. Examples include: becoming head of the acting program at Australia’s National Institute of Dramatic Art, winning the Princess Grace Statue Award for career achievement in design, a Bessie Award in Choreography and Design, a Rockefeller MAP Award in Choreography, performing on Broadway, off-Broadway, and at prominent regional theaters, and building and maintaining careers as dancer/choreographers in New York. In addition, our majors regularly are admitted to highly competitive graduate schools in acting, designing, and playwriting, such as those at Yale, NYU, ACT, Trinity/Brown, and ART/Harvard, to name a few.

The department’s faculty members meet together regularly to discuss curricular issues and the progress of our major students. Since performance outcomes are closely integrated with our curriculum, faculty and departmental production staff meet several times per year to discuss the production process and its laboratory role as a learning environment.  As indicated above, individual faculty members interpret direct evidence of learning outcomes in order to integrate evaluation with learning activities on an ongoing basis, and faculty share the evaluation of each senior capstone project.  Faculty also meet, in alternate years, in a “retreat” to discuss comprehensively the evidence of learning outcomes and to contemplate improvements to the curriculum.