Evaluation and Curricular Development

Theater and dance are best learned in an environment where practice and theory are inextricably 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 sequenced curriculum of ten courses. The “core” courses (Action and Character, Language of Movement, and Visual Thinking) are inter-disciplinary, and are designed to introduce the student to the interactive and collaborative nature of performance. Following the core courses, intermediate and advanced courses in the arts of 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 seven to twelve performance events a year providing 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, at the end of every semester, we meet with each major individually to refine and contextualize our evaluation of the student’s progress, and to discuss individual challenges, and plans for the future. These conversations provide us with additional direct evidence of each student’s progress.

Finally, every major undertakes a senior capstone project. The senior capstone project is our major comprehensive
examination and the basis for our honors program. Over the last three semesters of the major, the process of integrating creative action with the development of theoretical understanding is catalyzed by frequent faculty evaluation and feedback based on evidence gathered from rehearsal and studio visits, collaborative peer-group conversations, individual meetings and student writing. As students develop proposals, create and complete projects, and document and evaluate the process in a written thesis, 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.

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.  At least once a year, the faculty meets in a “retreat” to discuss comprehensively the evidence of learning outcomes and to contemplate improvements to the curriculum.

Refinements to the existing curriculum are made on an annual basis in direct response to student outcomes, and therefore the curriculum evolves incrementally year-to-year. For example, in a recent year, the addition of a new faculty member has led to a re-evaluation of various areas of the curriculum (including directing, dramaturgy, and voice), and new efforts to integrate those areas better with related activities in other courses and production work. Finally, we recently instituted an improved timeline for the completion of the core courses in relationship to declaration of the major.