Nicola is a lecturer and James is Senior Lecturer, in the School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies.
Nicola and James teach two Theatre courses, THEA203 – Space, Light and the Body and THEA204 – Classic Theatre Workshop. These are limited entry courses of approximately 50 students. Nicola and James do not teach together but share a lot of ideas about their teaching and there are many commonalities across both courses. Both Nicola and James connect their teaching to the values that underpinned the ways they had developed their teaching and assessment. After he moved to New Zealand from Canada, James found that some of his approaches to teaching were not working. This motivated him to look at ways that were effective with New Zealand students. He was keen that students take responsibility for their own learning and decision-making. Nicola emphasised the importance of kaupapa Māori and the concept of ‘kanohi ki te kanohi’ (face-to-face) as key drivers in her teaching.
Nicola and James focused on the assessment they used for their courses. They thought that it was important that students have control over what they are going to be assessed on so that, within the frameworks set out in the course outlines, students could focus on the elements that best helped them to develop their own skills. They felt that the assessments should be authentic and relevant to the world that the students live in. In particular, they felt it was important for students to develop their own ideas rather than to report on what others thought about a piece or a play.
In THEA203, students participated in a group presentation and a solo presentation. They also undertook a research project in which they investigated a performance of any type, a group performance, a solo performance, and a portfolio based on their learning and experiences throughout the course. The research project and group performance acted as scaffolding for the solo performance. Marking criteria focused on performativity, creativity, and reflection.
In THEA204, students were assessed according to their creative contributions to the course and their reflective practice. The main aim of the reflective assessments was to encourage students to document their cognitive, behavioural, and affective aspects of their experiences in presenting short pieces of traditional theatre, to reflect on what they had learned from these experiences and create new goals as a result. The creative contributions were assessed based on the ways in which students engaged with the tasks and worked with their peers rather than on their performative skills or specific knowledge of the play, although these factors still played some part in the assessment.
Using a kaupapa Māori approach has led to positive responses from students, particularly Māori and Pasifika students who really appreciate learning a Māori text from a Māori perspective. In general, students have responded positively to the emphasis on reflection and personal development in course assessments, and this has been borne out in higher attendance and engagement in each course.
Although there are some differences in the beliefs Nicola and James hold about teaching, they both focus on similar key ideas. These include being true to themselves as well as to the course content, responding to students, and the idea of research informing teaching. They pay specific attention to their students’ learning, recognising the importance of investing time and building relationships with their students. They exhibit a great deal of flexibility and openness in their approach to teaching and encourage their students to be autonomous learners. Changes and innovations are grounded in evidence and both are keen to support their students to be innovative themselves in their responses to assessments.
This case study was written as part of the Innovative Pedagogies research project.