At a recent visit to the theatre, I reflected about how theatre and performance can help to develop skills necessary for lecturers. There are many roles involved in producing a performance – it’s not just the actor on stage. Some roles are behind the scenes, but all are essential. I know a bit about this having been involved in many theatre productions over the years. So, here is a quick guide to the seven roles of highly effective lecturers.
1. Scriptwriter – the playwright determines the material delivered to the audience. However, there are many ways that the same content can be delivered. Some lecturers use active methods, getting the students to do things and discover for themselves. Other lecturers are more formal where students sit and listen to a lecture. Knowing your audience is vital. How many students in the class and What do you know about them? What previous knowledge do they have? This information will help you to structure your lecture and organise the material to tell a story and keep the students’ interest. The output of this stage is the ‘script’ which you use to run the session. The script could be a session plan backed up a set of PowerPoint slides or a written task for students to complete in class.
2. Stage Manager. The job of the stage manager is to make sure all the resources are available and that everything runs smoothly during the performance. Being your own stage manager means specifying or booking the room required, checking out the room in advance to familiarise yourself with the layout. Testing any equipment that you plan to use (e.g. Computer and software) is also essential. You also need to think about the props or resources needed during the lecture. Remember to bring a timer so you can keep to the session time. If you do being a phone, make sure it is silent. With all of this, you may need something to transport your equipment and ‘props’ to the classroom. Wheely bags have prove particularly useful for ferrying handouts for 300 students.
3. Wardrobe and Costume. This is a simple reminder that what you wear creates an impression on your audience. Most lecturers that I know wear semi-formal business clothing for lectures. These create a professional image. Others find an informal style works for them. Whatever costume you choose, it should be one that you feel confident in and allows you and your students to focus on the message you want to get across. Remember that first impressions count and your clothes will help establish that first impression. Don’t run into the classroom dishevelled unless this is actually part of the performance.
4. Usher – theatres usually have a couple of these to direct people to their seats and deal with any latecomers. Managing the space of the classroom is very important. If you have a large classroom and all your students sit at the back, it is difficult to establish a rapport from the front of the room. Give some thought as to how you will manage the arrival of latecomers so as to avoid distracting other people in the classroom. How are you going to distribute any notes? How will you manage the interaction with the students? Do you stand at the front or roam around the room? Ultimately, there is no single ‘right’ answer on this, it is a question of personal preference and style. However, being aware of the policy of other lecturers is useful and helps to manage expectations.
5. Performer. Now, your preparation done. The students in the classroom and your audiovisual material loaded up, it’s time to make a start in giving your lecture. lights, camera, action….. If you struggle with this part, then training in public speaking may help you. The best training is practice and getting feedback on your performance. Always take the opportunity to get feedback from students or colleagues. Try to do this early enough in a course so you can change and improve. Consider introducing variety in the lecture to maintain interest, using activities and video clips for example. A one hour monologue can be challenging to the best of performers.
6. Producer / Director With a ‘flipped classroom’ approach, students study the online material then come to the classroom with the necessary background knowledge. In the classroom, they can then engage in active exercises. It no longer needs to be a solo performance in the lecture time. Perhaps your skills are more in organising tasks and directing the students, so they can learn themselves.
7. Administrator. Whereas a theatre will have admin staff in the booking office, you need to deal with this yourself. This may include taking a classroom register and responding to student queries outside of lecture times. Responding to enquiries promptly and in an appropriate manner is part of your role. Some queries are best dealt with face to face or in class. Being approachable means the students can bring queries to you and can help clarify difficult issues for all students.
Juggling all the seven roles – Exhausting? Yes, but also exhilarating. The variety keeps you on your toes and it is always challenging and engaging. I would also recommend going to the theatre, not just to relax and unwind but to get ideas and see how the experts do it.