For this theater class, the show must go on—even online

Pass-fail grading inspired Hamilton College theater students to take more risks

Theater would seem to be among the hardest classes to teach online but students at Hamilton College went above and beyond their professor’s expectations this spring.

Theater professor Mark Cryer called the experience “surprising and rewarding.”

“I didn’t know how acting students were going to adapt to online teaching, where so much of what I do in the classroom is performative,” Cryer says. “That goes away via computer—it’s a bit more straightforward and pared down.”

His students’ work ethic never waned once the class shifted online, which made instruction smoother.

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“I would go into every class with two or three lesson plans just in case one didn’t work, so I could shift to another,” Cryer says. “But I never had to shift. It’s almost like the students’ focus was better.”

A few issues that cropped up. The most concerning was when a student suffering from depression didn’t participate in class for about a week. Thankfully, the student “came back strong,” Cryer says.

During another class, a few students lost internet access during a thunderstorm.

And, he recorded only two absences for his 60 students.

“They really dug down and they got the best out of themselves,” Cryer says.

The students also delivered some very creative final projects. One student used Zoom to record the one-act play he had originally planned to direct on campus.

Another student wrote and recorded her own sketch comedy piece, titled “Senior Project in Time of COVID-19.”

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The college was even able to stage its play, The Seagull. Actors filmed their own monologues and the director and producer edited them together. The performance was called The Seagull You Never Saw (click the link to see a preview).

In Cryer’s class, students also found artistic and academic liberation in the college’s shift to pass-fail grading during online learning.

“To see them worked for the joy of learning rather than working for a grade was so refreshing,” Cryer says. “While I won’t miss remote teaching, when we get back I’m going to try to recreate that sense of doing it for the joy of learning, and grades will take care of themselves.”

UB’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on higher ed.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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