Open Pedagogy in Theatre Arts

Following is the thirteenth of a series of posts by participants in the Spring 2021 Open Pedagogy Fellowship, coordinated by the Mina Rees Library. Fellows will share insight into the process of converting a syllabus to openly-licensed and/or zero-cost resources, as well as their experiences in the Fellowship.

Ryan McKinney (he/him/his) is a third-year Ph.D. student in Theatre & Performance and serves as Director of Theatre Arts at Kingsborough Community College. In addition to his practice-based research as a theatre director and actor, Ryan’s scholarly research interests include musical theatre & politics, theories of actor training across the Americas, and gay & lesbian representation onstage, as well as civic engagement and open pedagogical teaching practices. In addition to his doctoral degree, Ryan is completing the Certificate in Interactive Technology and Pedagogy at the Graduate Center.

I was first introduced to the term “open pedagogy” through my work as a professor of theatre arts at Kingsborough Community College. Although the term was new to me, the pedagogical goals of “open” felt very familiar, similar to those I had been trying to articulate and implement for multiple semesters – but that I had struggled to find the resources, time and guidance to address. As I continued to learn about open pedagogy, I felt like I had finally found an articulated educational and teaching philosophy that encompassed so many of the goals that I was trying to achieve as an educator. While my initial forays into open pedagogical practice were mixed at best, my understanding of and commitment to open education significantly deepened in 2017, after implementing the use of an open textbook into one of our theatre courses at Kingsborough. Since then, it has been a guiding force in my work in the Interactive Technology & Pedagogy program at the Graduate Center, as well as in my administrative and teaching work at Kingsborough.

I applied to the Open Pedagogy Fellowship (OPF) at the Graduate Center with the goals of gaining knowledge to design and implement open theatre courses, while also working toward my long-term goal of creating an open educational resource for theatre arts. While I was very excited to be accepted into the fellowship cohort, what I did not anticipate was how the Spring 2021 semester would become a semester steeped in exploring the concept of “open.” In addition to my work in the Graduate Center Open Pedagogy Fellowship, I was also asked to help facilitate a group of Kingsborough faculty through their own fellowship in open assignment design. Additionally, while designing my open course site and syllabus as part of the Graduate Center OPF, I also constructed and piloted an open History of Theatre e-reader in Manifold, which allowed students to read open access playscripts while also being able to annotate, highlight and converse in the margins of the text. As I reflect on this semester of “open,” I am struck by how all of these collective experiences of open education have informed one another and expanded my vision of “open.”

Image created by Jessica Duensing for, used under Creative Commons License CC BY-SA.

The lessons learned this semester are numerous and varied. First, this semester, I was once again reminded to not make the perfect the enemy of the good. As usual, my open courses this semester definitely need refining and retooling; some assignments were a great success and others need reconsideration. But overall, the act of attempting an open course, bringing a sense of critical pedagogy to my classroom and creating resources that are openly accessible to my students reminds me why open education is vital. 

Second, open education/pedagogy is an immediate and tangible thing that I can do in my commitment to social justice. While yes, reducing textbook cost is an important component of open education resources, even more powerfully, a teaching practice that is centered in open pedagogy can address student-centered issues related to access, equity, degree completion and academic momentum. Lastly, this semester, I attempted to foster a dialogue about critical and open pedagogy with my students. Whereas in previous semesters, I highlighted the “no-cost” association of open educational resources with my students, I failed to highlight why we were using them, what the mission was, and how they spoke to the learning outcomes of the course. This semester, as part of the introductory class meetings, we discussed concepts of “open,” how they could inform our teaching and learning, and why they were important to our work in the theatre. While I think this helped provide clarity on why we were using these resources in class, it is my hope that I will be able to find a more organic way of folding this conversation into the course content in future semesters so that open education and theatre education become inextricably connected.

In Critical Digital Pedagogy: a definition, Jesse Stommel declares that “a Critical Digital Pedagogy demands that open and networked educational environments must not be merely repositories of content. They must be platforms for engaging students and teachers as full agents of their own learning.” Stommel’s definition, one that trumpets the importance of agency and engagement, was not only a guiding force for me this semester but also serves as a lens through which I can analyze and critique the successes and challenges of the semester. How can my teaching practice continue to promote agency and equity while simultaneously exploring the complex and varied world of theatre arts? How can such practices become ingrained within the teaching of theatre arts rather than two moving pieces of the same course? While I came into the semester with questions, and am ending the semester with additional questions, what I have learned is that the answers to many of these lie in the practice of and commitment to open education.

About the Author

Katherine Pradt is the Adjunct Reference and Digital Outreach Librarian at the Graduate Center.