Center for Teaching and Learning

April 2, 2020

50 – Activating Autonomy: Using Student Choice to Fuel Effective Instructional Design


Jonathan M. Rizzardi, School of Drama, UW Seattle


For some learners undergraduate study fits into a catalogue of educational experiences that are marred by pedantic, authoritarian control over the objectives and discourse of classroom instruction. Even in Drama courses – a presumably learner-centered sphere – students are often restrained by what Paulo Freire refers to as the “banking model of education” through emphasis on memorization and recitation, and run the risk of repositioning their desires in higher education away from fruitful ambitions like intellectual advancement, educational fulfillment, and development of 21st-century stills, towards a process of learning pinioned by requirement and necessity.

How can we as educators, mentors, and advocates for learning in higher education theatre classrooms design instructional practices that captivate student interest while upholding the rigor of university instruction? What role do our students themselves have over the crafting, direction, and mediation of our pedagogical practices?

This scholarly teaching practice presentation investigates how instructional and curricular design strategies that provide undergraduate students agency over the process of their learning can positively impact student educational achievement and enjoyment. Drawing from educational theories supported by Freirian pedagogical frameworks, Luis C. Moll’s theory of cultural funds of knowledge, and culturally relevant teaching practices promoted through the work of Gloria Ladson-Billings and Sonia Nieto, my presentation will highlight the importance of securing student investment in course content through choice and define a model that educators can follow to foreground student autonomy in their instructional design and teaching practices. Informed by reflection on teaching practices in Drama classrooms over the course of the past ten years, and specifically using student surveys and instructional design practices from a recent iteration of the UW School of Drama’s course “Drama 201: Plays and Styles” my presentation will position the ways that my current research can be used to impact student learning across the entire campus community.