Name of the participant and other supporting staff if relevant

Sarah Fitzgibbon

The project was co-supervised with lecturer Charlotte Tiernan

Name of the module and discipline, level and  year of study and any useful background info

BA Drama Performance (Hons) – Applied theatre strand.

Theatre in Education 2 – work placement module, with second year students.

Sarah had a background in Drama in Education, social and community engaged practice before she started teaching in TU Dublin last year. The School (Conservatoire) is positive about community engagement generally, their methods are dialogical by nature.

Name of community partner and/or any other supporting partners (public or private sector)

St Brigit’s School Dublin 8, Mary Queen of Angels Dublin 10

CERL project title(s)

Virtual drama workshops in schools

What they changed about their programme/course in relation to CERL

The module already contained references to engagement. They made one small change to the module descriptor to extend the scope to ‘virtual placements’ within the primary school context, allowing students to meet teachers through zoom to plan workshops (allowed for Covid restrictions). 

Some modules already involved placements, but it tended to be secondary school students coming into TU Dublin to attend a workshop run by the TU Dublin students. Sarah wanted to strengthen the community engagement elements in the module, so decided to work with schoolteachers and her students via zoom to co-create online workshops for children using a version of the commissioning model of education as developed by Dorothy Heathcote (see https://www.mantleoftheexpert.com/blog-post/dorothy-heathcote-four-models-for-teaching-learning/)

How was it taught:

·        number of students

·        student groupwork or individual,

·        how they worked with the partner,

·        how the project proceeded,

·        any reflection done with students,

·        evaluation or formal assessment of their learning,

·        Could or should we follow up with students?

·        tech used

·        Anything else interesting?

 Five primary school teachers from 2 DEIS (designated socio-economically disadvantaged) schools, each commissioned a different 4-week drama scheme (40 minute online session each week) on a collaboratively negotiated theme or topic, to be delivered via zoom into their 3-6th classes.

Unfortunately, due to the delay in the return to schools after Covid closures, and delays in Garda vetting [police vetting of students for child protection purposes], they were not able to incorporate the children into the commissioning/ consultation process, so the TU Dublin students only worked with the teachers.

The themes and topics varied from:  World War One trenches, incorporating poetry and creative writing. The Ancient Egypt, incorporating team-work and problem solving. Women in History, incorporating research and creative/responsive writing and group work. Immigration from Ireland to the USA in the early 20th Century, incorporating themes of inclusion and cultural variance. Medieval times, incorporating themes of inclusion, collective civic responsibility and co-operation.

Schools received copies of all schemes so they can be replicated again by the teachers next year – this will be supported through CPD delivered by Sarah to them in September. 

In terms of process, the lecturers facilitated the first meeting on zoom between the students (who worked in groups) and the community partners, after that they asked to be CC’d on all communications. 

There was intensive collaboration between the teachers and the students, because the teachers would be facilitating the pods of pupils in their classroom (small physically distanced groups within the classroom, to protect against Covid infection), so they had to feel comfortable facilitating games etc that the students proposed to run. Although all primary teachers in Ireland receive drama training, they don’t get to use it very regularly. The teachers were very open and engaged, and the process led to a lot more co-creation than the lecturers expected. 

Both lecturers and students were really surprised how well the drama teaching role in the classroom worked on zoom, this is something they want to build on and explore further with colleagues who specialise in this. Students want to keep going with the project and use digital platforms as well as face-to-face interaction. 

Students have opportunities for income streams as ‘portfolio artists’, and this applied drama module is a really good way of opening up the possibilities for this kind of work. 

What did your students learn or how will they benefit?

Student feedback was really positive, they were surprised how well it worked, they had been very nervous about working with young children, but really enjoyed it, largely due to the intensive collaboration with the teachers. They valued the real-world experience. 

The students were really lacking in confidence at the start of the project, but being in their homes, being able to dress up and perform which really helped them on many levels. It also, means that they’re in a better position to facilitate when they are working on their final facilitation in-presence modules in which they will be working with adults with intellectual disabilities. The staff realised that not having done in-presence workshops in 2020, because of Covid, some students’ development was delayed when it came to in-presence facilitation.

They hope to be back and run in-person facilitation modules in the first semester next year. 

What do you think the benefit was to the partner? Do they have any feedback from the partner?

Sarah’s goal was to move from a passive, transactional process of engagement to more of a reciprocal, co-creation relationship. The commissioning model, time and dialogue worked really well for this. The teachers are keen to continue the project, and will deliver the same drama workshops themselves with their own pupils next year. They have asked Sarah to do CPD with them in September to prepare them for this. 

How could/will you improve your CERL teaching practice next time?

Next year they’ll work with secondary schools as well as primary schools, to give students a choice of age group of pupils to work with. 

Next year they want to include the children’s voices in the commissioning process, they couldn’t do it this year as due to Covid restrictions the primary pupils were being schooled at home. 

They are aiming to build community engagement right through the Applied drama strand in a sustainable way, within socio-cultural sustainability goals (of the university). Sarah feels they should be confident as a department about the quality of their collaborative processes, as exemplars of good practices. Then they want to look at postgraduate and practice options as they go forward. 

Any challenges and how you overcame them


Garda (police) vetting was a big delay so they will do that process differently next year. 

Working online was new to lecturers and students, no-one knew if it would work. In some cases the students used real-world or created objects, sent in advance to the teachers to enhance the drama. This forced the students to do advance planning and creative work in prop making which enhanced the physical dimension of the interactions in the virtual workshops. The students and the teachers became inventive within the virtual/digital contexts which in turn strengthened their collaboration. The students would send physical objects to the teacher in advance of the lesson (e.g. a scroll or a map), they would do exercises in the workshops such as their character holding an object out towards the camera, to the teacher, and then the teacher in the classroom would pull the same object out from behind a screen, and the children would be amazed, so the students got to plan to use stage trickery. These devices helped to address the challenges in working entirely online. 

There were challenges involved in documenting processes involving children, so the lecturers will try to work this out for next year. 

Any good quotes we could use in the IO1 report

Sarah’s goal was to ‘move from a passive, transactional process of engagement to more of a reciprocal, co-creation relationship. The commissioning model, time and dialogue worked really well for this.’ 

Did anything notable come up that about their LC, Triad, ILC, LTTA  or module experiences?

 Peer mentoring on academic writing in the quad has been really useful.

Anything else they want moving forward with their CERL practice?

Sarah continues to work with her quad to produce a paper and hopefully a conference presentation on the social sustainability within CERL.