Innovative Opportunities for Student-Centered Dance Teaching: Jaclyn Waguespack

Jaclyn Waguespack was awarded a 2014-15 Tufts Innovates! grant to support the development of a course in the Department of Drama and Dance, School of Arts and Sciences. She reflects on her experiences from the past year and shares insights on using a creative media approach to engage students.

aclyn Waguespack uses a creative media approach to engage students
Jaclyn Waguespack uses a creative media approach to engage students

Department/School: Drama and Dance (School of Arts and Sciences)

Course: Dance on Camera

Enrollment: 10 students, Spring 2015

What have been your most memorable teaching challenges and opportunities at Tufts?

When I first came to Tufts three years ago, I saw an opportunity to draw students to the Department of Drama and Dance by pairing dance with technology. The course I designed, Dance on Camera, introduces a genre of the arts that prioritizes dance to tell a story or convey an idea as opposed to the typical dialogue and acting you see in film. It was a goal of mine that through this course, students could learn just how much is involved in the creative process of filmmaking. I challenged the students to assume many roles in this course by having them storyboard, choreograph, direct, perform in, and edit their own films.

The most challenging part of this journey has been with structuring the course given the equipment and resources available to me. For a creative course like this, there are so many directions you can go in, but if the tools are limited, then your options are limited. When teaching the course the first year using just the iPads, the course was innovative and fun, but the projects had to be limited in complexity. After acquiring 10 DSLR cameras and other equipment through a Tufts Innovates grant (link is external), the options multiplied and the course was taken to a whole new level. Figuring out how to structure the course with the new equipment and resources while still containing the vast amount of material in a half-credit course was not an easy task.

The Tufts Innovates grant provided so many opportunities to the students that were not available to them in the first year. In addition to having access to superior equipment, the students had the chance to attend the largest screendance festival in the world, which sparked their motivation and creativity.

What have you done differently to improve your teaching with the use of mobile devices (specific applications, how you used them, etc.)? What lessons have you learned?

The iPads acquired during the iPad Pilot Program in the course’s first year allowed me to engage the students in a new way. The campus became the classroom and teaching and learning became spontaneous and student-centered. The iPad allows for video work with the built-in camera feature, as well as hosts apps for quick editing (iMovie (link is external) and Adobe Premiere Clip (link is external)) and content sharing and feedback (Tufts Box (link is external)). We also used an app called Paper (link is external) to storyboard and draw ideas of possible shots. Beyond using the iPad for simple, everyday tasks, it also provides direct access to course materials.

Although these popular and powerful applications have obvious benefits to a course of this nature, it was the introduction of some more obscure applications that really got the students engaged and encouraged them to think outside the box. Applications like MocApp and dancetechAR (link is external) (Augmented Reality) allowed the students to create and share work using the latest tools and technology.

The main lesson I’ve learned from this aspect of the course is that the dance field is always evolving and therefore the classroom needs to evolve with it. As new technology and new applications of this technology are introduced, people will find ways to use it creatively and we as educators need to keep our fingers on the pulse of that creativity if we are going to keep our students engaged.

What kind of impact has your effort made on student learning, either through your observation or a kind of measure? What do you hope to do next?

As part of the grant from Tufts Innovates, we started this semester by taking a weekend trip to New York to see the Dance on Camera Film Festival. There, the students were exposed to a wide range of films right out of the gate. The students then hosted their own screendance film festival, a smaller version of the New York festival, right here on campus. We were lucky to have several filmmakers serve as panelists at our screening. It was when I saw the students guiding visitors through an Augmented Reality tour of their trip and engaging in the post-screening Q&A with the filmmakers that I really got to see the impact this whole experience had on them. I believe they really appreciated the opportunity in front of them.

On the last day of class, we held an informal screening of the students’ final projects. I couldn’t believe how different each of the films were as well as how much the students had grown over the course of the semester. The amount of depth, not to mention time and effort, shown in these projects was a great testimony to the students’ understanding and learning in this course. They pushed themselves to make art they were proud of, which, in turn, has inspired me to keep finding innovative ways of incorporating technology and collaboration into my teaching.

Starting next fall, Dance on Camera will be offered as a regular, full-credit course in the Dance Program curriculum. In the future, I am hoping to collaborate more with other departments to once again take this course to a whole new level. In the meantime, the grant will give us the opportunity to help students submit their films to festivals all over the world. Maybe next year we will even see some of their projects on the big screen!

More information on this course is available on a blog (updated by teaching assistant Cassie Burns) at