Performing Arts as Pedagogical Tool in Higher Education (ASCOPET) research project is a collaboration established in September 2018 between Instant-Lab and the Institute of Psychology and Education, University of Neuchâtel (UNINE).

ASCOPET was initiated by EPFL Prof. Simon Henein and UNINE Prof. Laure Kloetzer with postdoctoral researchers Susanne Martin (EPFL) and Ramiro Tau (UNINE). It describes, analyzes, and evaluates the utilization of the performing arts in higher education through Pedagogical research and Artistic research.

R. Tau, L. Kloetzer, S. Henein (Eds.), 2024, Barefoot academic teaching: performing arts as a pedagogical tool in higher education, SCENARIO Book Series, Schibri-Verlag.

This book delves into essential, yet often overlooked, aspects of educational and scientific practices: the involvement of the body in knowledge acquisition and production, the collective nature of creativity, and the potent role of improvisation in all living actions. It is the culmination of a 4-year research endeavour on Performing Arts as a Pedagogical Tool in Higher Education, conducted in collaboration between the School of Engineering at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the Institute of Psychology and Education at the University of Neuchâtel (UNINE). The authors meticulously describe, analyse, and evaluate two courses – one in engineering and the other in psychology – that employ performing arts practices to enhance students’ learning processes and facilitate boundary crossing from school to out-of-school contexts, as well as between theory and practice. From the diversity of perspectives and forms, inherent in the encounter between vastly different disciplines and cultures, there emerges a compelling plea for an education that integrates art and science within the same scenario.

Editor’s website

This project describes, analyzes, and evaluates the utilization of the performing arts in higher education. This is achieved by a comparative study of two pilot courses:

  • Psychology and migration, taught at the University of Neuchâtel by Prof. Laure Kloetzer;
  • Collective creation: improvised arts and engineering (Improgineering), taught at EPFL by Prof. Henein.

These two courses follow traditions of using theater and performance for academic teaching and research, i.e., performing arts as mediation for higher education. Both courses involve embodied learning through stage performance as part of the curriculum. A comparative analysis of the dynamics of these two courses lets us understand how the course designs and the artistic mediations (theater in the first course, improvisation in the second course) support their excellent outcomes.

Connecting learning across school and out-of-school contexts is a growing topic in educational research and practice. The call to “break the encapsulation of school learning by a stepwise widening of the object and context of learning” (Engeström) has become increasingly important for today’s education, with concepts like “boundary crossing”, referring “to ongoing recipro- cal actions and interactions between contexts.” In parallel to these claims for the promotion of connected learning, other authors criticize the “alienation often experienced by students in conventional education”. The ASCOPET project analyzes, compares and discusses two inno- vative pedagogical pilot projects which use arts to organize boundary crossing for the students between their life and learning outside university and inside the university, between theory and practice, and between arts and science, with the aim to engage them fully – mind and body – in higher education.

The conceptual background of this project is anchored in cultural-historical psychology (Vygotsky) and Activity Theory (Engeström). Special attention is given to the embodiment of the learning practices in sociomaterial and historical environments, and to human creativity, learning and development in “boundary zones” (Konkola) or “potential spaces” (Winnicott).

The methodology of the research is qualitative. We collect and analyze videorecordings of the courses (60 hours), 40 initial presentations of the students, 25 final interviews with the students, repeated interviews of the teachers of the two courses, and 40 learning diaries con- tinuously written by the students to reflect on their participation in the course. We also collect ethnographic data from a close follow-up of 4 teams of 5 students in the creation process of their final group performance.

The scientific articles highlight the dynamics at play in these two courses and identify similarities and differences. They discuss three key dimensions: the function of the collective dimension in the teaching-learning experience ; the function of embodiment as a way to overcome the cognition/emotion divide; the use of semiotic mediations to focus the collective creation process.

This project examines how dance improvisation contributes to learning processes within engineering education as well as the role of the body in the creative process. The project is led by Instant-Lab postdoctoral researcher Susanne Martin, a recognized choreographer and contemporary dance performer, whose Ph.D. thesis was based on Artistic Research. Within the field of Artistic Research, which can be described as an ethnographic research where the researcher uses her own experience as data, she follows the Practice-as-Research methodology. As practice, she engages herself in situations such as teaching a dance class to engineering students or presenting lecture-performances to EPFL professors and researchers in which bodily engagement is required from the participants. In so doing, she explores the concept of embodied creativity, revealing heightened awareness, reflexivity, improvisation and collective creation. Her work is leading to academic publications, performative conferences and short videos presented at international conferences and to targeted audiences on the EPFL campus.

  • Cédric Tomasini, under the supervision of Prof. Simon Henein (EPFL) and Prof. Manu Kapur (ETHZ). Preliminary thesis title: “Design of novel blended learning educational settings based on performing arts concepts and practices fostering embodied learning”.
  • Martin Vergara, under the supervision of Prof. Laure Kloetzer (UNINE). Preliminay thesis title: “Development of Concepts in Microengineering Teaching and Practice”.

L. Kloetzer, R. Tau, J. Valterio, S. Henein, “Performing arts as a tool for university education during a pandemic: Moving from an in vivo to an in vitro modality,” Qwerty, Open and Interdisciplinary Journal of Technology, Culture and Education, Volume 16, N2, 2021

L. Kloetzer, S. Henein, R. Tau, S. Martin, J. Valterio, “Teaching Through Performing Arts in Higher Education : Examples in Engineering and Psychology.” Scenario, Volume XIV, Issue 2 , 2020.

R. Tau, L. Kloetzer and S. Henein, “The Dimension of the Body in Higher Education : Matrix of Meanings in Students’ Diaries.” Human Arenas, 2021. doi : https ://

G. Feraud, S. Henein and R. Tormey , “The ICED 2020 (International Consortium for Educational Development) interdisciplinary panel discussion.” ETH Learning and Teaching Journal, Vol 2, No 2, 2020.

S. Martin, “Dancing with Real Bodies : Dance Improvisation for Engineering, Science, and Architecture Students.” Algorithmische und ästhetische Bildung : Ansätze für eine zukunftsorientierte und nachhaltige Netzwerkgesellschaft : Emerging Transdisciplinary Explorations for the Digital Age, Verlag Barbara Budrich, 2021.

L. Kloetzer, S. Henein and R. Tau, “Improgineering: former à la conception collective par l’improvisation”, Vulnérabilités et risques émergents-penser et agir ensemble pour transformer durablement, 56ème congrès SELF. 6-8 juillet 2022.

S. Martin, “Embodying Recognition: Dance Improvisation for Scientists”, Research Catalogue, 2023.

In November 2022, Prof. Simon Henein led the dance improvisation workshop “Dissonant geometries: from movement to gesture” in the frame of the ALICE lab ENAC EPFL. ALICE is a laboratory for collective and active imagination (with) space, based at the EPFL, triggered by the common thirst to lead projects at the crossroad of design, philosophy and society. This dance improvisation workshop explored the spectrum of body motion on stage, from movement to gesture.

Workshop presentation (pdf)

In 2022, Susanne Martin, choreographer and postdoctoral artistic researcher at EPFL and Simon Henein, EPFL professor in Microengineering, offered together an intensive workshop on movement improvisation dedicated to university teachers. This pilot workshop organised jointly by the University of Neuchâtel (Institute of Psychology and Education, Prof. L. Kloetzer) and EPFL (Institute of Mechanical Engineering, Prof. S. Henein) introduced the participants to the integration of performing art knowledge and improvisation techniques into academic teaching.

Pilot-workshop presentation (pdf)

On June 13th and 14th 2019, the first Symposium on Higher Education Learning through Performance Practices took place on the EPFL campus. Initiated by EPFL professor of microengineering Simon Henein and UNINE professor of sociocultural psychology Laure Kloetzer, with postdoctoral researchers Susanne Martin (EPFL) and Ramiro Tau (UNINE), the event offered an opportunity for exchange on applying performing arts and improvisation methods to higher education. The two-day event welcomed some 25 participants from academia and the performing arts, who came together to explore the practical and theoretical aspects of using performing arts practices in higher education, including engineering education.

Page of the Symposium

The course “Collective creation: improvised arts and engineering” (IMPROGINEERING) is part of the Social and Human Sciences (SHS) programme at EPFL and was developed by Prof. Simon Henein in collaboration with performance artist Joëlle Valterio and the Centre d’art scénique contemporain de Lausanne (Arsenic). Since 2017, this course introduces students to improvisation techniques developed in the performing arts (theatre, music, dance, performance) and questions their possible transposition to engineering design practices. This course is open to EPFL and UNIL Master students, with a limited number of places.
Visit the page of the IMPROGINEERING course for detailed information.