Pedagogical Research: ASCOPET

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

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 Pr. 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 in preparation 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.

In June 2019, the ASCOPET team organized the First Symposium on Performing Arts as Pedagogical Tools in Higher Education. Press release: “EPFL hosts first conference on performance art in higher education”


Artistic Research

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 contem- porary 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.