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Department of Theatre and Dance

Knowledge and skill goals for this undergraduate degree program are recorded in the most recent CU-Boulder catalog.  

In some summaries of assessment activity, goals are referred to by number (e.g., K-2 is knowledge goal 2). 

Assessment before 1998

The department's assessment process follows the outcomes assessment guidelines developed by the Association for Theatre in Higher Education. The first component, a required capstone senior seminar, was begun in 1989-90. Senior essays from the seminar were reviewed by two faculty. Results of the evaluations were shared with all faculty. The 1989-90 reviewers commented, "On the whole, the students presented thoughtful and intelligent answers. However, it was clear that the idea of drawing upon what they had been studying and doing for the past three and a half years was disconcerting to most of them. They are inclined to deal with each isolation from others...Such a tendency may be encouraged by the students' perception that there is not much required carry-over from one course to another (unlike foreign languages, math, etc.). This is something we need to examine more closely." 

Portfolio review was added to the outcomes assessment program in 1990-91. In this process, seniors present what they have done in connection with theatre and dance productions during their time at CU-Boulder. A panel of two or three faculty conduct each review, interviewing the student and reviewing any video-tapes of their performances. The 1990-91 panels reported that most students had grown considerably while in the program and that they felt very positive about their work at CU-Boulder. Students also noted that the production program offered a reasonable number of "traditional" opportunities for such work, but sometimes lacked important nontraditional and experimental choices. Senior seminar essays were also reviewed. Most of the students were much better at expressing ideas orally than in writing. 

Beginning in 1991-92, diagnostic exams developed by the department for theatre and for dance seniors were administered during the senior seminar. In addition to these and the senior essay and portfolio reviews, seniors completed production experience evaluation forms asking about activities outside their classes. Portfolio reviews and production experience evaluations indicated that the program was working very well for the best and most active majors. For others, though, the opportunities beyond the classroom were considered to be significantly fewer. The 1991-92 report concluded that, "For them, we need a 'second level' production program that allows opportunities to develop their skills in a more diverse way than at present." Diagnostic exams and essay reviews indicated that the students were not as well prepared as expected in theatre history and dramatic literature and, as in the previous year, most did not write well. The sequence of courses in theatre history and dramatic literature was revised for 1992-93, emphasizing these areas in the senior seminar and with more stress on writing. These changes seemed to have the desired effect; the 1992-93 reviewers felt that the senior essays and the results on the diagnostic exam were decidedly better than in previous years. 

In 1993-94, the senior seminar was offered each semester rather than just in the spring, with separate sections for dance majors and theatre majors. This allowed classes to be smaller (16-18) and function in a truer seminar style. In addition, a new tradition was begun by asking graduating seniors to complete exit interviews with the department chairperson. Results from senior essays and diagnostic exams continued to indicate improvement among students, and portfolio reviews showed excellent progress for virtually all graduating students. Even though students often found their production experiences to be very demanding, the production experience evaluation forms and exit interviews still reflected a common feeling that both required and elective production activities had provided significant educational value. 

For several years, the dance program has videotaped freshmen to establish a baseline for evaluating a student's progress as a performing artist. The theatre program has begun collecting similar baseline videotapes, and both programs now compare these tapes with those made when the student is a senior. The dance faculty began using a freshman diagnostic exam in addition to the senior one in 1993-94, to compare freshman knowledge of the field with the results on the senior diagnostic exam. The program has also required a freshman seminar/orientation course since 1992-93. This course and the senior seminar, provide academic "book ends" for dance majors. Theatre faculty are exploring the possibility of a similar diagnostic exam for freshmen majors, and complementing the senior seminar with an orientation seminar for students interested in a theatre major. 

Scores on the senior diagnostic exams in 1994-95 were similar to those in 1993-94. Faculty were generally pleased with the results. They did, however, express concern that some students were apparently focusing too much upon perfecting specific skills at the expense of establishing an effective educational balance between breadth and depth experiences. Portfolio reviews and performance video tapes indicated strong technical training and substantial growth in students' technique. The 1994-95 essays and students' journals on creative process were, on the whole, somewhat better than those completed in previous years. Faculty did observe, however, that essays and portfolio reviews still revealed that some students' needed to improve upon their writing. The department, therefore, continues to consider how it might help students to further refine their writing skills. Students' evaluative comments indicated that focusing on and writing about the creative process had provided great opportunities for discovery and meaningful reflection. 

In 1995-96, senior diagnostic exams in the spring semester were somewhat improved over previous semesters. Exams from the fall semester, however, were not. After reviewing the results of many exit interviews and senior diagnostic exams, the department decided to implement two major changes in its academic and production programs. First, the theatre history/criticism series (Development I, II, III, IV) was modified so that the classes might better build upon and relate structurally to one another. Second, the faculty adopted a new mission statement regarding the selection and production of plays on the mainstage and in the loft theatre. 

As a major outcome of this new mission statement, students should find that they have more opportunities to connect what they have learned about theory and criticism in the classroom to their actual creative experiences. In accomplishing this goal, the department worked to free-up rehearsal and production space for students, which led to a corresponding reduction of fully staged season productions that could be presented to the campus and its surrounding community. Increased opportunities for students to create and produce their own works, when linked with the Development course series revisions, should help students build a better educational balance between their breadth and depth experiences in the department. Additionally, adjustments in the Development curricula should make it easier for students to integrate important historical, critical, and theoretical actions in the development of world theatre and drama. All Development courses, regardless of size, require written essays which help faculty improve upon the quality of student writing in the department. 

In 1996-97, results from Senior Diagnostic exams in theatre were consistent with those of past years. Students taking the exams in the fall semester scored somewhat better, overall, than did students completing the examination in the spring semester. Test scores, in general, reflected a continuing phenomenon where students often had difficulty in expressing and recalling knowledge regarding important historical events in the development of world theatre and drama. Aware of this problem, faculty began to consider how they might modify the department's curricula and related pedagogies to help improve student performance in these areas of study. 

Senior exit interviews revealed a common concern among BFA students that the recent loss of a very distinguished senior faculty member had created serious and negative affects upon much of the performance curriculum. BFA students felt that this was especially true in the study areas of Shakespeare, acting, and directing. Exit interviews also revealed student concern about the department's desire to reduce the main-stage production schedule. While students were sympathetic to this goal, they cautioned that doing this might actually produce a deleterious effect upon their educational endeavors. Students believed that reducing the production season would actually hurt the program and not improve it. 

As expressed in exit interviews, individuals believed that this reduction of production offerings would work to diminish the number of performance opportunities available for students. Interestingly, this issue was also reflected in the department's recent academic program review with similar concerns being expressed by the internal and external review teams. For this reason, faculty decided to continue their normal number of productions until the problem, and its related curricular issues, could be more carefully reviewed. Adding additional complexity to this situations was, of course, the fact that the department remains highly dependent upon the revenues generated by its presentation of numerous annual productions. Any reduction in this income could indeed produce a negative affect upon students and the quality of their educational experiences. Faculty understood that these issues should be considered collectively and with considerable thought. 

Some students completing their exit interviews also expressed concerns about the consistent quality and rigor of the teaching delivered by the department's GPTIs. For this reason, faculty decided to dedicate more time in the future to mentoring and monitoring the teaching effectiveness of graduate assistants in theatre and dance. 

It should also be noted that the number of technical theatre and design students had increased in the program. Thus, the department had more help in creating scenery, costumes, and lighting, but, at the same time, was compelled to provide more design opportunities for these same students. Faculty were pleased by this increase in the quality and number of design students. 

Writing samples from senior diagnostic exams in 1996-97 were consistent in quality with previous samples. While not universally true, there were still students who found it difficult to integrate aspects of the information and knowledge that they had gained from across the curriculum into well written and logical arguments. Not surprisingly, when focused upon a single topic, most students tended to write well. But, when asked to examine and integrate materials from differing areas of study, their writing frequently lacked precision and clarity. 

In the 1996-97 academic year, the Dance Division continued to follow the evaluative measures established in the department's original Outcomes Assessment plan. With four to five years of documentation to review, the division saw tremendous improvement among students in both written and practical work. 

Video-tapes of BFA students graduating in spring 1996 were very complete, showing eight or more semesters of modern technique combinations and creative work from composition classes and concerts. Technical improvement was demonstrated regularly from the male student who had a limited dance background prior to coming to CU-Boulder. The graduating BA student was a transfer who had only one semester of modern technique but did have some creative work to review. Because of the intensive creative curriculum that BFA students experience, their choreographic works were consistently stronger than the work of the one BA student. 

As expected, diagnostic exams taken in the Senior Seminar, and compared to tests completed in the freshmen year, showed much higher scores. Seniors, however, were consistently weakest in the area of music, with only a few questions missed in history and movement analysis. In the areas of technique, choreography, and production, seniors answered virtually every question correctly. 

During the Senior Portfolio reviews, seniors in dance expressed confidence in their education. They stated that they had gained a broad range of knowledge in dance theory as well as having become proficient in technique and composition. Students understood, however, that they still had a great deal to learn in order to refine their choreographic and performance skills. BFA students in dance, as in previous years, felt that the experience of producing their own works in DNCE 5052 Studio Concert was the most valuable part of their undergraduate education. 

In 1996-97, the outcomes assessment process in dance included 4 primary areas for majors. These were: 

  1. Videotaping of a modern technique audition phrase from each semester,
  2. Individual meetings with the entire faculty for each lower division undergraduate student,
  3. A diagnostic test taken when students enter and again in the culminating Senior Seminar course, and
  4. A portfolio review with faculty members.

Each semester, undergraduate students who take modern dance technique go through an audition process for placement in the appropriate level. Students are taught a phrase and are videotaped individually while performing that phrase. Each student then has his/her own tape. This tape can then also be used to record the dances that he/she choreographs in the composition class series. 

In the modern auditions in 1996/97, there were 39 students taped in the fall semester and 38 in the spring semester. 

In December, faculty met individually with freshman and sophomore students. At this meeting faculty discussed student progress. The student could express any concerns or problems that he/she was having. This was also a time to determine if students were truly committed to being a dance major. Of the 22 students who were scheduled, 7 of them did not attend. Letters were subsequently sent asking them to contact the Director of Dance regarding their career in the dance program. 

The diagnostic test was taken the first semester by all students who declared dance as a major. The same test was administered again in Senior Seminar, which is generally taken during the last year of a student's studies at CU. 

Of the 5 seniors who took the test in 1996-97, the average increase in total score over the freshman test was 33 points. The areas in which students had the most difficulty were history and music. 

In May, the dance faculty conducted senior portfolio reviews of 3 BFA students and 2 BA students. During the reviews they viewed the videotapes of the modern placement phrases and choreography. 

All of the students could see progress in their technical abilities. They all noted that their degree plan had prepared them professionally and personally to enter the "real world." All of them felt satisfied with the amount and modes of performance opportunities that were made available to them in the program. 

Each student had his/her own opinion about what the program needed. Two students commented on the amount of written reviews that were required. Faculty responded to these concerns by working to determine which classes should actually require reviews. Some students commented on the amount of "busy work" in a music course. Faculty subsequently discussed the possibility of combining the two undergraduate music courses into one class. Students also expressed concern about areas of study that were beyond what the department, with its current resources, could provide. Students would like more course offerings in technique, and more ballet instructors at advanced levels. They would also like to see the musical theatre curriculum expanded. 

Exit interviews indicated that many students were concerned that the course work in the dance division was not uniformly rigorous. They expressed a desire that the faculty should work together on improving their grading practices. Actually, faculty in both theatre and dance had already expressed considerable concern about this issue and the related issue of grade inflation. Time was scheduled at the department's annual retreat in August to explore ways to rectify these problems. 

The department continued to build a database of seniors' performance on each dance and theatre diagnostic exam. Early results from this project indicated a possible need to revise the senior diagnostic exams in theatre. Eventually this would permit more detailed evaluations of the exams. Faculty also decided to explore ways of assessing writing across the department's entire curriculum and additional ways to evaluate video tapes of students' acting, directing, and dance work. 

In 1997-98, the outcomes assessment process in theatre included a senior diagnostic examination in the Fall Semester, and one in the Spring Semester. The examination given during the Fall Semester was the same as the one that had been given in previous years. In the spring of 1998, however, the department decided to modify the examination. This action was the product of a careful review by faculty and staff of previous examination results. In that review, it was determined that several questions could be eliminated from the examination without diminishing its overall quality as an evaluation tool. Additionally, a number of new questions were added. Overall, however, the identification area of the test was reduced in size. This reduction in the number of identification questions allowed students to spend more time on the written essay section of the exam. Faculty felt that expanded essay questions would provide a better sense of how well students could integrate information and ideas that they had learned and cultivated over the period of their undergraduate work in the department. Additionally, students were asked to self-identify which area of concentration they had selected in their BA or BFA program, such as design, directing, acting, history, and so forth. 

Results from the diagnostic examinations completed in the fall of 1997 were consistent with those of previous semesters. Students could easily identify information that related directly to the applied areas of their work, but they correspondingly demonstrated greater difficulty in trying to correctly identify historical or theoretical concepts that they had learned. However, students in this group seemed to do better than previous students in identifying specific playwrights and their works. The writing samples from the fall semester examinations, for example, still indicated a common weakness among students in their attempts to integrate ideas and concepts learned over the period of their work at CU Boulder. However, the technical quality of writing on these essays was relatively high, and somewhat improved over previous classes. 

The newly revised diagnostic examinations from the spring of 1998 produced some very interesting results. Since faculty could see what areas the students had majored in, it was helpful to examine the differences between BA and BFA students. In general, the BFA students did better on the examination, both in the identification and the essay section. This should not be surprising, since BFA students must take twenty more units in the department than BA students. Also, faculty could, for the first time, see a direct correlation between a student's area of study and how well he or she did on various sections of the test. For example, it was quite clear that students majoring in acting did excel in those areas of the test that related to acting theory and techniques. Correspondingly, students in the design emphasis did quite well on those portions of the examination that related to technical theatre and design. However, there was a far less clear distinction between students, and their various areas of study, when it came to answering the essay questions. In general, the essay questions of this cohort were quite excellent. They were much better than in previous semesters, and demonstrated a significant improvement among these students to integrate ideas and information into a coherent and meaningful argument. 

The department is interested in why this group of students did so much better at the essay questions than had previous classes. One issue that could partially explain this improvement among students is the fact that the department's revised diagnostic test places less emphasis upon the identification of times, places, and people, and much more emphasis upon the writing of two well constructed essay answers. Additionally, because of how faculty reviewed previous senior diagnostic examinations, the department began to spend more time in its efforts to carefully coordinate the four required development (history/criticism) courses. This, too, could be partially responsible for the improved results on this set of diagnostic tests. The causes are not clear, so the department will spend more time in the future looking at student diagnostic examinations in an effort to see if it can detect any clear indications that support the possibility that changes in the curriculum have worked to help improve how well students can integrate historical and critical data into clearly written arguments. 

During the 1997-98 academic year, the department also completed exit interviews with all of its graduating students. In this process, students meet individually with the department chair. He or she asks a series of questions related to the effectiveness of the curriculum, the teaching, and the creative work in the department. The chair also allows the student to express any information that he or she might find helpful to improving the department. Results from these exit interviews, over the years, has been, and continues to be, uniformly positive and informative. In this particular session of senior exit interviews, it was learned that the department needed to provide more production opportunities for undergraduates. As a result, the department modified its production schedule to include three new workshop shows that are specifically intended to provide students with new and exciting production opportunities. 

Annual portfolio reviews among students majoring in the various aspects of production and design were most informative. In 1997-98, there was a noticeable improvement by students who had repeated the portfolio review experience. It appeared that the process of having a portfolio review for each design major every year had begun to show some positive effects. This process involves the design faculty interviewing the student, one-on-one, while the undergraduate student presents the cumulative work contained in his or her design portfolio. These interviews and presentations usually take about thirty minutes each. In the 1997-98 portfolio interviews, there was a noticeable indication that students who had previously completed several such reviews were increasingly more capable of presenting their work and themselves in a confident, articulate, and professional manner. 

Exit interviews from students in theatre who were graduating in the 1997-98 academic year also indicated a very high level of overall satisfaction with the teaching in the theatre program. Students felt that theatre faculty were very supportive and helpful. Most students reflected that advising in the department was very good and highly personalized. Some students, however, questioned the "group" advising system in the department. It will be interesting to see how the new advising system in the college works in relation to these comments and feelings. Students in the exit interviews also noted that faculty were accessible and encouraging of creative work. Finally, and consistent with other recent exit interviews, students felt that the department needed to replace a critical position in the performance area that had been lost in previous years because of budget cuts. In reality, the department has just received permission to search for that position. 

In 1997-98, the outcomes assessment process in dance included 4 primary areas for majors. These were: 

  1. Videotaping of a modern technique audition phrase from each semester
  2. Individual meetings with the entire faculty for BFA students and those who the faculty believe could use additional feedback
  3. A diagnostic test taken when they enter and again in the culminating Senior Seminar course
  4. A portfolio review with faculty members

In the fall semester of 1997, 38 majors were videotaped. In spring 98, 31 students were taped. These numbers reflect the number of students who enroll in modern technique for credit that semester. (Many BA students have actually finished their technical requirement prior to senior year.) In the process, students are taped individually performing a dance phrase that they were taught and practiced during the first two modern technique classes of the semester. Each of the students' tapes is used every semester to record a modern phrase, choreography studies, and performances. The tapes are viewed at the Senior Portfolio Review. 

In the past, the dance faculty had met with every undergraduate dance student. This took an extraordinary amount of time. Usually at least twenty five percent of the students did not show up at their assigned time. Most of these students were individuals who were having difficulty in the program and who did not attend classes on a regular basis. A letter was sent to each student who did not attend asking he or she to talk to the Director of Dance regarding their work and future in the dance program. Many students changed majors at that time or switched to the Minor in Dance. 

In 1997-98, the dance faculty decided to talk with BFA students who might require more regular feedback, and also to those students who they felt could benefit from a more personalized discussion. At the end of fall semester, the faculty had spoken to a total of seven students. These talks were very productive, particularly since the faculty could alert students to potential problems and subsequently suggest ways to improve the situation before greater problems evolved. Most of the discussions centered on working toward more consistency in creative work and in limiting out-of-class dance related activities. 

Eleven seniors (4 BFAs and 7 BAs) took the senior diagnostic examination in Senior Seminar during the spring semester of 1998. The groups' scores from the initial testing, when they entered the dance program, were 40 to 70 points missed from a possible 105. 

The results of the senior year testing were, overall, the best of any graduating class since the test had been first administered. Scores ranged from 6 missed (the best score to date) to 28 missed. Although the scores were somewhat better than in previous years, they could not accurately reflect the complete training of all of the students. Four of the students, for example, had to continue for one more semester to complete their respective degrees. This was their last opportunity to take the senior seminar, which meant that they had to take the test prior to finishing the required curriculum. These four students had not taken movement analysis courses, an area of study that accounts for nine points on the test. As might be expected, these students had greater difficulty in answering questions related to the department's movement curriculum. 

As a whole, this group of students did not demonstrate any common area where they were all deficient. Music and history continued to be the areas that most students were weakest. As explained above, the only category which contained an excessive amount of wrong answers was "movement analysis." Similar to other graduating classes, the strongest areas on the test were technique, injury prevention, composition and production. Theses are all practical activity based courses as opposed to the more theoretical, classroom-based lecture classes in music, history and philosophy. 

In completing the 1997 senior portfolio reviews for graduating majors, one portfolio review was held on December 11, 1997. How the student was progressing, both in her technical and in her theory courses, was noted. She voiced concern that, as one of the less strong dancers in the program, she was not cast in a concert until her senior year. This was an ongoing frustration for her at each audition. However, the performance she was eventually involved in was a tremendous learning experience. One of the May graduates also noted the same frustration at not being cast often for concerts. Portfolio reviews were also held on May 7 with five seniors attending. Two senior BA students did not show up for their reviews. BA students are required to take only four semesters of modern technique and these two students were no longer taking daily classes in dance so they missed the announcements and notices regarding the review. To help prevent this in the future, appropriate notification letters will be sent in a timely manner. 

One comment given by students during their portfolio reviews was that the elective course Looking at Dance should be required of all BFA's, and perhaps even for all dance students. Many students felt that this course would provide better preparation for Senior Seminar by presenting the same aesthetic and philosophical background to all students, as well as those who would not graduate until December and had not finished the full curriculum. 

The faculty has discussed the possibility of making this course a requirement, but they have concluded that with the A&S limit of 45 hours in a major there is nothing else which can be cut from the curriculum without damaging the student's total training experience. As noted previously, BA students already suffer from not having modern technique required in all eight of the semesters that they are enrolled. Faculty, however, have decided to further discuss the dance curriculum in light of adding Looking at Dance as a possible required course for all dance majors. Additionally, it was evident rom their videotapes, and from their corresponding discussion of theory classes, that these students had all increased in technical and performance skills. These graduating students also expressed confidence that they were genuinely prepared to discuss dance as an art form in articulate and thoughtful ways. All of the dance students graduating in the 1997-98 academic year apparently gained considerably in their abilities and knowledge of the arts. 

Go to most recent Theatre and Dance assessment report


Last revision 06/04/04

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