Published: May 29, 2015

Theatre and Dance Associate Professor Chip Persons implemented DocuSign to support Bachelor of Fine Arts students' development of professional portfolios.

Pedagogical Problem or Opportunity

I teach in the Bachelor of Fine Arts program in Performance in the Department of Theatre & Dance.  This is a conservatory­-style actor training program within the Tier­1 academic setting of CU-­Boulder.  The Performance faculty guide students in developing an understanding of their craft, freeing their unique artistic voice and talents, and initiating professional practices that they need to practice outside of our institution.

Student actors may find themselves disheartened and disillusioned by the notion that the primary day-­to­day work of a professional actor is spent getting acting work.  It is the constant plight of the freelancer who defines and runs their own business, in which they themselves are the product.  In a 1988 LA Times article, esteemed actor James Earl Jones put it thus: “I'm a troubadour, going from castle to castle looking for an open door through which to walk and sing for my supper. That's the way it is; it never changes.”  This is as regrettable as it is disillusioning to a young actor in the profession.  And it’s not where the bulk of our training of them is directed.

Students need to be introduced to the technology of their field and practice using it as they apply to our BFA Performance program and then matriculate through it, just as we hope they will in the profession.  The craft of acting dates back millennia, but the business of acting these days relies less on face-­to-­face contact and more on leveraging contemporary technology and modern business tools.

My department is investigating ways and means of tracking student outcomes through portfolios of their work and faculty responses to it.  On the individual level, this may involve the student building an ePortfolio using GoogleSites, perhaps with the guidance of the OIT Academic Technology Design Team (See­technology­design­team).  In fact, students are already building their own websites in our department’s new course, Professional Orientation (THTR 3149), currently taught by my Performance colleague, Assistant Professor Tamara Meneghini.

On the departmental level, this may eventually involve utilizing a client relationship management (CRM) platform to track a student’s progress from admission through graduation and afterward as they become (hopefully illustrious) alumni (See

The coming years hold opportunity for tremendous change in the use of these technologies to enhance student development.  But rather than bite the sandwich whole in this ASSETT Teaching with Technology workshop, I am focusing on just the beginning of it, when students apply and audition for acceptance into our selective BFA Performance program.

Each year, the Performance faculty audition and interview nearly 30 students for admission to the program.  A large part of this process revolves around the application materials that each student submits.  These help us to know information about a student’s experience, talents, abilities, and interests.

When I first arrived at CU, my Performance program received hand­filled forms, and printed photographs and resumes submitted by each student actor.  But the use of e­mail and of casting websites do not use hard copies.  In keeping with professional practices in the “real world”, I believed it was important that students submit themselves to the Performance program electronically.

For a few years, student applicants, their referees, and I traded forms and files via university email.  I then asked OIT and university admissions to let us borrow an existing electronic application system, but that was not feasible.  Last year, after OIT gave the campus access to Google Apps, I researched and built my own jerry­-rigged online student application system by harnessing Google Forms and third­-party Google add­-ons.

This year, however, out of concerns for electronic security on campus, OIT has blocked the use of Google add­-ons, which were the essential glue that held the pieces of my machine together.

And so my Performance colleague, Associate Professor Cecilia Pang, and I went back to OIT and ASSETT in hopes of another solution.

Plan for Implementing Technology in Course

For this first part of what I hope will begin a full, three-­year evaluative catalog of a student’s work in our BFA Performance program, I’ve been looking for a an electronic submission apparatus that, for students, mimics the online tools used in the acting profession (e.g., and that, for faculty, is administratively user-­friendly.

Grant Matheny and Dan Jones at ASSETT referred my colleague, Cecilia Pang, and me to Kevin Notheis at OIT, who oversaw a pilot of OIT’s newly­-acquired online forms workflow application, DocuSign, which is intended to make it easy to replace existing paper forms with electronic documents and signatures.

Working closely with Senior Business Analyst Mark Diekhoff at OIT, the application forms for the BFA Performance program were converted to PDF documents that could be automatically delivered by DocuSign to the student applicant, then to a referee whom the student has selected, and finally to the BFA Performance faculty for evaluation of the applicant.

(All screenshots below are courtesy of Mark Diekhoff)

In so doing, we have replaced our use of Jot Form, GoogleForm, Googe Spreadsheet, Form Mule, Auto Crat, PDF Mergy, Google Drive, as well as hours of my own brainpower...

...with DocuSign.

Below is an explanation of the process.

  • If a student wants to apply to enter the BFA Performance program, they visit the Theatre & Dance Department website and follow a link to a unique DocuSign landing page.
  • On that landing page, the student enters information for themselves and their referee.
  • DocuSign sends the student an e­mail that contains a unique code number.  The student uses that code to log in to DocuSign.
  • A welcome message to the student reminds them of the steps they’ll need to complete in applying to the BFA Performance program.
  • As the student completes their application form, an arrow points their way to the next field that they must complete.
  • DocuSign can be used to collect file attachments.  At the bottom of the student application form, the student is directed to upload their headshot and resume.  These attachments are sorted directly into their application package.  Note the arrows pointing the student’s way through the application process.
  • After the student completes their last step, their submission is confirmed.  If they wish, they can download their own PDF copy of their application package, including their headshot and resume.
  • After the student completes their portion of the application package, DocuSign sends an e­mail to their referee to ask them to complete the reference portion of the application package.  The referee follows the link within that message.
  • An arrow leads the referee through each field in the reference form in the application package.
  • The referee can see what the student has submitted, but the student will not have access to information that their referee enters.
  • After the referee completes their last step, their submission is confirmed.  If they wish, they can download their own PDF copy of the entire application package.  At this stage, the student still cannot see what the referee has entered.
  • Throughout all of the steps, the faculty, as administrator of the application process, can view the status of all of the application packages that students have initiated.  This is useful because DocuSign works in a linear fashion.  The student’s application package will not be fully complete and ready for review until after their referee has submitted their reference information.  The referee cannot begin their portion of an application package until after the student has submitted the student portion.
  • Within DocuSign, the administrator can view a status bar that shows a summary of all of the application packages that students have initiated.
  • Also within DocuSign, the administrator can access each of the applications in-­progress or completed via an Inbox-­style list.
  • The administrator can also download a spreadsheet showing data about the status and completion times for each person who is contributing to an application package.

The audition and application process for the BFA Performance program is a pre-­assessment.

The Performance faculty outline the steps required for students to formally apply to the program on our website and in e­mail announcements via the list-servs in the A&S School of the Arts.

Students are asked to submit themselves electronically for consideration.  This offers the faculty a glimpse of how the student presents themselves, of their level of self­-initiative, and of their level of proficiency in using professional practices while they’re still in school.

The required application materials include a short statement of intention, a headshot (a full-­page photograph of the actor’s face), a one-­page resume of their performance experience and training, and the contact information for a referee, who then completes an evaluative reference form on the applicant’s behalf.

The applicants must also sign up for a an individual appointment with the Performance faculty.

In that meeting, the applicant takes the stage in the University Theatre to present a private performance for the faculty of two contrasting monologues, and is then interviewed by the faculty.  After the last individual audition, all of the applicants to our program join together for a group workshop, so that the faculty can assess how each person handles themselves in a group and contributes to the ensemble.

Successful candidates demonstrate to the faculty:

  • a positive and professional attitude
  • an ability to work expediently, effectively, and supportively as a member of an ensemble
  • an ability to focus and express themselves believably by harnessing their psychophysical connection to their body and voice within the context of a dramatic situation
  • an appreciation for and interest in the artistic process of building a character within the world of a play
  • a willingness to take personal psychological risks
  • a potential for obtaining work in the profession
  • a worthy level of academic achievement

If the applicants carry out the requested steps on time and demonstrate a professional manner, then they are given serious consideration for admission.  It’s the very first step in their training in the program.