Practical subjects hit hard: The drama of remote learning

Callum Rigg at his desk ready for screen-based learning. Picture: Angus Delaney
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Teachers and students of VCE Drama agree the lockdown affects the quality of learning in practical subjects the most. Angus Delaney reports.

Budding actor Callum Rigg, a year 12 drama student, knows there is something special about being able to captivate an audience.  

Whether it’s singing, dancing, acting or all three, this is where Rigg feels most at home.

“I love theatre, getting onstage and performing,” he says.

However, under lockdown, Rigg must make his final curtain call early and do it via the internet.

Practical subjects like drama have suffered most in the switch to online learning.

“I’m a kinesthetic learner,” says Rigg. “Getting up and moving is how I do it.”

This sentiment is echoed by Head of Drama and School Productions of Brighton Grammar, Michael Kent.

“Having face-to-face time is so valuable,” says Kent. “It’s not until it’s gone that you see its value.” 

Callum Rigg after his VCE Drama Ensemble performance. Picture supplied

As Stage Four lockdown continues and end of year exams loom, students and teachers of practical subjects are aware of the impact on the quality of learning as a result of the pandemic. 

Kent remembers the struggles of adapting to changes caused by the initial lockdown, but also how he tried to maintain a sense of normality.         

“It’s surprising what we’ve been able to replicate online, everyday there’s a link to my classroom … we touch base at the beginning of the lesson then get straight into it,” he says.

“Depending what the workshops on, we can manage pretty well.”  

However, Kent and Rigg both acknowledge the obvious limitations of being separated by a screen in a subject where it’s all about performance. 

“When you have VCE kids you’re trying to teach them physical theatre, exaggerated movement and caricature, things you really rely on being in-person to teach, it becomes difficult,” Kent sas. 

Giving good, applicable feedback isn’t as easy because there are things you miss on Zoom,” he says.

Rigg says he misses the convenience of being able to walk up and ask his teacher a question and has to organise a time now. 

“Not being able to see [our teacher] in person makes it pretty hard.” 

Compared to his other studies, Drama suffers most, he says.

“[It’s] harder than doing a subject like maths online, where you do the work and get a right or wrong answer.”

As well as the affect remote learning has had on the quality of education, it’s causing a lack of motivation caused by being away from schoolmates. 

“I’ve noticed how much being in a classroom and being among your mates really affects [the students] motivation for learning,” says Kent.

Rigg also misses the social side of it. “Not seeing my friends in class has made me lose some motivation.” 

While Rigg has completed an ensemble piece, his main assessment – a 100-mark, seven-minute solo performance of the student’s creation – edges ever closer.

It’s causing plenty of uncertainty and worry among the 1100 students. 

“Everyone is worried about their final score … this makes me stress out and wonder if I’m not prepared,” says Rigg. 

Kent would prefer a different format. “The solo performance could be in-person or perhaps they’ll adapt it for online,” he says. “I think it should be in-person.”

As lockdown continues across Melbourne and teachers and students continue their online endeavours, the classroom remains a distant, but not forgotten friend.