“Success in the highest and noblest form calls for peace of mind and enjoyment and happiness which comes only to the man who has found the work he likes best.” ~Napoleon Hill




Teaching Philosophy of Dr. Nadja Masura

Teaching is a process in which we affirm the value of the individual mind and better the collective social body.  The creation of learning environment which promotes a sense of hope, active curiosity and encouragement is at the core of my beliefs.  In the words of Paulo Frarie, education is “that specifically human act of intervening in the world.”  As teachers we can intervene positively in the lives of others, by providing learners with the tools, questions, and self-confidence to pursue their own paths.  Ideally, an active teaching atmosphere allows students, teachers, and the larger community to learn and grow from emergent ideas.

I believe in an equal mixture of lecture, discussion and hands-on practical work in the creation of a well-rounded learning environment.  Intelligent, thoughtful discussion of ideas leads to a deeper understanding of materials and a sense of intellectual ownership by students, as well as the evolution of new ideas between teacher and student.  It is the ability of valued works of art, theory, and literature to create conversation which is their essential pedagogical value.  Students should be inspired to discover their innate interests and aptitudes while expanding their skill sets.  At the same time, collaboration is a major keystone of success.  Just as individual talents need to be honed; it is the collaborative essence of both theatre and digital media which instills the value of teamwork so necessary in society.

In my life I have had the pleasure of being both a student and a teacher with some remarkable individuals.  The most pleasing and effective learning environments are those which are safe and open to new ideas, innovation, and discussion.  A handful of individuals remain in my mind as teaching models.  The values that they brought to their classrooms were openness to other cultures and stimulating the curiosity of students through various approaches to learning (through story, song, art making, writing); practical experience and encouragement; thorough knowledge married with enthusiasm for their subject resulting in the ability to connect historical data with current trends and to evaluate perceptions; and the ability to lead students in discussions which allow them to work through challenging materials.  I endeavor to emulate their examples in my own teaching by directly involving students in new materials, stimulating discussion, and encouraging students to stretch themselves as artists and scholars.

Teaching Responsibilities
As a Teaching Assistant for Introduction to Theatre at the University of Maryland for four semesters, I was in charge of three sections of approximately thirty undergraduate students each (or up to 85 students per semester).  My work for this class included developing testing material and assignments, grading the assignments, leading discussions, and occasionally giving lectures.  In discussions, I broke down the lecture for students into practical exercises and facilitated discussion of the new ideas and works they encountered.  For example, one of the exercises I had my students do was designed to showcase each student’s unique abilities.  I first split them up into three groups, then I had each group explore the concept of the Greek chorus through rhythm, dance, and voice as three competing choruses before a jury of their peers.  I endeavored to create an atmosphere where students felt their opinion was valid and lead them through a deeper examination of their initial responses to the material.  Rather than seeing student responses in terms of correct or incorrect answers, I encouraged open participation and took their initial response as a starting point for exploration for the group, involving other students in building upon this initial idea, leading the class toward an important concept (or learning point). 

I was particularly pleased with the quality of student responses to my end of term scene projects.  I tried to focus on creating a safe place to play, allowing each individual to contribute their talents (be they actors, writers, directors, or scenic designers) and feel a sense of pride in their own growth and their temporary community.  In scene work, I used a variety of techniques which shaped the work and exercises to allow students to climb inside characters and ideas.  In both lecture and discussion I used interdisciplinary approaches to communicate the essentials of theatre within historical and aesthetic contexts.  My presentations included diverse content such as art, literature, and historical contexts, and popular culture references.  In addition to integrating visual arts into lectures (to give a sense of major modern movements), I have used them in practical acting and directing exercises (such as creating tableaus from master artworks, and using them to teach blocking and stage focus).  Practical and group exercises are always followed by directed discussion and observations by class members.  Likewise, my experience at the University of Michigan included working with sections of larger groups on acting scenes, breaking down plays and lecture material and allowing students to connect with topics on an individual level.

Through MITH (Maryland Institute for Technology In the Humanities), I co-developed and co-taught a summer intensive workshop called Digital Dialogues to a group of advanced high school students as part of MITH’s community outreach program.  The class was geared to teach the humanities using digital technology.  For the course, I was involved in the creation, implementation, and evaluation of the course material. I was in charge of teaching novices basic Flash, Photoshop, HTML, and interface design.  I created all the teaching modules these subjects, taught the basics of these subjects, and assisted students learning in a hands-on style and in creating their own unique projects.  The course was focused on examining Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  The students read the book and attended a professional performance of a stage adaptation of the book.  We employed innovative uses of technology to explore the ideas of cyborgs, monsters, and man-made humans (or what it means to be human).  We included image collage, online research, the use of a MOO as an interactive learning environment, a blog as a journaling and reading-response tool, and HTML pages to create their own cyber narratives or linked poems in the style of Patchwork Girl.

Teaching and learning are life-long activities, and learners come in all ages, and can even be found outside the classroom.  As a docent and docent coordinator, I’ve worked with groups of adults to stimulate conversation, transmission of ideas, and aesthetic appreciation. Within the University I have been placed in the role of educator to not only peers, but in many ways the department and the larger college community.  As a technology fellow in the arts, I have made a continuous effort to educate others about the possible uses for digital technology in the arts and humanities. Through my written and web-based scholarship utilizing innovative performance techniques, founding the Digital Performance Group at the University of Maryland (a place for media users from different disciplines such as Art, Dance, Theatre, and Music to create collaborative performance), and coordinating participation in online multi-site performances which are presented at major conferences, I try to involve those around me in embracing change and innovation.  I believe that teaching is in part reaching out to a larger community to educate people on the potentiality of emerging communications and digital technology. 

Teaching with Technology
Multimedia and theatre share the aspect of being art forms of synthesis. One cannot study just the tools of design and make a good project.  It takes project management and vision to create a good product.  I have found that the theatrical model is a valuable tool in creating media and that digital media can expand the reach of the arts.  Likewise, the use of interactive media can instill a sense of active participation, and live performance joined with digital technology can create compelling works of creative communication.

When working with technology, each student should be made to feel free to express his or her own aesthetic/ideological calling.  Specialization and recognizing aptitude are an important part of aiding the development of students.  This must be balanced with the recognition that group projects are collaborations which grow from the efforts and ideas of all members.  The integration of media and performance is a delicate process in which artists and technologists much learn to work together in an experimental setting, recognizing the differences in thought processes.  Often experimentation and play can create more compelling ideas and images than what was planned.  Challenges can often create opportunities for growth and unexpected beauty or meaning.

We must look to the past and to the future to shape the artists and audience of tomorrow. I believe it is essential to create media-integrated works which are not only communicative and evocative today, but also build upon what others have learned.  Because we are living in a global world, it is also essential that we begin to move toward teaching in a media rich or even mediated classroom.  Through use of video conferencing, application sharing and Internet research, idea-sharing can occur between students, scholars, and performers on a potentially international level.  I feel that in order to create a truly culturally-advanced learning environment, some type of video conferencing or distance-learning should be explored to bring in expert practitioners and lecturers to allow students to expand their perceptions of the scope of art making in the world today. 

Through creating a learning environment of available technology which uses interdisciplinary approaches to the creation and appreciation of the arts and humanities and open-source student-friendly pedagogy; we can potentially shape our students, ourselves, and the larger world in which we move and breathe.  We have the ability to not only educate, but to intervene beautifully in the creation of a global world.