My teaching encourages interdisciplinarity and creative entanglements in the classroom. I am an award-winning general education teacher, offering classes on subjects such as Performing Arts & Healthcare and Theatre & Society to students from every major at Michigan State University. I also teach undergraduate as well as graduate courses in projection design; undergraduate courses in visual special effects; and honors research seminars. I have mentored students in all phases of their academic career from MFA candidates interested in teaching and design, to supervising undergraduates making behind the scenes movies for theatre. Students from many disciplines take my research seminar and performance classes to create experimental pieces or production designs. Community engagement, student mentorship, and artistic collaboration are fundamental to my teaching.
What follows is a description of the formal classes that I teach regularly. Honors College Seminars, Independent Studies, and Performance Project classes which are more closely tied to my research and design work are not included in this list.
Projection Design for Theatre and Live Performance: Principles of Media Design
A Focal Press/Routledge Publishing by Alison Dobbins, 2021
Projection Design for Theatre and Live Performance explores the design and creation process of projections from a non-technical perspective, examining the principles of media for the stage in a manner that is accessible for both beginning designers and advanced designers dabbling in projections for the first time. This text was created based on Dobbins’ experience as a media educator and projection designer and includes interviews with various renowned media artists, performance directors and theatrical designers presenting their perspective, approach, and helpful suggestions.
This introductory text covers concepts and tools for designing, techniques to help readers tap into their creativity, and the core skills required of this field: problem solving, project management, and effective communication. Focusing exclusively on design and creativity, this book encourages individuals to leap into the creative design process before facing any perceived hurdles of learning everything technical about media delivery systems, cueing systems, projectors, cables, computer graphics, animation, and video production. Projection Design for Theatre and Live Performance is a reminder that, from the invention of photography to the enormous variety of electronic media that exist today, the ways projection designers can enhance a theatrical production are limitless.
Introduction to Projection Design (THR219)
The integration of media on-stage requires core skills of curiosity, experimentation, and ethical research. Students in my undergraduate Projection Design course primarily come from theatre with experience in acting, scenic, costume or lighting design. Students explore the projection design process from page to stage focusing on design as questioning, integration with other play elements, and media as actor.
Introduction to Projection Design (THR219) was the major impetus behind my text; Projection Design for Live Performance. The concepts in the text have worked as methods to engage students in media design while removing barriers to student success such as assumptions of technological prowess, computer literacy, and the myth of creativity.
Students in the 2019 iteration of this course designed the media for the department production of Wrinkle in Time. Students in the Spring 2015 THR219 created media content for the music video Piece of My Heart in collaboration with students Concert Lighting (THR811), and Media Production Projects (TC491).
Projection Design for Live Performance (THR419/MI419)
Projection Design is the intersection of video, game creation, and theatre. Students in my upper-level Projection Design courses (THR419/MI419) come from many different majors in the University including music, engineering, computer science, telecommunications, theatre, art, and psychology. Students create work for various applications on campus including the fascia of the Breslin Basketball Arena and off-campus at local galleries. This course typically involves a cross-college collaboration and recent collaborations include:
- Fall 2023: MUS441 (Composition for Fixed Media) media projects for installation including the planetarium.
- Fall 2021: GRM419 (German Theatre) and ATD428 (Apparel & Textile Design Fashion) original scenes set in 1920’s Germany.
- Spring 2019: MUS487 (Electronic Music) and ATD421 (Apparel & Textile Design) projection mapping on the human body in response to music.
The focus of these courses includes media design approaches, media engineering and interactive cueing systems (Isadora, Modul8, Resolume), timeline cueing systems (Watchout, Hippo), linear cueing systems (QLab), and projection mapping (MadMapper, VPT).
Performing Arts and Healthcare (IAH209)
This course (IAH209) focuses on concepts of expressive arts therapy to explore a traditionally left-brain topic; engaging students to play, perform, dance, and discuss the art, social , and cultural aspects of health and medicine.
The class has traditionally been taught with a service learning component where students lead dance or drama therapeutic exercises at area retirement communities. I was awarded the Community Engagement Service Award in 2017 for the work in this course.
During COVID the class was adapted to online delivery with a social constructivism premise; asking students to explore their own construction of truth as related to their personal experience with COVID-19. The assignments in this revised version explore digital literature and video essays as assessment measures. This demonstrates the student learning outcome of critically analyzing sources, paraphrasing material, and constructing logical arguments while engaging the student in the art/music/movement/drama therapeutic exercise as part of the assessment. All feedback in the online version was delivered through video, to compensate for the lack of in-person face-to-face interaction. The course structure and accessibility in the learning management platform were created to meet or exceed W3 standards (Dobbins attended SOIREE training and was a Faculty Accessibility Fellow).
Example lecture (Laura Yares, co-teacher in summer 2021 recorded the lectures written by Alison Dobbins. Video edited by Alison Dobbins).
Theatre & Society (IAH241D)
Artistic creativity seen through the prism of theatre, presented in historical context. Influences from art, literature, music, and religion. Focus on translation of social visions into dramatic art. This class is a general humanities class available to all majors in the university through the Integrated Arts & Humanities (IAH) courses. Integrative Studies at MSU seeks to assist students to become more familiar with ways of knowing in the arts and humanities and to be more knowledgeable and capable in a range of intellectual and expressive abilities. IAH courses encourage students to engage critically with their own society, history, and culture(s); they also encourage students to learn more about the history and culture of other societies. They focus on key ideas and issues in human experience; encourage appreciation of the roles of knowledge and values in shaping and understanding human behavior; emphasize the responsibilities and opportunities of democratic citizenship; highlight the value of the creative arts of literature, theater, music, and arts; and alert us to important issues that occur among peoples in an increasingly interconnected, interdependent world.
The class has traditionally be taught as a hybrid course. Dobbins developed a large enrollment (intended for 300) online version for spring 2021. A portion of this redevelopment was motivated by the Open Educational Resource grant (co-PI with Daniel Smith) to develop free materials for the course in order to increase accessibility and decrease book costs for students. All elements of the course were revised to reflect a decolonized syllabus and approach to the material.
Course used PackBack, the artificial intelligence driven discussion forum developed at Kent State University. All video lectures were edited to be as engaging as possible and less than six minutes each (research shows that students watch less of a video that is longer than 6 minutes than they will watch of a video that is shorter than 6 minutes). Assignments emphasize the investigation of theatre as a cultural phenomenon. Course structure and accessibility created to meet or exceed W3 standards.
Period Research & Resources (THR813)
This course focuses on the ethics of research and importance of inspiration and informational research. This course, which Dobbins redesigned was co-taught with Michael Roderiguez, Performing Arts Librarian at the Michigan State University Library and the Digital Scholarship Lab. Guest designers working at high levels both academically and professionally spoke to the class synchronously over zoom and share their research methodology.
Presentations by students used cutting edge multi-media approaches (VR, 360 presentation, Google Cardboard, etc.) and research ethics and methods. Plays focused on non-euro centric regions and post WWII. Student assignments charged them in researching social, cultural and political nuances referenced in the play, and to critically evaluate bias and perspectives in their information sources.
COVID-19 adaptations of this class included shifting interviews to zoom and presentation work to online.
Compositing & Special Effects (MI337)
This course, taught as part of the Media & Information department in the College of Communication Arts & Sciences, examines storytelling through animation and special effects. Collaborations with acting and film classes provide material for students to composite using green screen techniques, mattes, motion tracking and their imagination.
Collaboration with other classes and community centers has been a strong component of this course when taught in-person. Students have created short films with Lansing area high school students through REACH Studio Art Center, Lansing, MI. This multigenerational learning was made possible through the Center for Service Learning.
COVID-19 adaptations of this class include shifting to asynchronous online delivery. Students were provided with multiple modes of learning (lectures, reading, video tutorials, project-based learning) and encouraged to explore the class with the meta learning goal to determine their own preferred learning style. In this strengths-based approach, students received feedback from other students and from the professor on each assignment. Video feedback from the professor modeled Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process. Student feedback on course structure and pacing was solicited at three points in the course and the course modified accordingly.