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Putting innovative education at centre stage

James Wilson, Lecturer in Mental Health

Published: 
31 August 2017

Our lecturers are bringing the clinic into the classroom through innovative theatre, giving students a real-world experience in a safe and educational space.

James Wilson, Lecturer in Mental Health, has been teaching his students using interactive theatre for over ten years. His success in shaping education in his department has led to recognition nationwide. He was announced as one of three National Teaching Fellows at Southampton this year, and has previously achieved runner-up status in the Times Higher Education Most Innovative Teacher of the Year Award in 2016. James has also received the Vice Chancellor’s Teaching Award twice at Southampton – a testament to the impact he has had on the experiences of his students.

James’s work focuses on bringing experiences and emotions into the lecture theatre, exposing his students to scenarios which do not translate in a traditional lecture environment.

He says: “I have created a philosophy of transformative interactivity which produces provocative clinical scenario-based reproductions in theatrical form within the classroom setting. They are designed to engage, stimulate and transform the students’ thinking, feelings and behaviour on care issues to create insightful and reflective practitioners.”

 

I believe the student experience is the beating heart of learning, which is underpinned by the provision of dynamic memorable experiences leading to well-prepared graduates performing with distinction in the work place and changing lives for the better.

James Wilson - Lecturer in Mental Health

Theatrical education

Theatrical performances within these sessions can include straightforward ‘Forum Theatre’, ‘Playback Theatre’ (where audience members see their stories retold), and James’s own innovation, ‘Clicker Theatre’. The latter involves actors inviting the audience to choose their own ending; ‘clickers’ are used at pivotal moments in a scene to decide what each character does next, thereby encouraging debate and discussion. It is this level engagement which has earned James an inspirational reputation on our campuses and beyond.

Each performance brings together information from clinical practice, educational theory, personal experience and patient narratives, alongside policies and research data. It is James’s belief that this interactive methodology allows students to experience working with patients in certain situations in a safe and familiar setting, with the ability to feedback, reflect and improve, preparing them well for life after education.

“I believe the student experience is the beating heart of learning, which is underpinned by the provision of dynamic memorable experiences leading to well-prepared graduates performing with distinction in the work place and changing lives for the better,” says James. “They are designed to engage, stimulate and transform the students’ thinking, feelings and behaviour on care issues to create insightful and reflective practitioners.

“My method of interactivity is meshed with a theatrical approach which produces learning experiences that are visual, emotive and entice students to participate at a level which is comfortable for them.”

James’s work with theatre has led to the creation of over 40 different transformative projects, focusing on subjects which range from dementia, mental illness, learning disabilities, employability and workplace issues such as bullying. He hopes to expand this resource in the future.

“As a natural innovator I intend to develop the interactive theatre into packages that form part of an accessible and sustainable library. The expertise gained throughout the years will be utilised in the creation of blended ‘theatre online’ designed packages which continue to explore areas of health and healthcare.”

James has made an outstanding contribution to the University, external professional organisations and the UK health sector.

Professor Alex Neill - Vice-President (Education)

Inspiring others

As well as inspiring his students, James has shared his experiences and approaches with fellow members of staff, thus encouraging others to take the same, positive learning approach to empower their students to achieve. He coaches and introduces new methods to colleagues, and has created a forum that allows them to develop their skills. Beyond his immediate teaching community, he has been involved in training other members of Higher Education, empowering teachers across the UK to adopt forum theatre as a vehicle for education across fields including midwifery and mental health. Collaboration with external partners has also seen James leading training sessions and courses, and even includes creating an interactive show with the national mental health charity, Mind.

James’s reputation has led to recognition on a wide scale. Professor Alex Neill, Vice-President (Education), says: “James has made an outstanding contribution to the University, external professional organisations and the UK health sector. In addition to being an inspirational and popular teacher, he has developed unique and inventive forms of teaching the health care sector that is gaining greater recognition and prestige.”

By actively involving students in theatrical education methods, James has transformed the teaching experience at Southampton. Through enabling students to experience situations in a hands-on, safe environment, he is not only putting the educational needs of students first, but also the needs of the public and patients in care.

James says: “I believe that in every classroom lies the opportunity to create a learning experience that places students in charge of their own learning but, more importantly, inspires them to ensure that the public is placed at the heart of care.”

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