Acting Up – Using Theater & Technology for Social Change


Theater and political protest. Media activists and anti-globalization. Online Flash movies for sustainable development. Hip Hop and voter registration.
Revolutionaries use Facebook and Twitter to topple dictatorships. These are just a few of the ways creativity, technology and social change have come together. Artists and activists are blending their approaches, strategies and tactics in a creative stew for progressive social change. Download the syllabus from the School for New Learning. Visit our Facebook page!

From students from the Spring 2012 class:

“I really enjoyed the class.  It was very thought provoking and the use of the media (music, video, and web) was amazing…This is quite possibly the best put together class I have participated in.  Great job!”

“This class was a EYE OPENER for me.  It exposed me to many different thing socially that I did not know about.  This was a thought provoking class that I will remember.  It gave me many ideas that I can use creatively with the nonprofit organization that I volunteer at.  All the information that I learned I will treasure. They were like precious pearls of thoughts that I will use in the future.”

“I really enjoyed your class.  It was fantastic. I really liked how we started with creativity and ended with social media.”

“[In the future] I intend to be more aware of the struggles of others.  I will pay more attention when others discuss what they are protesting and what social change they are advocating.  I used to half listen to activist and put them in the same category as a telemarketer. This class has taught me that some activist groups are really passionate about their mission.  I also learned that groups that actually hit the street and put themselves on the front line are more passionate than those that rely only on technology to get the word out.”

“I really enjoyed the content of the class a lot…all in all, a great class, and I was really happy to see it listed in the catalog and happy that I was able to take it. ” Thanks for creating it.

From students in the Fall 2011 class:

“Thank you again for a very entertaining and informative class. I really felt that it was the most interactive online class I have ever taken.”

“I think the most useful part of the class was Professor Tresser’s questions to everyone’s responses. He really makes you dig deeper into the content of the post which really made my brain hurt at times! By the last few posts I could almost predict what he was going to ask, which means true learning was going on. Thank you for that. I have taken many online classes before and have never had an instructor be so involved with an online class. This was an enjoyable class and completely different from any class I have taken before. I did come out of my comfort zone and talk about novel ideas, the reason why I took this class to begin with. My other classes are, “safe,” classes, this one was not.”

“I am walking away from this class feeling extremely rejuvenated about getting and staying involved in issues that matter to me.  I feel confident that no amount of distance or displacement from my home has to disable my participation in current issues. Every once in awhile I take a class that makes me really happy to have shared the time with my peers.  The strongest teachers with the best content can only do so much for an individual student if they are unable to work collectively and be challenged by their peers as well.  I consider this class to have displayed this element brilliantly.  I found insight and inspiration in many of the discussion board posts that I had the pleasure of reading and contemplating.  The teamwork that was assigned was some of the more pleasant experiences that I’ve had to date as well.  Overall I looked forward to engaging with Mr. Tresser, my classmates and the content throughout the entire term – not a claim I can honestly make for all my courses.”

From a student in the Spring 2011 class:
“This class was a boost of energy for me. After working in community organizations for over 18yrs you can say I was a little tired and had lost touch with my creativity. I knew about the technology that we reviewed in class and how it could be used to be more creative but the reality is that my organization does not support much of it and does not understand or see the need to use it. I now feel like I will push again to see if we can try to catch up to the digital age and start using more technology in the work we do. The research paper was very timely for me and the research paper assignment was to imagine you have been named director of an organization and what creative ideas could you propose. Well, in March I was promoted to director of my agency and I will use the research presentation I did in this class for an upcoming board meeting to see if we can finally move into the digital age.”

From a student in the Fall 2010 class:
“Thanks for teaching the class Professor Tresser. You’ve really opened my eyes to quite a few possibilities… I may not know exactly how to apply them, well… what to conquer but I definitely want to conquer something for social change and these lessons will come in handy.”

This class will examine how social change activists are using creative tools and methods to achieve their change agendas. The class will: (1) Give students a basic understanding of what creativity is and the role in plays in the life of the nation and its power to transform, (2) Give students a foundational understanding of the principles and practices of direct action organizing, (3) Expose students to innovative and nontraditional strategies and tactics for mobilizing for social change, (4) Investigate organizations who are engaged in creative social change, and (5) Give students experience in using online tools such as YouTube, wikis and uploading tools. Proficiency in PowerPoint and ability to learn Internet-based tools required.

Offered online via DePaul’s School for New Learning Distance Education Program, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011.

Visit the  wiki I created that hosts our “Gallery of Creative Activists,” Community Organizers Speak, and “Lessons for Creative Activists from the Obama Campaign.”

Download the online syllabus and study guide.

I use Slideshare.net to host student presentations. Here is an example of the presentations I require students to do which amplify and illustrate their written research papers:

Here are comments from students who took the online class in Winter 2010 (from the online evaluation system):

In terms of your learning, what were the 3-4 best aspects of this course?

The professors enthusiasm. The videos.

The class opened my eyes to the widespread prevalence of small activist organizations. This was
definitely the most significant part of the whole experience. I also really enjoyed the instructor’s take on the subject, as well as the insights gleaned from the other students.

This class was out of the box. At first I balked at all of the added bells and whistles that Prof Tresser required, but in the end I felt it added a lot and made the course interesting.

1)I learned many viewpoints on social  change from videos, articles and creative tools.
2)I learned how groups campaign or protest for their issues.
3)I learned various ways non for profit organization use technology as a tool in  supporting their causes.

The class discussions contained the insight of a diverse background of students. The course materials, especially the videos, were engaging and informative. The instructor had insightful comments that were well thought out.

I learned how to effectively use technology and creative arts to market an idea or cause.

List one learning insight (idea or theory or principle) from the course that is relevant to you in your life.

The main insight that I took away from this class is the fact that creativity in terms of actual art can inform everything you do…even really important and serious activities.

It is important to remain open to new ideas for accomplishing social change.

1)I learned that participating in organizations can teach you persistence, perseverance and accountability.
2)I learned in organizing it impacts you as a person as well begin to care about the people you unite with.
3)I learned reflection helps you to grow from experiences developed in working on a team.

I think the course helped to connect me to the needs of my community, and inspired me to take action.

Briefly describe how you have or will transfer that learning into your life—how you have applied it or will apply it.

I will inject creative solutions, not the clichéd “thinking outside the box” but solutions that involve creativity, into the major aspects of my life: career & family.

I will try to engage creative juices in seeking new methods for social change.

I can vision myself using video cameras as a tool for reporting on a social change  event.

I have already taken part in certain charity events, and I plan to continue stronger involvement in community projects.

Instead of sticking to creative details I like, I will consider how I want to message to be perceived and who the viewing audience is.

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