Conference Papers

Smoke, Suspense, and Scheherazade - Using Theatrical Devices to Engage the Student: a joint tutor-student action-research project

A raft of the standard HE Business curriculum emanates from realist ontology: for instance business analytics; quantitative methods; and decision-making under uncertainty. Consequentially a constructivist learning scheme, in the sense of socially-constructed knowledge gained through real experiences and the exchange of perspectives about the experience with others (Piaget & Inhelder 1969; Vygotsky 1978), is misaligned. This domain’s knowledge is, in the main, declarative – and therefore according to Bruning et al. (2011, p17) – “stifles creativity and discourages independent problem-solving and strategy building”. The Business School lecturer’s challenge to make the pedagogy engaging and active means that innovative classroom tactics must be brought to bear.

The paper reports work-in-progress on a joint tutor-student action-research project undertaken in 2015/16 at Sheffield Business School, part of Sheffield Hallam University, entitled “Smoke, Suspense, and Scheherazade – Using Theatrical Devices to Engage the Student”. The mixed-methods study was designed by a team of volunteers – 14 students and 4 lecturers. Additionally, the students provided qualitative data as focus group contributors, developed several examples of teaching sessions incorporating their ideas and gained valuable academic experience by presenting their findings at conference.

Taking as a fundamental Hains-Wesson’s (2011, p22) premise that “… students are generally more motivated by teachers who use performance based teaching practices than those who do not”, the study challenged orthodoxy in session planning, for example the linear sequence of ‘introduction-development-recapitulation’ favouring instead deployment of learning ‘hooks’ – magic tricks, number puzzles, props and artefacts and cliff-hanger endings that all served to catalyse excitement in learning. Homological explanation – linking knowledge in one discipline to seemingly disparate knowledge in others, Bruner’s ‘interdisciplinarity’ (Bruner 1966) – was one of a number of other tactics explored.


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HAINS-WESSON, R (2011) ‘The impact of performance skills on students’ attitudes towards the learning experience in higher education’, Issues in Educational Research, 21(1) pp 22-41.

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Baker, R. (2016) 'Smoke, Suspense, and Scheherazade - Using Theatrical Devices to Engage the Student: a joint tutor-student action-research project', paper presented to The 12th Annual Conference of the British Education Studies Association (BESA), 30 June-01 July, viewed 13 August 2020, <>