Staying creative amid lockdown learning

Excellence in Education Awards: Excellent Graduate Teaching Award winner

  • Date

    Wed 26 Jan 22

Natasha Richards, smiling at the camera with green foliage behind

A research student in the Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies who found a creative solution to helping students connect with what they were learning during lockdown has been recognised with an Excellence in Education Award.

Natasha Richards scooped the Excellent Graduate Teaching Assistant/ Graduate Lab Assistant Award (Individual) for her project inspired by the Company Three Coronavirus Time Capsule.

Faced with the challenge of all learning moving online, Natasha devised a way to help students on the Introduction to Theatre Studies module stay creative and engaged.

Each week Natasha, who is also an Assistant Lecturer, gave her students a prompt, related to what they were studying in class. Students were asked to respond creatively through a song, poem or reflective piece of writing.

The time capsule format proved so successful that it was extended and adapted in response to student feedback for a second term: after highlighting they wanted to know more about contemporary artists, Natasha’s prompts focused on specific artists and the students were asked to conduct their own research, upload a creative response and a diary entry on to Moodle.

Students reported that the project “push[ed] us out of our comfort zones and encourage[ed] us to try new ways of being creative” and that it helped them “put the learn[ing] into practice”.

The initiative proved so popular it’s being run again this year and will become a permanent feature of the Introduction to Theatre Studies module.

Natasha, who has been a Graduate Teaching Assistant at Essex for two years, said: “The lockdown created challenges to creating and teaching theatre. I was inspired by the creativity, resilience, and vulnerability of the young people who participated in The Coronavirus Time Capsule with Company Three. I created a similar project for my theatre students in the hope it would provide them with a creative outlet and a sense of belonging at a time when many of them had never met their fellow students in person. I also aimed for the Time Capsule to offer an opportunity for the students to engage with the academic material in a critically reflective way.

“I think the success of the project came from the artistic talents of the students, their willingness to be vulnerable, and their care and support of each other. It still remains one of my favourite parts of my teaching week – sitting with a cup of tea, watching the Time Capsules, and feeling an overwhelming sense of admiration for the theatre students at the University of Essex.”

Dr Nora Williams, who nominated Natasha, said: “Students responded to Natasha’s prompts with such beautiful creativity and really appreciated the chance to stretch their wings in a low-stakes, formative assessment where they could feel free to experiment and take risks.

“It was wonderful to see what the students were able to create despite the restrictions of lockdown and remote learning. Natasha put a great deal of time and energy into developing this project, and that effort paid huge dividends in terms of student success on the module.”

Dr Mary Mazzilli added: “Natasha is an intelligent hard-working teacher who has gone far and beyond the normal GTA duties, influencing the curriculum and being heavily involved in the pastoral care and in the administrative support of the module. She is an excellent teacher applying excellent pedagogical approaches to the teaching of drama.”

More about our Excellence in Education Awards

Our Excellence in Education Awards are inspired by the University’s mission to achieve excellence in both education and research. We aim to provide students with a transformational education experience and intellectually challenging and stimulating courses that are based on creative and innovative approaches.

The Awards recognise and celebrate our institutional commitment to enabling our students to contribute positively to communities and societies around them.