Magazine article TD&T (Theatre Design & Technology)

Lighting Technology Education IN THE 21ST CENTURY: Call to Action for Today's Educators

Magazine article TD&T (Theatre Design & Technology)

Lighting Technology Education IN THE 21ST CENTURY: Call to Action for Today's Educators

Article excerpt

This manuscript is a call to action for all lighting technology educators. Teaching is hard, particularly with rapidly changing technology, budget cuts, a demanding teaching and production schedule, and students with varying backgrounds and interests. Further, the industry and students have changed; production has become significantly more complex and subject knowledge must be counterbalanced with information accessibility more than ever. It is our responsibility to educate lighting students for tomorrow. This article will provide suggestions for how to better work with and prepare modern undergraduates to enter such a fast-paced and rapidly changing industry. The ideas presented in this article are not necessarily new, but this is an opportunity for all lighting educators to reexamine how they teach lighting technology. We can do better.

The genesis for this article came from the blog post Are You Teaching Relevant Lighting ( 2016/01/14/are-you-teaching-relevant-lighting/) in January of 2016. It asked some difficult questions and offered a number of suggestions. The blog then inspired the session "Modernizing Lighting Education" at the 2017 USITT National Conference ( Though it was a great session, an hour and fifteen minutes was simply not enough time to go in depth into the subject. This article begins with those ideas and expands on them.

Education Challenges

Today's lighting technicians are entering a very different industry than the one for which their mentors and professors were trained. When many educators started their careers, only a couple of major lighting manufacturers controlled the market. Now dozens of manufacturers are all releasing gear; some is of quality, and some is below industry expectations. Pedagogical trends have also shifted. More emphasis is being placed on experiential learning and less on rote memorization. Accordingly, students learn very differently than they once did. A modern student is used to having information readily available, but that creates a greater reliance on technology. Different learning strategies must be used to convey information and maintain student interest.

Also, as an educator, you will not be able to teach them everything. Let us just accept that point now. It is also vital to understand that the skills we have now as educators came from years, even decades, of experience and were not developed over four years of undergraduate education. Whether you are new to education or a 30-year veteran, we as a community can better prepare our students to enter the workforce by acknowledging current challenges and designing appropriate solutions.

Consider the following critical factors:

Technology. Lighting technology has changed dramatically in the past 15 years and particularly in the past 5 years with the rapid adoption of LED fixtures. Furthermore, moving lights and other similar types of equipment are growing less expensive and are common in most theatres as a result. The amount of data required for these instruments has also changed even the simplest light plots. A single DMX run is no longer the norm; theatres now need a full-on lighting network running multiple universes to adequately control a lighting rig. Changing technology has forced us to adjust the way we distribute both data and power. The technology is going to continue to change, and staying up to date is crucial. Educators must find ways to adapt and teach students to have the same ability.

Academia. Problems on the university level are also a challenge. In order to teach many of these technologies, the instructor needs the equipment; lecture and reading can only take you so far. Unfortunately, a lack of funding is a significant issue at most universities, making the acquisition of new gear often impossible.

Increased demands on a faculty member's time can also significantly impact the teaching of new technology. …

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