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Convocations and Cornerstone: Performance Provides Opportunities for Innovative Teaching

Graphic Image of cropped book cover from 1984 by George Orwell.
Cropped graphic from one version of the book, 1984's cover image.

At their heart, co-curricular partnerships are designed to extend the learning process beyond the classroom, giving students room to make new discoveries for themselves by allowing them to engage with their coursework from different angles.

Plunging students into an immersive, sensory experience is one way of providing access to those different angles, no matter the subject. Complementing course content with a live performance asks students to think critically both about what they saw, heard, and felt in that space, and also about how that experience connects with what they’ve discussed in class. 

Whether the coursework is discussing a piece of fiction, the practical application of a mechanical device, or compiling a counseling psychology diagnosis, there are lessons to be learned from seeing a production played out on stage.

Purdue Convocations, one of the oldest collegiate performing arts presenters in the nation, has been providing such experiences since 1902. Convos seeks to “distinguish Purdue through powerful performances, illuminating discourse, and extraordinary learning encounters.” Covering everything from innovative techno-dance groups, world-class lecturers, and classical Broadway theatre, Convos brings a variety of live performances to campus each year. While each season’s lineup is designed to engage both campus and community, Convos strives to connect their programming with the content being instructed across Purdue’s sprawling course catalog.

As a result, Convos has developed a series of co-curricular opportunities with Cornerstone Integrated Liberal Arts. A certificate program delivering an innovative solution to traditional “gen-ed” coursework, Cornerstone and its faculty, led by Director Dr. Melinda Zook and Academic Program Manager Dr. Stephanie M. Ayala-Chittick, have collaborated with Convos to align course content with scheduled performances. 

“Cornerstone reinforces and enhances our students’ foundational knowledge while deepening their ability to see unity across disciplines, to appreciate ambiguity, and to love learning,” states Ayala-Chittick, “Co-curricular programming with Convocations allows us to take the students out of the classroom and have them experience a new perspective of the texts they are reading by seeing them acted out on stage.” 

Moreover, Convocations aims to make content alignment as easy as possible for faculty. Senior Associate Director of Convocations, Mike Armintrout, reflects on how fluid this relationship has become: “The way Cornerstone courses are crafted, the faculty has the ability to choose what texts they are covering which provides lots of flexibility and opportunities from year to year in determining what can work.” 

Recently, Convos has brought to campus Aquila Theatre’s productions of 1984, The Odyssey, and Frankenstein, and Cornerstone faculty have responded by creating clever co-curricular modules to engage with the performances. “As Convos has worked diligently over the past couple of academic years to draw deeper curricular connections, Cornerstone has emerged as a true cultural co-conspirator,” says Armintrout of Cornerstone’s pursuit of innovative teaching.

The departments have worked together, “to craft the most intentional interactions for their faculty and students, creating cultural experiences to best align with academic goals,” says Armintrout.  

Collaborating with intention has also led the partners to provide a series of lectures relevant to Cornerstone coursework. These “pre-show” salons, thus far delivered by Cornerstone faculty Michael Johnston (English, The Odyssey), Swati Srivastava (Political Science, 1984), and Melinda Zook (History, Frankenstein), allow students yet another angle from which to investigate their subject -- while offering faculty another touchstone through which to instruct their content. 


Faculty considering similar course plans will be comforted by the growing body of research demonstrating the potential efficacy of performance as a teaching tool. A 2018 study of k12 field trips found that partnering classroom reading with theatrical productions led to “significant educational benefits… including higher levels of tolerance, social perspective taking, and stronger command of the plot and vocabulary of those plays.”(1) In 2019, a similar line of questioning led researchers to find that “live performance offers benefits for college students in their ability to understand and critically analyze the historical events they learn within their coursework.” (2)  

Theatre as a teaching tool is not just for the liberal arts.

The Krannert School of Management recently partnered with Convocations to formally research theatre’s potential influence on how students respond to case studies they encounter in coursework. Students were asked to analyze aspects of the 1984 Bhopal industrial disaster; a segment of students also attended Convocations’ production of Frankenstein. The results showed a link between attending the performance and a shift in ethical decision making.(3) Linking a 19th-century novel to a 20th-century tragedy is innovative, co-curricular teaching at its best.  

Armintrout believes all shows --music, theatre, dance, lecture-- have the potential to nurture a student’s sense of well-being. But depending on the context, any show “could inspire students in ways that are less direct. It could impact their ability to build empathy for others (Leadership & Professional Development), expose them to new ideas & perspectives (Impact), or demonstrate how to deal with the trials of life (Grit).” 

Even when there is not an immediate or obvious link between a course and the performing arts, productions offer opportunities for the kind of innovative teaching moments that Purdue is known for. As you plan your courses, perhaps consider how integrating a Convocations’ production can help in your persistent pursuit of the next giant leap.

Ready to make your small step?

Curricular Integration: If you are interested in integrating a co-curricular partnership into your program, class, or curriculum, contact the Office of the Vice Provost of Student Life.

Protect the Next Giant Leap: As a global pandemic impacts us all, we keep going. Convocations continues to pursue new ways of providing engaging, innovative content for our community and our curriculums -- even at a distance. If you are seeking ways to invigorate your course content, reach out to Convocations to discuss possibilities for virtual co-curricular engagements.Together we will Protect Purdue and our future.  


  1. The Play’s the Thing: Experimentally Examining the Social and Cognitive Effects of School Field Trips to Live Theater Performances,” Educational Researcher. Jay P. Greene, et al (2018).
  2. Understanding the Nuremberg Trials: An Examination of the Use of Live Theatre as an Educational Tool.” Bingxin Fa, Amanda S. Mayes (2019).
  3. The Effect of Live Theatre on Business Ethics.” Humanistic Management Journal. Amy David, Amanda S. Mayes, Elizabeth C. Coppola (2020).




Christy McCarter, graduate research assistant, Office of the Vice Provost for Student Life