Teaching Through Performing Arts in Higher Education: Examples in Engineering and Psychology


  • Laure Kloetzer University of Neuchâtel
  • Simon Henein Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
  • Ramiro Tau University of Neuchâtel, University of Geneva
  • Susanne Martin Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
  • Joëlle Valterio Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne




Performing arts, Higher education, Engineering, Psychology, Improgineering, Teaching through performing arts


This paper introduces two courses making use of performing arts at university level. The first course, taught by Prof. Simon Henein and his colleagues, called Improgineering, aims to teach collective creation through improvisation to master’s degree students in engineering at the EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland). The second course, taught by Prof. Laure Kloetzer and her colleagues, aims to introduce the Psychology of Migration via a sociocultural approach to bachelor’s degree students in psychology and education at the University of Neuchâtel (Switzerland). After briefly introducing the topic of performing arts in higher education (section 1), the paper offers a description of the two courses (sections 2 and 3). These are complemented by teachers’ and students’ impressions of the course, as analyzed from individual interviews, focus groups and students’ learning diary entries (section 4). The conclusion presents some reflections on the convergences of the pedagogical designs of the courses, drafting a pedagogical model for using performing arts within higher education (section 5).

Author Biographies

  • Laure Kloetzer, University of Neuchâtel

    Laure Kloetzer is Assistant Professor in Sociocultural Psychology at the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland. Her research focuses on how psychology can contribute to social change by applying developmental and participatory approaches inspired by the seminal works of Vygotsky. Alongside her academic activities, Laure Kloetzer is a fiction writer, having co-authored two science fiction books, which have received prestigious prizes (CLEER: Une fantaisie corporate, Prix Planète-SF 2011; Anamnèse de Lady Star, Prix Rosny-Aîné 2014, Grand Prix de la Science Fiction Française 2014 and Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire 2014). She is leading the research project ASCOPET on Performing Arts in Higher Education.

  • Simon Henein, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

    Simon Henein is Associate Professor at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and Head of the Micromechanical and Horological Design Laboratory (INSTANT-LAB), Institute of Microengineering. Currently, he is Visiting Professor at the Centre for Theatre Studies (CET), Faculty of Arts, University of Lausanne. His field of expertise covers the design of high-precision mechanisms dedicated to mechanical horology, surgical instruments, and aerospace applications. His related undergraduate and graduate teachings focus on micromechanical design, with an emphasis on the creative process. Since 2017 he has been teaching a course entitled Improgineering that familiarizes engineering students with the improvised performing arts.

  • Ramiro Tau, University of Neuchâtel, University of Geneva

    Ramiro Tau obtained his doctorate at the National University of La Plata, Argentina, with a thesis on the development of children’s understanding of death. In 2012 he was appointed Associated Professor of Genetic Psychology (UNLP) and since 2018 he has been conducting research at the universities of Neuchâtel and Geneva, Switzerland. Since 2020 he has served as a board member of the Jean Piaget Foundation and professor at the Open University of Catalonia, Spain. He is interested in the uses of performing arts in educational contexts, development of social notions and history of psychology .

  • Susanne Martin, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

    Susanne Martin is a Berlin-based choreographer, performer, researcher, and teacher in the field of contemporary dance and theatre. She is currently a postdoctoral researcher at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). Her artistic practice and research focus on dance improvisation, critical narrations of the age(ing) body, artistic research methods, and improvisation-based approaches to learning, knowledge production and knowledge dissemination. Within the interdisciplinary ASCOPET research project (EPFL/UNINE) she explores how artistic research can contribute to understanding and making understood the potential dance improvisation practice holds for a technical university. www.susannemartin.de

  • Joëlle Valterio, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

    Joëlle Valterio is a freelance performance artist, holding a Master in Contemporary Arts Practice from the Bern University of Arts, a Certificate of Advanced Studies in Dramaturgy and a Master in Information and Documentation from the Haute Ecole de Gestion in Geneva. She is founder and director of UTP (Unwrap The Present) and member of PANCH (Performance Art Network CH) and of SSA (Swiss Society of Authors). Since 2017, she has been Construction Assistant at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne where she assists in the development and teaching of the course Improgineering and contributes to the research project ASCOPET.


Bale, Richard (2020): Teaching with Confidence in Higher Education: Applying Strategies from the Performing Arts. London: Routledge, https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429201929

Blanch, Emma (1974): Dramatics in the Foreign-language Classroom. New York: MLA/ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics

Bruner, Jerome (2015): Car la culture donne forme à l'esprit: de la révolution cognitive à la psychologie culturelle. Paris: Retz

Cattaruzza, Elisa; Ligorio, Beatrice & Iannaccone, Antonio (2019): Sociomateriality as a partner in the polyphony of students positioning. In: Learning, Culture and Social Interaction 22, 100332, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lcsi.2019.100332

Daykin, Norma; Orme, Judy; Evans, David; Salmon, Debra; McEachran, Malcolm & Brain, Sarah (2008): The impact of participation in performing arts on adolescent health and behaviour: A systematic review of the literature. In: Journal of Health Psychology 13/2, 251-264, https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105307086699

Dewey, John (1933): How we think. Boston: Heath & Co.

Dewey, John (1934): Arts as Experience. New York: Minton, Balch & Co.

Dewey, John (1958): Experience and Nature. New York: Dover Publications, https://doi.org/10.1038/1811367a0

Gage, Nathaniel Lees (1978): The Scientific Basis of the Art of Teaching. New York: Teachers College Press

Galante, Angelica & Thomson, Ron (2017): The effectiveness of drama as an instructional approach for the development of second language oral fluency, comprehensibility, and accentedness. In: Tesol Quarterly 51/1, 115-142, https://doi.org/10.1002/tesq.290

García, A. (2004): Comunicación y expresión oral y escrita: la dramatización como recurso. Barcelona: Raó

Giebert, Stefanie (2014): Drama and theatre in teaching foreign languages for professional purposes. In: Recherche et pratiques pédagogiques en langues de spécialité. Cahiers de l'Apliut 33/1, 138-150, https://doi.org/10.4000/apliut.4215

Goldstein, Thalia & Winner, Ellen (2012). Enhancing empathy and theory of mind. In: Journal of Cognition and Development 13/1, 19-37, https://doi.org/10.1080/15248372.2011.573514

Gravey, Viviane; Lorenzoni, Irene; Seyfang, Gill & Hargreaves, Tom (2017): Theoretical Theatre: harnessing the power of comedy to teach social science theory. In: Journal of Contemporary European Research 13/3, 1319-1336

Gutiérrez, Manuel Pérez (2004). La dramatización como recurso clave en el proceso de enseñanza y adquisición de las lenguas. In: Revista Electrónica Internacional Glosas Didácticas 12, 70-80

Harland, John; Kinder, Kai; Lord, Pippa; Stott, Allison; Schagen, Ian; Haynes, Jo; Cusworth, Linda; White, Richard & Paola, Riana (2000): Arts Education in Secondary Schools: Effects and Effectiveness. Slough: NFER, 566

Hooker, Claire & Dalton, James (2019): The performing arts in medicine and medical education. Routledge Handbook of the Medical Humanities, https://doi.org/10.4324/9781351241779-20

Jackson, Philip Wesley (1998): John Dewey and the Lessons of Art. New Haven: Yale University Press

Jogschies, Bärbel; Schewe, Manfred & Stöver-Blahak, Anke (2018): Recommendations for Promoting a Performative Teaching, Learning and Research Culture in Higher Education. In: Scenario 2, 52-56

Kloetzer, Laure; Clot, Yves & Quillerou-Grivot, Edwige (2015): Stimulating dialogue at work: The activity clinic approach to learning and development. In: Filliettaz, Laurent & Billett, Stefan (eds): Francophone perspectives of learning through work. Basel: Springer International, 49-70, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-18669-6_3

Konkola, Riitta; Tuomi-Gröhn Terttu; Lambert, Pirjo & Ludvigsen, Sten (2007): Promoting learning and transfer between school and workplace. In: Journal of Education and Work 20/3, 211-228, DOI: 10.1080/13639080701464483. https://doi.org/10.1080/13639080701464483

McDonald, Brennan; Goldstein, Thalia & Kanske, Philipp (2020): Could Acting Training Improve Social Cognition and Emotional Control? In: Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 14, 348, https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2020.00348

Mentz, Olivier & Fleiner, Micha (2019): The Arts in Language Teaching: International Perspectives: Performative - Aesthetic – Transversal. Münster: LIT Verlag

Motos, Tomás (2009): El teatro en la educación secundaria. In: Revista Virtual: Creatividad y Sociedad 14, 1-35

Oreck, Barry (2006). Artistic choices: A study of teachers who use the arts in the classroom. In: International Journal of Education & the Arts 7/9, 1-27

Pellegrino, Anthony; Lee, Christopher Dean; Luongo III, Benjamin; & Zakaria, Osama (2010): Music as a tool for 21st-century civic education. In: Action in Teacher Education 32/4, 83-95, https://doi.org/10.1080/01626620.2010.549739

Redington, Christine (1983): Can Theatre Teach? An Historical and Evaluative Analysis of Theatre in Education. Oxford: Pergamon Press

Richards, Jack & Rodgers, Theodore (1986): Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Sarason, Seymour (1999): Teaching as a Performing Art. New York: Teachers College Press

Schonmann, Shifra (2011): Key Concepts in Theatre/Drama Education. New York: Springer Science & Business Media, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-6091-332-7

Smith, Susan Sperry (1998): Early childhood mathematics. Paper presented at the Forum on Early Childhood Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education (Washington, DC, Feb 6-8, 1998)

Stern, Susan (1980): Drama in second language learning from a psycholinguistic perspective. In: Language Learning 30/1, 77-100, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-1770.1980.tb00152.x

Taylor, Julie Anne (2008): From the stage to the classroom: The performing arts and social studies. In: The History Teacher 41/2, 235-248

Trimmis, Konstantinos Prokopios & Kalogirou, Konstantina (2018): Performative Archaeology: Exploring the use of Drama in Archaeology Teaching and Practice. In: Scenario 2, 30-45

Via, Richard (1976): Participatory English: Drama. In: Language Arts 53/2, 175-178

Vygotsky, Lev Semionovitch (1971): The Psychology of Art. Cambridge: MIT Press

Vygotsky, Lev Semionovitch (1980): Mind in society. The development of higher psychological processes. Boston: Harvard University Press, https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvjf9vz4

Weschler, Lawrence & Irwin, Robert (1982): Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees: A Life of Contemporary Artist Robert Irwin. Berkeley: University of California Press

Whatman, Jennifer (1997): Teaching is performing: an alternative model of teacher education. In: Research in Drama Education 2/2, 173-184, https://doi.org/10.1080/1356978970020203

Winnicott, Donald (1971): Transitional objects and transitional phenomena. Playing and Reality. New York: Basic Books, 1-25