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Tweet Seats Master Class Enhance Students’ Education

  • September 9, 2015
  • By Susan Bland     
Center for the Arts adds a twist to the Tweet Seats concept, embracing technology in the theatre for educational purposes.


An experiment started by the Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech has evolved into a learning opportunity for educators, students, and performers, 140 characters at a time. The Tweet Seats Master Class provides students and their instructors a new way to make connections and discoveries through the arts while introducing a new dimension to the class experience.

Tweeters use black boxes to shield the glow of their phones and tablets while they work from the back of the Moss Arts Center’s Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre. Tweeters use black boxes to shield the glow of their phones and tablets while they work from the back of the Moss Arts Center’s Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre.

In a traditional master class, an expert – the “master” – teaches a specific topic to students. The idea, common in music, can be applied to any discipline to develop a skill. Tweeting from performing arts venues isn’t a new idea, but the Center for the Arts’ twist on the Tweet Seats concept is — embracing technology in the theatre for educational purposes.

Instructors use Twitter to enhance students’ learning experiences during performances. This social media-based master class allows a small group of students and their instructors to discuss, in real-time, a performance in the Moss Arts Center’s Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre. The students use black boxes that sit on their laps while they type. The boxes shield the glow from their phones and tablets. Participants sit in the back of the theatre so they don’t distract other patrons.

“I found that I listened more intently to the performance because I was actively searching for things to tweet,” said Travis Whaley, a senior triple majoring in piano performance, music composition, and German language and literature, all in Virginia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

Whaley participated in a Tweet Seats Master Class in conjunction with a performance by Sphinx Virtuosi, a classical music ensemble. “The music interpretation skills I’ve learned from my music classes helped me as I was tweeting, and I think the event enhanced my classroom experience because it introduced an entirely new way to analyze and actively listen to music.”

Tracy Cowden, an associate professor of piano and vocal coach in Virginia Tech’s School of Performing Arts, and Erica Sipes, an adjunct faculty member at Radford University, led the Sphinx Virtuosi Tweet Seats Master Class in November 2014.

In addition to providing insight, answering student questions, and moderating the group discussion during the performance, faculty members can pre-write tweets to include technical information about a production, details about a composer’s intention with a piece or the history of its composition, or simply identify specific areas to pay attention to.

Cowden and Sipes each researched half of the ensemble’s pieces, which allowed them to share facts and observations related to the performance with students. The professors also interviewed musicians before the concert and tweeted about their thoughts about touring and performing.

In a blog entry about the event Sipes wrote, “For their part, the students contributed interesting comments and questions of their own, about different string techniques, how a conductor-less ensemble puts pieces together, the process of rehearsing, and reasons behind various ways of positioning the musicians on stage. Their enthusiasm for the ensemble, the repertoire, and the composers was tangible.”

Sphinx musicians shared the students’ enthusiasm.

“I’d seen live tweeting for concerts, but usually just for concerts that were streamed online, where listeners were tweeting from home,” said Christine Lamprea, Sphinx Virtuosi cellist. “An important part of our work is to convey a piece of music as clearly and convincingly as possible to an audience. Listeners are empowered when they can contribute to that process and discuss discoveries with their friends as they are listening. We loved seeing so many astute observations from the students, such as textural differences between movements, or the chemistry between performers.”

The engagement between patrons and artists continues after the performance. When schedules allow, the Center for the Arts hosts a meet-and-greet for the tweeters and performers. Tweets posted by the students and faculty members are shown on a monitor, providing a springboard for more in-depth discussion.

With several Tweet Seats Master Classes completed with music students and faculty members, the Center for the Arts is working with faculty members in other disciplines to create more 140-character conversations. Center for the Arts performances include music, dance, and film and involve historical milestones, global perspectives, current events, and societal observations.