An arts-based approach to facilitating systems thinking in student leadership programs




Cortes Acosta, Valeria

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This study explored the implementation of Image Theatre as a means to developing systems thinking in a co-curricular student leadership development program at the University of Victoria. The research question asked: In what ways does the implementation of an arts-based pedagogical approach, such as Image Theatre, illustrate the potentiality for undergraduate students to better understand ‘the bigger picture’ and the interconnections of their intersecting social systems? This inquiry was conducted through an arts-based methodology and used the Social Change Model of Leadership Development (Higher Education Research Institute, 1996) as a theoretical framework for designing the student leadership program. The study was conducted during a workshop in which Image Theatre and graphic recording were used in parallel to trace connections among the characters portrayed by six undergraduate students interested in environmental sustainability. The themes that emerged included the tensions of individuals ‘caught in the middle’, or system’s integrators, and the role of activism. The study’s findings suggest students’ understanding of systems as fragmented units and identifies the potentiality for further research and intentional practice emphasizing the interconnections and relationships among systems within the curriculum.



student leadership, systems thinking, image theatre, Theatre for Living, graphic recording, Social Change Model of Leadership Development