The Carol Burnett Principle: Using Improv to Enhance Human Connection in the Learning Environment

Jim Ansaldo

Jim Ansaldo, PhD, is a Research Scholar at the Center on Education and Lifelong Learning, Indiana Institute on Disability and Community, Indiana University Bloomington. For 20 years, he has conducted research, supported school change efforts, and facilitated teacher professional learning around applied improvisation, coaching and consultation, culturally sustaining pedagogies, curriculum design, and online learning. Jim is a founder and codirector of Camp Yes And, an improv-based professional learning intensive for educators who support teens on the autism spectrum ( For this work, Jim was honored with a 2017 Certificate of Commendation Award by the Indiana Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

There are two levels of activity that operate simultaneously in any learning environment. There’s the level of academic learning that reflects the fantastic plans educators have designed for their students, and there’s the level of social-emotional learning that reflects how educators and students connect and relate to each other as human beings. The cast of The Carol Burnett Show — the hit comedy/variety TV show of the 1970s — taught us that a comedy sketch can completely fall apart, but if the people on stage are having the time of their lives, the audience will love it anyway. Similarly, plans for academic learning can go completely sideways, but if our learning community is connected on a human level, things will be okay. In this interactive, participatory presentation, we’ll explore ways to use improv games to enhance human connection in the learning environment. We’ll try out some games that you can use, learn about the research supporting this approach, and most important of all: have fun!

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