Improvisation holds a rich promise not only for direct use with and by students to learn practice-related skills but also for an educational stance that resists the technological and ideological closing of social work education in favor of spaces for dialogic, playful, and critical explorations. As part of a holistic approach to education, it expands Goldstein's (2001) emphasis on the necessity of experiential learning and can combine modes oflearning including Kolb's (1984) concrete experiences, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation. Learning how to improvise through the use of theater games creates opportunities for students and educators alike to experience the uncertainty and creative potential of collaborative activities in the classroom. Knowledge and exercises borrowed from improvisational theater grant structures for “planned serendipity” in which improvising can be taught (Mirvis, 1998). Such experiential learning inextricably weaves together doing and knowing (Bruner, 1996) that is also consistent with current neurobiological insights.
As part of a critical education approach, improvisation can inform a move from practice to critical praxis within and outside of classrooms by quite literally incorporating critical analysis and reflection. Critical reflection as part of improvisation is not just “in the individual head”; rather, the body provides inspiration and holds residues heretofore unnoticed. Similarly, material surroundings, as well as the interactive and intersubjective construction of social realities, become tangible in the group process of improvised activities. Improvisation as an educational concept can thus help create a space in which social work students and educators engage in experiences that are simultaneously fun and serious, creative and critical, analytic and mimetic, as well as collaborative and transformational.