Thursday, November 17, 2011

An Experiment in Teleconferencing and Shakespeare

Just what could be done by combining teleconferencing technology with an undergraduate course in Shakespeare?

What could be gained, what put at risk, by splitting a course in Shakespeare between two locations, mediated by telepresence?

These are the questions I'm posing myself today, after receiving an invitation from  the BYU Salt Lake Center to pilot a hybrid course split between there and BYU-Provo. As explained to me by the center's director, Scott Howell, the Vidyo telepresence technology will be available for distance learning for the first time for a humanities course. It makes sense to try this out on a very common course like Shakespeare.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Final Projects for Fall 2011

After some vigorous and helpful discussion Thursday, it was decided that we would put on an event at the semester's end to showcase the projects. One of the groups will take the lead in planning that event (what I'm now calling the media group).

Given that we will be combining all our projects at that point, and given that many students have interest in more than one group, I am allowing (within reason) for people to contribute to more than one project if they have the interest and energy.

With this in mind, please blog about these projects between now and our next meeting on Nov. 8th so we can better define the parameters of the proposals and assign people more firmly to specific projects. Consider responding to this post, or possibly link back to a post on your own blogs.

Proposed Projects
  1. Theatrical Production: “Love’s Labours” Averill Corkin is heading up a group that will put on a short production that combines couples from three different plays by Shakespeare. Group members: Averill, Anthony, Eric, Gabe, Justin, Brittni, Martina
  2. Art & Education Mason and Amanda Cassandra are combining those with interests in producing art related to Shakespeare with those interested in creating an art and education curriculum of some sort as an open educational resource to be circulated online.
  3. Documentary Kelsie has proposed using her film talents to head up doing a documentary film about the production of the various projects and the event showcasing these.
  4. Music Video Kara has proposed the creation of some post rock done to a Shakespeare text and of a music video based upon this.
  5. Audio Shakespeare Amanda has proposed putting together a group to do an audio performance of a work by Shakespeare to be posted to the LibriVox site in the public domain. Brittni is eager to help.
  6. Media Austin will head this group, which combines pragmatic uses of media to publicize and conduct our end-of-semester event, as well as exploratory and creative uses of media to show what can be done in digitally mediating Shakespeare. JJ Despain will also be on the team, along with Eric B.
  7. Proposed Production A group that creates a plan for a proposed production of one of Shakespeare's plays. This can include a text "treatment," artistic sketches for the art design or costumes, storyboards, or reference media.

More details about general requirements for the projects follow:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Midterm Assessment (Fall 2011)

Eng 232 / Fall 2011
Dr. Gideon Burton

Midterm Assessment

During the week of Oct 31 - Nov 4 we will be assessing how we’ve done so far in reaching the course learning outcomes and making plans for the final project that you will be working on during the final month of the semester. The midterm assessment will be divided between 1) a self-assessment; and 2) a midterm interview.

1. Midterm Self-Assessment (blog post)
Due: Mon. Oct 31 (for those scheduled for a Tues. midterm interview); all others, Tues. Nov 1

Create a blog post in which you assess your progress to date. Please follow this structure:
A. Learning OutcomesYou may wish to refer to the learning outcomes as outlined in more detail on the course syllabus.
    1. How have I gained Shakespeare literacy?
    2. How have I analyzed Shakespeare critically?
    3. How have I engaged Shakespeare creatively?
    4. How have I shared Shakespeare meaningfully?
Underneath each heading, provide a short paragraph that includes linked references back to those blog posts that have documented your learning in each area.

B. Self-directed Learning
Provide a brief paragraph in which you reflect upon your self-directed learning.
    • What have I done that demonstrates I have taken charge of my own learning about Shakespeare?
    • How am I doing at planning my learning, documenting my learning, finding appropriate resources for my learning, scheduling and carrying out learning activities, and measuring my learning?

Note that I am just as interested in how your thinking and habits are developing as I am in knowing specific things you have done. Are you thinking and acting like a self-directed learner?

C. Collaborative and Social Learning
Provide a brief paragraph in which you reflect upon how you have learned alongside and through others. Specifically:
    • Which students have aided me most in my own learning (through help inside or outside of class, through their comments on my blog, or through their blogging, etc.)?
    • How is working withing the assigned learning groups working? How could this be improved?
    • How am I involving others (outside of my group or even our class) in my learning? Or, how am I applying my learning about Shakespeare in social settings beyond class?
D. Looking Ahead
State what your plans are for meeting learning outcomes or personal learning plans that are incomplete. This can include discussion of the final project.

2. Midterm interview
Sign up for a scheduled individual interview time with the instructor. I will be reviewing your self-assessment blog post prior to your interview and will base our discussion around that. In addition, be prepared to speak about:
  • any of the plays we’ve studied together
  • your individually assigned play and that assignment.
  • live performances attended or film adaptations viewed
  • final project ideas

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Setting up a Student Blog on Blogger

My Shakespeare students are required to blog. This post is intended to guide them through the basic setup. Later, there will be more information about customizing blogs and criteria for good blogging. I am requiring everyone to use the Blogger/Blogspot platform for consistency's sake:

Blog Setup
  1. Go to
    If you already have a Gmail or Google account, go ahead and sign in. If not, click on Get Started which will help you to get an account.
  2. Within your Blogger dashboard, click on "Create a Blog" (on the right).
  3. Blog Title
    This will appear on the top of your blog. Try not to make your blog title sound like a boring assignment ("My Shakespeare blog" or "English 232 blog"), and don't make the title too long. If you use a quotation, make it super short. Browse the list of past student blogs here and ask yourself, "Which of these blog titles make me interested to read the blog, and which do not?" Your blog title can be changed later, but you shouldn't change it often or it will confuse people. 
  4. Blog Address (URL). Normally you can choose anything (that's available) to go in front of  However, for this class please follow this naming convention for your blog: LastNameFirstNameCourseNumber. Example: burtongideon232. If this name isn't available, please add a middle initial or another variation on your name like brownmatt232 instead of brownmatthew232.
  5. Choose a Template
    You can play with this later, customizing the look and feel of your blog. Pick one of the simple standard templates to get started. Later, go back through the "Design" tab to customize more.
  6. Publish your first post.
    Please make an introduction post on the topic of your Shakespeare experience and interests. 
  7. Fill out the form here to submit your blog's URL:

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Shakespeare Badge System

Have you earned your Hamlet badge yet? What about your Globe Theatre Badge for attending and reviewing stage productions of Shakespeare's plays? Or maybe you'd like to earn your Horatio Badge, for demonstrating "thou art a scholar" of Shakespeare?

After brainstorming ideas about open accreditation with open content advocate David Wiley recently, I have been playing with the idea of developing an open learning credential system for my Shakespeare course through which badges would be used to represent achieving learning outcomes. Such a system would not simply be a way for my students to demonstrate their learning to me or get a grade; it would provide a prototype for open credentialing -- a concept that will do much, I believe, to advance current educational reform. If a badge system can work with a common subject like Shakespeare, perhaps it could be adapted more broadly.

This is how I foresee it working:

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Final Exam: A Shakespeare "Salon"

Final exam "salon" from a prior semester
As my students wrap up a semester of learning about Shakespeare, we will have a culminating event that will help measure their learning and bring closure to both their self-directed and collaborative learning.

When we gather on Monday, April 18th (from 2:30-4:30pm) each student will come having reviewed their own personal learning plan and how they have met our learning outcomes. I have also asked the students to spend some time looking at their peers' blogs in terms of those same outcomes, making some notes on memorable ways various class members have worked together or individually in meeting those same outcomes.

The structure of the exam is going to be in the form of a "salon," or a kind of guided conversation. Each salon will consist of a group of three students, and there will be a total of four of these half-hour discussions (one for each of the major categories of the learning outcomes), and each time new groups will be formed.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

When is my blog done?

flickr-alamodestuff, creative commons licensed
As I continue this effort to teach students research blogging, I am running into the very natural and somewhat frustrating question, "When is my blog done?" I'm not referring to the practical question related to the course my students are taking (which is really, "At what point and just how will my blog be graded?" which I will come to). No, the issue here is when has a blog reached a point at which it is "finished"-- not in the sense of being "complete" or "done with" but in the sense of being refined. When is my academic blog at a point where it has demonstrable value?

This is a key question for academic bloggers, since the very nature of blogs is continuous, yet schooling or scholarly publishing are not. Semesters end. Manuscripts are published. There is tremendous clarity that comes with academic evaluating: a grade doesn't just signal how well one did; it signals that something is done. A manuscript that's published means a project is completed. Sure, one can always take another course or publish another book, but we see these as separate, subsequent endeavors.

So when is my blog "done"?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Shakespeare and Facebook

As announced here, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, is coming to BYU (along with Orrin Hatch) for a technology forum on Friday, March 25, at 11am in the Marriott Center. That's where we should all be for class that day. I doubt Zuckerberg or the senator will be discussing Shakespeare, but obviously the digital emphasis of our course makes this a relevant event.

A student from another class shared with me this book, Sarah Schmelling's Ophelia Joined the Group Maidens Who Don't Float, which shows what happens when characters from classic literature communicate Facebook style. It's amusing, but not inconsequential. I'd love for one of my Shakespeare students to study this as a digital mediation. 

How does our immersion in social media change the way that we think about communication, or dealing with problems, or negotiating relationships? How much do our online identities become characters, as constructed as fictional characters?

We haven't talked much in class about social media or Facebook in relationship to Shakespeare, but this would be a good time to start. I hope to see you at the technology forum with Zuckerberg. I even submitted a few questions for him and the senator. You can, too.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Balancing Directed and Self-Directed Learning

What am I supposed to do to prepare for class, my students at times wonder, if I am not being directed what to read or what homework to do? 

A look of student uncertainty (courtesy of jamelah on Flickr)
It's a fair question. I am not following custom in my Shakespeare course. There is no calendar of readings, no exam slated, no paper due. Not even a quiz. In short, I am not providing for my students the sort of completely directed curriculum that they've likely experienced as their professors have handed out a course syllabus with its exact and exacting set of readings and assignments. It's enough to make more than one student feel a little edgy.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Digitally Mediating Shakespeare

I'm urging my class to explore the ways in which people are using various media tools to engage Shakespeare. I want them to look at the ways that digital culture is transmitting and transforming the Shakespeare legacy.

Beyond Film
Movie adaptations are more important than ever, but cinema as a form is a 20th century genre that is getting retooled in the digital age. If my students look at film adaptations, I want them to study how these are embedded within digital culture and not just remark on them as adaptations. For example, what does it mean to experience Shakespeare films on a computer screen? on YouTube? Or, how are people remixing Shakespeare or employing clips of Shakespeare in educational settings? How are films adaptations of Shakespeare becoming something different because of the ways they are viewed, shared, or remixed? Here's an example of someone who has collected various uses of Shakespeare's sonnets within contemporary film.

Databases and Search Tools
Shakespeare's texts can be searched creatively and various now. Look at something like Shakespeare Searched or at how you can incrementally search lines or phrases over at Rhyme Zone. Over at Mr. William Shakespeare and the Internet (an excellent web portal for the Bard), they list multiple concordances and other search tools to get into Shakespeare's works.

Teaching Resources
All kinds of resources are available for Shakespeare instruction, including these lesson plans featured at the Folger Shakespeare Library's site or some 380+ open content courses about Shakespeare from MIT's Open Courseware archive.

Cell Phones and Twitter
David Tertipes, in his recent post, explained how Shakespeare is being experienced in South Africa via cell phones, with text message versions of the plays. He also directed us to Such Tweet Sorrow, a Twitter-ized performance of Romeo and Juliet done with the Royal Shakespeare Company. And of course, thanks to Joanna, we experienced the live and interactive #askShakespeare event on Twitter (written about by David and Joanna).

One way in which Shakespeare is being re-mediated in the digital age is through various ways in which the text can be presented in digital , explored, or shared. Claire, for example, looked at this from the point of view of digital teaching aids that can help one explore the text of Romeo and Juliet. In her post, she describes the use of Wordle and gives an example of this visualization and analysis tool from R&J:

Interactive Media
Sara introduced us to the very interesting Stage Work Mckellen, an interactive site in which an automated Ian Mckellen discusses Richard III with site visitors.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Mid-Term Evaluations

It's time to take stock of how far we have come in reaching the learning outcomes for English 382, Shakespeare. I will be interviewing students next week individually, and in preparation for this I would like each student to write two blog posts. These are due Tuesday morning, February 22nd, by 10:00am:

  1. Progress Report on Personal Learning
    Write a concise narrative in which you give a progress report on your personal learning plan. I will be looking for these things in your report:
    1. Learning Outcomes -- Are you meeting the goals you've set for yourself? Has your reading, research, and writing fulfilled specific learning outcomes?
    2. Reading and Research -- What works by Shakespeare have you read so far this semester? What secondary (critical) works or other resources have shaped your learning? What independent kinds of inquiry have you pursued?
    3. Links and Connections -- Within the report, do you link back to blog posts that demonstrate meeting the course learning outcomes? Do you make explicit connections to other learning and learners or to non-Shakespearean texts?
    4. Personal Impact -- How has your study of Shakespeare been most engaging for you personally? Are you noticing any pattern in your own interests -- a theme, a play, an approach to reading? How is this course helping you to developing life-long learning skills and interests?
    5. Personal Evaluation -- What have you done best so far? What needs most attention?
    6. Peer Influence -- What specific fellow class members have positively influenced your learning experience with Shakespeare? This need not be long. Identify two or three peers and state briefly how and why they have been influential (an in-class comment, a peer comment left on your blog, any out-of-class interaction, a specific blog post they wrote to which you can link, etc.)
  2. Peer Blog Evaluation
    Refer to the list of class blogs. You are to evaluate the blog of your classmate whose name appears immediately after yours in that list. Use the following report criteria:
    1. Number of Posts
      How many posts has this person made? 
    2. Quality of Posts
      The stated standard is "two substantial posts weekly." In your opinion, to what degree has your peer met this standard? (A substantial post is one that keeps focus on learning outcomes, shows critical engagement, personal relevance, and social connection)
    3. A Strength
      You could refer to a specific blog post that is exemplary and state why this is so, or you could refer to a more general good quality you perceive across the blog as it has developed.
    4. Suggested Improvement
      Provide just one or two short constructive suggestions for how your peer could improve on his or her blogging.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ten Tips on Good Commenting

  1. Look for the Praiseworthy.
    Even if you might have something constructive to add, or even if you wish to take issue with a post, first be sure that you identify what that post is doing that's interesting, useful, or on target with our learning outcomes.
  2. Be Specific."Great post!" isn't as powerful as "I appreciate the way that you called into question novels as adaptations of Shakespeare's plays by pointing out how novels are not theatrical.
  3. Make Connections
    Relate someone's post to one of your own, to in-class discussion, to other works of literature, to your religion, etc.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Learning Social Learning

Photo: flickr - jisc_infonet (adapted)
O, what a precious comfort 'tis to have so many, like brothers, commanding one another's fortunes!
-- Timon of Athens

Learning sometimes requires privacy, uninterrupted concentration, and focused, individual thought. But this must be balanced against the many benefits of learning more socially. I really want to promote social learning among my students. It changes the game. It makes education more fun and interesting. And it is a better model for promoting life-long learning. 

When I say "social learning" I'm not really talking about having a friend over while you do homework, nor am I just talking about interacting with peers in class. I'm talking about making connections, all the time, everywhere, between what you are learning and whom you are with. I'm talking about building bridges of relevance between you and other people, constructed of the concepts and texts and research questions that you cultivate from your personal learning.  Read on for some specific suggestions on learning social learning...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Toward Life-Long Learning

As my students know, I emphasize a combination of self-directed learning and socially-optimized learning, mediated through the emerging tools that make each of these two poles of the learning continuum more feasible and enjoyable.

I'd like to relate my approach to teaching and learning to the Aims of a BYU Education. Note how it refers specifically to keeping up with technological advances:
BYU should inspire students to keep alive their curiosity and prepare them to continue learning throughout their lives.... Thus, a BYU diploma is a beginning, not an end, pointing the way to a habit of constant learning. In an era of rapid changes in technology and information, the knowledge and skills learned this year may require renewal the next. Therefore, a BYU degree should educate students in how to learn...
This is why I have introduced the basic concepts of digital literacy, and why I press my students to learn blogging, social discovery, and especially the mindset that comes with the ability to rapidly and frequently share one's thinking, learning, and creative efforts. It can be a steep learning curve, but we're building for the long haul here.

Have you considered your own life-long learning? What are the things you are going to need to figure out when you aren't inside the protected walls of school? Will you need to know some online and digital skills to help your children succeed? Will you be at an advantage if you know how to connect with other learners and develop learning plans specific to your career, your jobs, your family, your community? Obviously I think so.

What are you doing to make the courses you are taking today something that builds toward more than a diploma? How will you make this semester's learning last for decades and continuously contribute to you, your family, and your many future social connections?

Photo: flickr - jisc_infonet

Friday, January 21, 2011

Preparing for Shakespeare's History Plays

As next week (Jan 24-28, 2011) our class will be studying the history plays, it would be wise to prepare a bit. Here are my suggestions.

  • Understand the Renaissance Background
    Read "The Political and Religious Background" from the General Introduction in our textbook (Bevington's Essential Shakespeare, pp. xviii-xxv). It is vital to understand the dominant ideas about politics, monarchy, etc. from the Renaissance in order to understand Shakespeare's history plays.
  • Explore the Sources
    From Appendix 2 in our text (p. A-14), find the play(s) you are reading and find out the sources Shakespeare used. You might also use the Shakespeare Online site's short summaries of sources. One of the most common sources for the history plays was Raphael Holinshed's The Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland. The image embedded here links to the Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image site where the complete Holinshed can be viewed through hi-def pictures.  Too hard to read? See the plain text versions on Project Gutenberg
  • Preview
    I recommend using an authoritative site like the Folger Shakespeare Library, which provides brief scholarly overviews of all the plays, including the history plays, plus images of the original texts and often nice illustrations, too. And of course, the introduction to each play within our text is a good starting place.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Linking Well

May the gods direct you to the best! -- Cymbeline 3.4

When making blog posts, you add value to what you are doing by connecting your thoughts to other blogs, texts, media, and references. It's time to learn how to link well.

First off, when you refer someone to a website, you should not simply provide the URL, like this:
Shakespeare Searched is a great resource for locating specific words or phrases within all of Shakespeare's works. Check it out!
This should be obvious, but you really should make a URL into a clickable link. You can do this by simply making the URL a link. But you can also select any section of text, click on the link button in your blog editor, and insert the URL to link from that. But there are betters ways of doing this. Which of the following do you think is best?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Making Your Posts Inviting

The nice thing about blogging is that you are not writing for a pretend audience. People actually do find and read what you are writing. That's a novelty in academia. It makes you think differently. For one thing, if you don't capture someone's attention, they won't read on!

So consider each blog post an invitation. Will your visitors accept the invitation, or click away? Here are a few quick tips for making your posts more inviting.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Consume, Create, Connect: The Three C's of Digital Literacy

A wiki about digital literacy
As my Shakespeare students scramble to get up to speed on the use of blogs and in using self-directed learning toward our learning outcomes, they are going to discover that we are using a lot of technological tools. Those can be overwhelming, can change frequently, and have a steep learning curve.

I want to simplify things by presenting the "Three C's of Digital Literacy." Hopefully, they will see how the learning outcomes, and the blogging, tie into these fundamentals.

But let me briefly explain why we need bother with all of this. The short answer: literacy is fundamentally changing from its print paradigm. It is no longer adequate to have alphabetic literacy, or to be bound by bound books. We need new strategies for finding and processing information -- especially when we are overwhelmed with it from online sources. We need new ways of engaging information, especially with the multitude of multimedia tools at our disposal. We need to socialize our learning by integrating connecting with others into our reading, learning, and researching. And those, in short, make up the three C's of Digital Literacy:
  1. Consume
  2. Create
  3. Connect
Read on to learn more about each of these.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Develop a Personal Learning Plan

"Thoughts tending to ambition, they do plot unlikely wonders" -- Richard II

self-directed learning rocks!!
Many of my students are just cutting their teeth with blogging (or with research blogging) and aren't sure what to do with it. Okay, there is a requirement to make two substantial posts a week and comment on others' blogs. But what does that really mean? Where do I begin?

Begin with the course Learning Outcomes. Read and reread those, and think of your blog as the place where you document reaching those outcomes. Want to know what to blog about? Pick any of those learning outcomes and explain how you are achieving it.

You will note that one of the learning outcomes is NOT "student demonstrates the ability to follow a prescribed schedule of readings." This will put many students outside of their comfort zones. After all, so much of school is on the obedience-to-authority model. Students start to forget just how smart they are, or it doesn't occur to them that they have ample resources and smarts to construct their own learning plan.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Art and Fun of Reading Shakespeare

"Pray, speak in English: here are some will thank you" -- Queen Katharine, Henry VIII

How does one approach reading and studying Shakespeare?
How can it be engaging, enjoyable, and stimulating?
How can one keep oneself from being bored or intimidated by all that Elizabethan lingo and fancy talk?
How can one be as happy as the kid in this picture when cracking open Hamlet or Much Ado?
flickr: melvinrobertw

  1. Map the Territory
    Reading a Shakespeare text cold is not smart. There are so many resources -- summaries, notes, editions for beginners, online guides, introductions, etc. -- that it really pays to get a map of the territory before entering it. At the very least, read a plot summary so you won't be guessing about events. And while I caution you against over-preparing (one can easily get lost in all of the secondary texts and forget the primary one), it's good to glance over the dramatis personae (the list of characters), and any introductory material in one's text. If you have an hour to spend reading Shakespeare, spend the first 10 minutes with introductory materials and previewing.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Confessions of a Shakespeare Prof

I have not read all of Shakespeare.

There, my confession. What can I say? How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable seem some of those works. And I have my favorites, like Hamlet. LOVE HAMLET. I think I’ve read it 50 times or more.

But not the Merry Wives of Windsor. It seems to me to be such a silly play, and not Shakespeare at his best. I’ve ready The Comedy of Errors, for example, and regret wasting that time. Oh, there are some tidbits to be gleaned, to be sure. But why read plays like that when you could read Hamlet or King Lear again?

Did I mention I named one of my children after a Shakespeare character? His name is Lear? More on that later.