Monday, August 20, 2012

Why "Shakespeare Unbound"?

Shakespeare characters from James Christensen's
"All the World's a Stage"
Over time Shakespeare’s characters and plays have achieved a life of their own. They don't depend much upon a knowledge of Shakespeare's life and times, nor do they thrive only within theatrical performance or literary study. 

At large in the public domain, Shakespeare’s creations simultaneously invoke and transcend tradition. Independent of their creator, their time period, or the educational gate keepers of culture, they live on in various forms and animate new modes of expression.

Hamlet-themed cake
Hilary Rose Cupcakes
Today, networked communication and new media provide conditions for another renaissance -- perhaps one to rival the European Renaissance which Shakespeare typified. Like that earlier period, this is a period fraught with novelty and uncertainty, excitement and chaos. 

Shakespeare’s creations, unbound, alive, and responsive to the present moment, provide continuity with artistic and cultural patterns of the past while serving as both platform and license for experimentation and discovery.
Henry VIII and Gloriana
Second Life Shakespeare Company
(CC license - Flickr - Inacentaurdump)

We can productively explore our brave new digital world and Shakespeare’s works simultaneously, using the one to understand the other.

As we do so, we find that the traditional ways of studying Shakespeare have a hard time sitting still within the limits of print and the parameters of analytical prose. Shakespeare invites not just analysis, but response, creation, and engagement with others who continue to draw inspiration from his legacy.

That's the theme of this blog, and the approach that I take with my students.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Transcending the Traditional Research Paper

To start with my conclusion:
We have to be willing to let go of familiar and comfortable formats for our best thinking if we want it to do its best work. We have to allow a different shape, a different approach, and not expect the world to beat a path to our doorstep, begging to read our thousands of words of linear prose. We have to allow for and accommodate collaboration as part of the transformation of our traditional kinds of research and writing.
Rather than having my students in one of my Shakespeare courses finish their semester with a research paper project, they have completed these at mid-term, and will now be transforming what they have created into something more. Now, how are we going to go about that?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Experiment in Open Peer Critique

In an effort to bridge traditional and online writing modes, I am inviting (not requiring) my students who are completing a research paper assignment to perform a critique of one another's papers by using the Google form embedded below. This is all part of my effort to make the composition process more transparent and to help students be more responsible for their writing both as authors and as critics.

All of the responses to this form will be viewable to the public through this link. In order to respect privacy, students will not be required to perform or receive their critique in this manner, but I hope many will take advantage of this method.  The peer critique form can be filled out here or by clicking on the image above.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

From Thesis Statement to "Tweethis" Statement

Perhaps nothing is more central to good writing than the thesis statement. This is the core of one's argument, the central point, the claim that focuses the writing and engages the audience. For a long time I have advocated using better thesis statements, those that will divide an educated audience and do the heavy lifting of persuasive writing (see also this Prezi on thesis statements by former student Erin Hamson).

Online writing has only sharpened the need for thesis statements. However, since mid-2011, I have been promoting an adaptation of the thesis statement to the digital realm. I call this the "tweethis" statement. As one might guess, this combines the Twitter micro-post with the thesis micro-argument. In short, what if one's argument could be condensed to something only 140 characters long? But also: what if one shared this "tweethis" through social networks -- not just publishing a summary of one's completed work, but circulating one's working argument in order to refine this and to gain social proof?

Tweethis statements incorporated into a book.
They also circulate on social networks while writing is in progress.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Social Proof Successes by Students

I'm on fire about the concepts of social discovery and especially social proof, about which I've recently blogged. As I said in that post, social proof can make your content legit.

I wanted to give an interim report of the successes that students are having as they are attempting one of the four types of social proof that I outlined before (finding, contacting, interacting, and having one's work used by others). Most students are in the first two levels, working their way up.

Here, then, are case studies of how students have been getting social proof through various sources. I have also noted how students are altering their research projects in response to the social proof they are getting. Proof that social proof works!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy: A Playlist of 11 Versions

Beginning with a clip from a silent version of Hamlet, I've assembled a playlist of nearly a dozen different versions of Hamlet's famous "To be or not to be?" soliloquy. This would be useful for evaluating different performance styles or production history. Most of the films from which these clips come are available either on Netflix or via YouTube. (In the first clip, go to 5:05-6:30 for the right scene).

Monday, February 6, 2012

Make your content legit: Four phases of "social proof"

I want to tell you about an extremely powerful principle for the production of quality content online, especially of the academic sort, but not limited to that. I call this principle "social proof."

 I see social proof as integral to producing the most legitimate content of whatever medium today. We now have the ability to obtain social proof at every stage of the creative and publishing processes; we must therefore integrate social proof into those stages (and be more critical of any content that ignores it).

This has come about in part due to my experiments in teaching online writing (see my recent post, "Competing Literacies and the 21st Century Research Paper" and the links provided by a former student, Jeff Swift, regarding recent national discussions about blogs vs. research papers).

I felt it was high time to try some hybrid pedagogy. This is why I've given an enhanced research paper assignment to one of my current Shakespeare courses. Those students will end up having created a traditional research paper of 8-10 pages. However, their process will be deeply mediated socially. During a three week period, I am requiring different stages of this "social proof." This is going to be the hardest, and the most rewarding, component of their research.

What is this "social proof" and how is it brought into the research and composition process? Simply put, my students must demonstrate at each stage of their research and writing that what they are doing is relevant to real audiences by finding and interacting with interested parties. So, below I explain four phases of social proof:
  1. finding people
  2. contacting people
  3. interacting and collaborating
  4. others' use of one's published content

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

More Serious Blogging

I believe academic blogging follows a certain three-part pattern of development:

  1. Phase One: Exploring blogging and the general topic (in this case, Shakespeare)
  2. Phase Two: Focusing and deepening a topic
  3. Phase Three: Authentic application
These are overlapping categories, but useful nonetheless. Let me explain them in more detail. Where do you stand in your blogging? After blogging for a month, I expect my students to be in the second phase.

Monday, January 30, 2012

A Social Bookmarking Tutorial: Using Diigo

As my students begin doing more research on their topics about Shakespeare, they could profit from learning how to use social bookmarks in order to organize and share what they are finding online. Here's a 6 minute tutorial on using my favorite social bookmarking service, Diigo.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Use a Feed Reader to Follow Blogs: Google Reader

This is a tutorial I put together so students can learn how to make use of a feed reader like Google Reader to better filter and manage their incoming content. Hope it is useful!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Power Plays in Shakespeare and on the Internet

Today many major websites and services are on strike or otherwise protesting a controversial bill, SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and its sister bill, PIPA. I have enlisted in the cause, putting a banner across my Google+ and Twitter profiles so people know where I stand on the matter. It's midday on January 18, 2012, and news is that the bills' sponsors have withdrawn them, bowing to the enormous pressure that's been exerted by the barrage of protests. When you shut down Wikipedia, people notice.

In addition to raising great concern about the influence of lobbyists and the ignorance of Congress regarding the interent, the SOPA event has unmasked the efforts by corporations to seize control of the knowledge commons in order to protect business interests. The coup was foiled, but had the bill passed, whole domains could have been shut down with little more than an accusation of infringed copyright. The result would have more than censorship; it would have made possible abuses of power while encouraging otherwise compliant netizens to make their way into the dark net where the exchange of knowledge and goods is less constrained.

Coincidentally, today Shakespeare's play, The Tempest, was banned by the Tucson School Board in Arizona,

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Distance Learning and Shakespeare's Tempest

Illustration of The Tempest
by Edmund du Lac, 1908
I believe Shakespeare to be a powerful lens upon the human condition generally, and I look to find within his works clues for navigating our changing world. How might Shakespeare's play, The Tempest help us to understand new modes of teaching and technology?

I've explained previously that I'm involved in an experiment in distance education. While 19 students attend this weekly night class in Provo at BYU, another three observe and interact via teleconferencing from the BYU Salt Lake Center. We're figuring out technical and pedagogical issues, and each week I will be experimenting with different modes of using teleconferencing.

For example, tonight a student actor in Salt Lake City will perform a monologue that will be broadcast to students in the Provo classroom. How will this change the performance experience for the actor, for the audience(s)? Would it be possible, for example, to imagine a virtual, collaborative performance -- something along the lines of Eric Whitacre's amazing virtual choir? (Austen Allred blogged a bit about this). Certainly online collaboration is not limited to business meeting type coordination, right? I read a science fiction book that imagined such blended collaborative performances, Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End.

Analyzing Shakespeare

One of the learning outcomes for all my Shakespeare courses is learning to analyze his work critically.  What does this mean? Just what is to be analyzed and how?

Textual Analysis
Rather than relying upon summaries or reports of Shakespeare's works, my students look at the text closely, identifying literary form on many levels, then interpreting the significance of that form:

  • Genre:
    What category of play or poetry does this work belong to? (For example, comedy, tragedy, romance, history; the sonnet, etc.). How does its generic category guide our expectations about what we will be reading? (Certain themes or structures are often associated with specific genres)
  • Plot:
    What happens and why within the drama? Shakespeare's comedies often have intricate plots, such as A Midsummer Night's Dream or Comedy of Errors. Other times, as in The Tempest, plot is very thin. Why?
  • Themes:
    What are the main themes of a given work? Are these themes that threaded through other works by Shakespeare or his contemporaries?
  • Characters:
    How are characters developed? What is their motivation or psychology? What themes do they evoke? Jill Bickham is focusing on Ariel in The Tempest, bringing up good questions like her ambiguous gender.
  • Language:
    There are many levels of linguistic analysis with Shakespeare, including
    • diction (word choice)
    • wordplay (puns, stylistic flourishes)
      For example, Jenny Jones analyzed a pun on the word "dolor" / "dollar" in The Tempest.
    • imagery
    • metaphors and conceits (extended metaphors)
    • dialogue (not just what is said but how an interchange takes place).
      Rachel Ontiveros analyzed the comedic nature of back-and-forth dialogue in The Tempest.
    • quotations
      Shakespeare's works have provided so many idioms and quotations that these can be analyzed on their own or as a way into the larger text. Taylor McComb has found a list of Shakespearean phrases.
  • Intertextuality
    What other texts connect with Shakespeare's? This can be considered in terms of
    • source texts (since Shakespeare's plays were mostly derivative, imitating and adapting prior works)
    • allusions within Shakespeare (Shakespeare's texts refer to many classical works, to the Bible, and to contemporary works)
    • allusions to Shakespeare (Many subsequent writers and artists directly or indirectly refer to our build upon Shakespeare's works). Alicia demonstrated this by showing how both Dickens and T.S. Eliot explicitly refer to Hamlet.

Contextual Analysis
My students know that many things outside of the text have bearing on how his works are understood. I'd like to specify a few main areas of context

  • Biographical Context
    Shakespeare's plays are often read through the lens of his life. For example, he composed Hamlet not long after the death of his son, Hamnet. Arielle Custer does a biographical reading of the Tempest, citing the fact that this was Shakespeare's nearly final play, with the main character, Prospero, being seen as giving the bard's goodbye to the theatre.
  • Renaissance Context
    The political, religious, and literary happenings of Shakespeare's lifetime are very relevant to interpreting his work. When characters in Twelfth Night mock a Puritan (Malvolio), this is coming out of a stereotype from Shakespeare's day regarding Puritans being killjoys. 
  • Reception
    Beyond Shakespeare's lifetime, there has been a long history of Shakespeare's plays being performed and studied, and of his presence growing as a cultural phenomenon. It's amazing to learn about the history of Shakespeare beyond his day. For example, in the 18th century, Nahum Tate decided to rewrite King Lear's sad ending, and for 150 years everyone believed it ended happily.
  • Adaptation
    Shakespeare's art has spawned a lot of other art, and whether that is poetry, drama, music, or the visual arts -- any of these can be seen as ways to interpret both Shakespeare's work and the period or creator of the adaptation. Kaleigh Spooner did a great job of introducing us to visual and musical adaptations of The Tempest. Similarly, Tara Pina led us to a set of illustrations of The Tempest by Edmund du Lac from 1908.
  • Contemporary Context
    What is the reception of Shakespeare today, or his role within our culture or world?

This is not a complete list of ways to analyze Shakespeare, but it's a fair start. Later, I will specifically come back to analyzing performances of Shakespeare on stage and on film, as well as analyzing various digital mediations of his work.

What kinds of analysis have you been accustomed to using? What could you push yourself to explore futher?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Use Digital Literacy to Prep for Class

My students prepare for class in terms of the three C's of digital literacy: consume, create, and connect:

"Go search like nobles, like noble subjects, and in your search spend your adventurous worth" -- Pericles 2.4.51-52
My students are self-directed learners. They know the course parameters (the learning outcomes and general schedule found in the syllabus [English 232] [English 382]), and so prior to attending class they have been reviewing their notes from prior class periods, reading the primary texts, researching various learning resources, and generally thinking through the topics in light of the learning outcomes. They gauge their time (about two hours outside of class for each our attending class), and make decisions about what of all the vast information about Shakespeare is worth their efforts to consume. Hopefully, they make decisions based on the personal value they sense in the topic as much as on the learning outcomes.

"O let me, true in love, but truly write" --Sonnet 21
My students are active, not passive learners. This means that they do things to engage the topics or texts. Of course they might mark up a text, but they might also make an outline or a map of their learning. Or they might use presentation software or other media to come to terms with what they are studying. Perhaps they will curate a set of links, or images, or videos. Perhaps they will make a brief annotated bibliography. Typically my students will document their engagement with Shakespeare on their personal blog. The act of writing and composing thoughts and media helps them think things through, and also leads to more social kinds of learning as they offer their learning process and creative projects to others

"We have this hour a constant will to publish..." --King Lear 1.1.43
My students are social, not isolated learners. This means that they recognize that interacting with peers and others helps them to better understand what they are studying -- even if the people they speak with about the topic are not fellow class members. Some of their connecting ties back to consuming, since they know that when finding content related to the learning topics, they can often create a human connection with those who have created that content. They know that social discovery is as valuable, or perhaps more valuable, than traditional research. They will, of course, not only read their fellow students' blogs, but connect with them through commenting and in other ways.

When my students arrive in class, they see this limited time as a continuation of a learning process and of conversations already underway as they have been consuming, creating, and connecting.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Sonnet Videos

I'd like all of my Shakespeare students to watch this 20 minute mini-lecture about the history and form of the English sonnet, and, in the video that follows, to watch and listen to Shakespeare's sonnet 130 as read by Alan Rickman (and illustrated with kinetic typography). I look forward to reading each student's comments and/or blog posts about Shakespeare's sonnets.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

How to Read Shakespeare

Creative Commons licensed
by Kristina
As new students come into my Shakespeare classes this semester, I think it wise to remind them of my tips on how to read Shakespeare.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Study of Shakespeare Must Evolve

Creative Commons licensed by Vaun Raymond
That's right: the study of Shakespeare must evolve. This is the theme that I have set for my current Shakespeare courses. On this blog I will be documenting how I am changing my approach to teaching Shakespeare on the college level, and here I will also coach my students in doing the same. It is my contention that Shakespeare can be experienced more meaningfully if students are invited to let go of some traditional approaches and to try other ways newly available due to the wide accessibility of media and new communication tools.

Click through to read my description of how teaching and learning about Shakespeare in the digital age compares with a more traditional approach.