|Creative Commons licensed by Vaun Raymond|
Click through to read my description of how teaching and learning about Shakespeare in the digital age compares with a more traditional approach.
|Creative Commons licensed|
by Claude Brew
|Creative Commons licensed|
by Julian on Flickr
So, what's the problem with all of that? Actually, so far as it goes this is a very workable model -- provided one is working within the traditional institutional paradigms for higher education and literary studies. But those paradigms are losing traction, and so the study of Shakespeare must be reconfigured and retooled to be in sync with the digital age.
Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age
Being in sync with the digital age does not translate into simply learning and applying a set of tools like Google Documents, blogs, or social media. Those are important to know and use, but the more important thing is to recognize the new ways of learning that these and other tools have made possible and desirable. It's not about tech; it's about teaching and learning in better ways. It's not about computers; it's about collaboration and building upon others' work.
It turns out that learning about Shakespeare (or any other subject) goes better when it is more social and also more personal. Learning goes better also if the processes of learning are treated as having as much value as formal academic products. Teaching and learning are more authentic if connected to others outside of one's classroom or school and to current concerns. Students become life-long learners as they practice connecting in various ways to many audiences besides classmates or the instructor.
And here is where we can see the paradigms for higher ed and literary studies losing traction: the old ways depend upon private learning and upon formal knowledge products and assessments. But we are finding that social learning is superior to isolated study, and informal knowledge processes are as vital as formal writing or examinations. There is also a deadening homogeneity to traditional literary study. Not everyone engages this literature most meaningfully through either in-class discussion or formal academic writing.
Traditional studies are very slowly paced. One goes hours or days before interacting with others regarding what one is reading. And what one produces in response to literature -- academic papers -- is read by only one person, who is unlikely to respond to those thoughts within a day or even a week. By the time you get your paper back, whatever fire was there has cooled. The academic products of the old way are extremely "academic" and artificial: one writes to an imagined audience, but in reality the paper has an audience of one. Why on earth would one write things to a pretend audience when real audiences, and very responsive ones, are immediately at hand?
Tradition, that's why. As well as institutional authority. Those who could be helping their students take advantage of these improved ways of learning don't bother to do so because it means moving out of their personal comfort zone, and the new tools and methods appear to threaten the authority of the teacher, the curriculum or the school.
Over the generations schools have created an elaborate and highly entrenched system of authorizing knowledge, and this has resulted in tightly guarded specialties with gate keepers who control proxies for learning (grades and degrees). Over time students have also been conditioned to pursue grades and credentials rather than bonafide knowledge or skills. The faults of this system are well known, but have been tolerated as a necessary evil.
But now, a rather new landscape for learning changes the rules. No longer are experts the exclusive or even primary gateways to knowledge, nor is learning held hostage within expensive or inaccessible books or degree programs. Anyone who can get online can have instant access to more texts and more experts than a thousand libraries of Congress or Harvards. And what's worse for the traditionalists, the leverage that they have exerted (providing or withholding certification of knowledge) is losing ground. Not only are new ways of certifying emerging, but learners turn out to have more motives for learning than just getting certified in something. And since it is now so easy and possible for anyone connected to the world wide web to produce content and get responses to their work, students are finding the time to create blogs, post photos, and generate other media and content which results in validation that is mostly informal but increasingly consequential for things like job opportunities.
There is an Amazon of interest and creativity being applied to both leisure and serious pursuits, fueled by the new media tools and the ability to interact broadly, immediately, and ubiquitously. It is both electric and electrifying. And why wouldn't teachers of Shakespeare (or anything else) not want to plug into that energy or ride that wave?
Because it is easier to pretend that the traditional approaches to teaching and learning are more serious or consequential than it is to dive into the melee of new media.
For my students, it will be sink or swim. I won't permit the traditional approach to teaching and learning. I insist that students be self-directed learners, exploring available resources and linking these to things of both personal and public interest. They must, in part, construct their own sets of readings. They must engage their topic creatively as well as critically, and they must share what they do, while they do it, with their peers and the general public, long before it is in some finished, formal state.
So, my students do blog, they do use social and creative media, and they both contribute and receive feedback from within and beyond the classroom.
Engaging Shakespeare" represents more finished and formal projects that resulted from following this newer model of teaching and learning. I will discuss those projects, as well as student work that preceded those final projects, in subsequent blog posts to better illustrate the principles that I have introduced here.
For now, suffice it to say that Shakespeare has indeed been made more enjoyable, more applicable, and more meaningful to my students and their social groups than this subject has been when I have taught more traditionally. And that is why I will continue the experiment.
From January - April, 2012, these are my focus:
Experiment #1: Teleconferencing. I have already written a blog post that describes the way that one of my sections of Shakespeare this semester (English 232, Shakespeare for non-English majors) will be broadcast through Vidyo teleconferencing to a distant location.
Experiment #2: Testing Shakespeare's Texts. For my English 382 course (Shakespeare for English majors), I plan to have my students investigate and make arguments regarding the objects of study in a Shakespeare class: what is "the text," optimally, in a Shakespeare course in the digital age?
Both of my Shakespeare classes will be blogging, documenting their reading, performing, discovering, and interacting with one another and with the new media and tools now at their disposal.