Shakespeare’s plays often evoke images of musty theatres and lofty languages, far removed from the modernity of today’s high-tech world.Yet many of Emory’s professors have been pushing the boundaries of conventional teaching by incorporating technology into their teaching.
For English Professor Sheila Cavanagh, introducing a Skype-utilizing class with Kevin Quarmby — a trained British actor and professor of English Renaissance literature and drama at King’s College in London —, developed into a new way of approaching Shakesepeare’s plays and facilitating discussion.
Each time the class examines a different Shakespeare poem, students come together in Emory’s Center for Interactive Teaching (ECIT) and listen to Quarmby’s dramatic readings and explanations of certain parts of the text.
“He could tell them things from a London perspective that they weren’t going to know otherwise,” Cavanagh said.
For instance, she said, one of the characters in Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew” offers a “neat’s foot” to the main character, Katherine. The line’s significance was lost on many of the students because a neat’s foot is a bovine’s hoof.
Quarmby, who was on Skype and conversing with the students, explained that the “neat’s foot” is akin to comfort food in the United States.
“That whole scene in the play has a vividness to the students that it would never have had,” Cavanagh explained. “A couple of the students even came in and watched a production that cut these lines out and objected to how the play could have done without them.”
Quarmby said Skype helps join the two cultures together “to engage [students] with an immediacy that has never happened before.”
“There is a visual element, the fact that I can see your reactions when I appreciate what you are saying,” he said.
Similarly, Arthur J. Moore Associate Professor of Evangelism in the Candler School of Theology Wesley de Souza noted that cross-cultural learning experiences encouraged not only an appreciation of different societies but also a higher degree of intimacy.
While having a guest professor from across the globe might sound difficult, de Souza undertook an initiative to have a “real-time, long distance experience sharing class” between the Candler School and the Methodist University of Sao Paulo’s School of Theology (UMESP/ST).
The class shares a set of lectures between Latin American scholars and de Souza.
De Souza praised the format of the class because it allowed for conversation between real people despite the boundaries of distance.
“There was a real exchange of content, and the relationships were established,” he wrote.
He added that the students’ ability to converse with students in Brazil brought a level of accountability and intimacy when discussing issues relevant to Latin America and Latin Americans.
“It encouraged most of our students to review their attitudes and do their homework before sharing their opinions,” he wrote.
Real-time experiences ushered in by new technological tools at Emory also allows the students to go beyond “bringing” Latin America to the classroom because of the visual and interactive component, de Souza explained.
He wrote that aside from real-time class discussions with students and scholars in Brazil, both classes actively participate in sharing videos, films and documentaries.
De Souza wrote that the exchanges in literature largely focus on the interconnection between religion, culture and society.
“This resource gave to both Brazilian students or scholars and us a sense of being in just one classroom,” de Souza wrote. “We all came to appreciate socio-cultural diversity and religious pluralism as contexts for Christian mission.”
Senior Lecturer in Psychology Nancy Bliwise said she too had a positive experience with incorporating technology to enhance visual and auditory learning after one of her classes was experimentally podcasted last semester.
The class looked at PowerPoint presentations with audio, and everything Bliwise wrote on the whiteboard was integrated into the audio and PowerPoints prior to being posted on iTunes University — commonly known by its moniker iTunes U —, which has been live since October of 2008.
“I think whatever learning strategies you use have to be tied to what the goals of the class are,” she said. “It’s not just technology for technology’s sake; it’s how the technology advances the learning goals you have for your students.”
Bliwise said she also incorporates technology by including animations in her tutorial because she believes that for certain types of concepts, students learn better with material that is not a static representation.
Shannon O’Daniel, Emory’s iTunes U administrator, said resources such as iTunes U that allow faculty to post course materials such as lectures online benefit students all over the world.
O’Daniel said that many of Emory’s students utilize iTunes U and that when classes are in session, there are an average of around 1,000 downloads a week for lectures and other course materials, while during finals, the numbers can jump to 3,000 downloads and beyond.
She added that on the external site, the files total around 10,000,000 downloads per month.
Director of Academic Technology Services Alan Cattier said mechanisms such as iTunes U allow professors to distribute lectures within a day of delivering them, and students can immediately download these lectures to their computers or iPods.
“It’s not the same as in-person, but for the student halfway across the country, or better yet, the world, it’s the only opportunity to come into contact with that knowledge,” Cattier said.
Cattier added that technology offers an innovative way to connect to knowledge.
“There is no question that our classrooms are changed by having the availability of these technologies, and a type of access to the world is made possible that is very different than what would have occurred without them,” Cattier said.
De Souza wrote that changes in the traditional classroom are not only beneficial, but also vitally urgent and neccessary.
“We must take into account that most of our students already employ a high level of technology in their daily lives and learning experience,” he wrote. “In the case of this course, it would be ideal that students experience the cultures and the people that are discussed at length in the classroom. Unfortunately, it is a fact that it is not affordable for many of our students to take part in educational experiences abroad.”
Quarmby said his participation in Cavanagh’s class allows students across an ocean to “pick the brains of someone who can do it from their native country.”
He explained that he and Cavanagh are creating something unique because the class offers students “interaction with somebody who is a British actor and who has walked in the same places that Shakespeare walked.”
Cavanagh further noted that the Skype set-up does not interfere with the efficacy with which she or Quarmby typically interacts with their students.
Quarmby added that he was able to be as expressive and engaged with students as he normally is in a traditional classroom situation.
“Performance and enthusiasm ring in a text, and there’s nothing more vibrant than a text in performance, nor nothing colder than text on the page,” Quarmby explained.
Cavanagh said she has also provided Quarmby with photos of the students and asked him to help supply class handouts in an effort to increase his familiarity with the students.
Cavanagh said that her students often participate in readings as well by voicing the parts of various Shakespeare characters while Quarmby listens.
“A student might skip over a word, but an actor really needs to know what they are,” Cavanagh said. “One of the reasons I use performance is that when people encounter lines in a performance, particularly if they articulate it themselves, it becomes their lines. If [the lines] are not said the same way they think they should be said, it gives ownership [to the actor] in reading the play.”
But Cavanagh noted that one of the problems with holding a Skype class is the difficult of formalizing Quarmby’s contribution to her classes.
“Formalizing it in that way is something that over the long term would be problematic,” she said. “I’m getting paid to teach this class, but he’s not getting paid to teach my class.”
— Contact Roshani Chokshi