Professor sets teaching of Shakespeare aloft in the clouds

Special to Western News

Education professor Kathy Hibbert is partnering with QWILL Media & Education, a company started by Western alumnus Andrew Lester, to bring the teaching of Shakespeare into the 21st century classroom.

Nearly four centuries have passed since his death, but William Shakespeare’s plays and themes remain timeless – not antiquated, argues Education professor Kathy Hibbert. What’s dated, she contends, is the teaching method surrounding The Bard in the modern classroom.

“21st century skills are a little bit different than in a print-dominant world. The curriculum schools are provided with currently is static – it’s a print document. In today’s world, we’re saying that’s not sufficient,” she said.

In order to modernize the pedagogical approach to Shakespeare, Hibbert is partnering with QWILL Media & Education, a company started by Western alumnus Andrew Lester. QWILL is an online publishing start-up developing a K-12 curriculum modeled around a series of books on Shakespeare, written by Lois Burdett, BA’71. Burdett’s books are used worldwide to teach writing curriculum in classrooms.

“(Lois) made sure she immersed students in a language kids understand. She made sure she engaged them in activities that would allow them to connect what was happening in their lives to larger scenes in Shakespeare’s world. She brought Shakespeare curriculum alive,” Hibbert said of Burdett’s well-known Shakespeare Can Be Fun series.

Hibbert, whose work focuses on multiliteracies, is working with QWILL as part of a research-and-development partnership. Burdett’s and Lester’s intellectual property is protected, while her freedom to do pedagogical research on the curriculum is also protected. There is no aim for commercial gain, she stressed.

The team is working with teachers, students and other researchers to gather different approaches used to teach Shakespeare in the modern classroom. They are seeking creative approaches – ones that resonate with students.

What they find and develop will stray from a static, print document curriculum. It will be a ‘cloud’ curriculum, Hibbert explained.

“We call it a digital sandbox. It’s to say not only ‘What can we do with this?’ but ‘How can we make this curricula cloud-based?’ The cloud is a flexible, dynamic space where not only can things be continually updated, but can take advantage of our ability to participate fully in the design of learning,” she continued.

“It’s recognizing and acknowledging that every teacher that uses any curricula, textbook or educational resource, has always had to bring it back to their classroom and say, ‘What’s the best way to use this in my classroom?’”

QWILL’s development of a malleable cloud-based Shakespeare curriculum is a way to encourage the sharing of these varied practices to boost effective teaching and learning outcomes. The approach can easily be translated to other curricula as well, Hibbert noted.

“We want to encourage teachers to share what their classroom did with the material – what new knowledge or activities did you produce? They share that into a community where other teachers can also take a look at it. It’s a creative space. Instead of re-inventing the basic wheel, it allows them to build on the good work that already exists and start innovating and creating in new ways,” she added.

“There will be a core curriculum that QWILL will develop. But what we are building into this is to see how it gets used by teachers and students. (QWILL) is opening the core curriculum up and allowing it to be easily modified and adapted – at the user end, with all different kinds of media.”

Hibbert and QWILL are waiting on news of potential grant funding with hopes to expand their work with policy partners.

“I’m thrilled with the partnership because I can’t tell you the resources that have been put into developing this curriculum, and we get to play with it,” she said. “Here’s an opportunity for our teachers looking through this, our students, grad students, kids – right away they can see what they would like to do with it. It’s been a really nice collaborative space to think about possibilities.”