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Skyping Shakespeare

posted May 7, 2013

By Dr. Meg Pearson

This March the department expanded its reach 400 miles south to Kingsland, Georgia, where I had the pleasure of guest lecturing about William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark to a group of AP Literature students via Skype.

Camden County High School’s Mrs. Shanon Woolf, who teaches Honors/Gifted and AP Literature, asked me earlier in the year whether I might be willing to lecture for her class when they got to their unit on Hamlet. While I was delighted to agree, I was not sure how I would negotiate a trek to the southern state line during the time frame we discussed. Mrs. Woolf suggested that we attempt a virtual lecture using either FaceTime or Skype, and I eagerly assented, largely because I’ve been chomping at the bit to try out some of our newer technologies.

Several public universities, such as the regional state universities of South Carolina, have been incorporating video-streaming classrooms as a way to expand access and enrollment, as in the case of my colleague Dr. Bryan Love’s Shakespeare course, taught at USC-Salkehatchie but watchable anywhere in the world by students enrolled in the course.1 However, many educators (including myself!) feel a bit queasy at the prospect to talking into a screen rather than being in a room with living breathing students. (Students in my 9:30 am Seventeenth-Century Literature course this semester frequently assert that they’d “never make it” if I weren’t physically in front of them bouncing around and bellowing about John Donne!) Thankfully, Skype enabled my guest lecture at Camden County to become an interactive joy rather than a pre-recorded nightmare.

As the fateful hour approached when I would have to excite a group of high school students about Hamlet’s father’s ghost (1.2 and 1.3), our Skype connection let me see the classroom of students live, while they had the unenviable experience of seeing my head projected onto an enormous smartboard at the front of the class. (Mrs. Woolf calls her smartboard Voldeboard!) Back and forth we went, discussing the appearance and relevance of ghosts in a newly Protestant England, the ethics and religious implications of revenge, and the horrifying curse of Hamlet’s father to his son: “Remember me.” I was able to call on students and look at them as they spoke, and my fears about not being able to inject my personality into the experience were soon assuaged. Indeed, I imagine the class felt thoroughly “Shakespearsoned” by the end of our time together!

I enjoyed the experience tremendously, but for Mrs. Woolf, the experience was useful in two ways. First, she was able to offer an expert witness to her AP class, who had many excellent questions about life in England “back in the day.” Second, Mrs. Woolf could demonstrate to her class of seniors what a college classroom might be like. I’m happy to report that I left the room having both intrigued and terrified the students, which I think is the perfect combination for a successful college freshman!

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1
The South Carolina program is called Palmetto Program

 

Dr. Pearson as seen by the students while Skyping.