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“User interface.” It’s not usually where you start talking about Shakespeare.

But it’s where this story starts.

This is how we typically teach Shakespeare, whether in high school or in college.

The current experience reading Shakespeare

The current experience of learning and reading Shakespeare

If you ask students about this experience, they use words like “difficult“ and “boring.” And if you watch them actually trying to learn that way, you recognize the problem. The way the book is set up actually interrupts their “flow”—it gets in the way of their immersion.

Just think about what happens as soon as you don’t understand a word you read and you’ll see what I mean. Every time you look up a word, you’re interrupting the "reading the play/immersion" part of the process and are starting a different process. “Now what line was that?” you’ll think, “And where am I? What did that mean again?”

Educators will tell you this experience is a major hurdle. One high school English teacher said to us that “it takes about 3 weeks to get kids into Shakespeare.” By the way, stage performers say the same thing — it takes time for audiences to get comfortable with the language and at some point (usually 15-20 minutes into the show) the audience “clicks over.”

So with all these inherent challenges, we asked can we use technology to make reading Shakespeare easier?

We’ve been working with students, teachers and readers on this very question and today we’re launching Shakesperience: A hands-on experience with Shakespeare—an experience that was built to help you more quickly get into and stay in the play, because it was built from the user’s point of view.

Shakesperience: A hands-on experience with Shakespeare

A quick word about the process of answering that question. We’ve been building these interactive editions for a while, and the process has been incredibly iterative. We put the books into people’s hands, watched what they did (and didn’t do). We asked questions, rebuilt and tweaked some more, and then we tried it all over again.

What we can tell you from working with all these users is that the Shakesperience supports all different kinds of learning:

  • Visual—Images from great performances set the stage
  • Auditory—Embedded audio from multiple actors show you the powerful spectrum of interpretation
  • Kinesthetic—You’re literally interacting with the content

Fundamentally we’re working on the problem of immersion. How do we get you to connect with the text more, and more easily? That’s a question that’s really at the heart of learning. And that focus on attention, flow, and engagement drove the interface and most of the decisions we made about what content to use and how to organize that content.

This is obviously only the beginning for us, but it’s a thrilling start. Just watching people use The Shakesperience has been a real joy. We hope it can transform and energize how students learn, and think it can change the way you read Shakespeare.

I’d love to hear what you think.

Dominique


*****

To learn more about Shakesperience visit: www.sourcebooks.com/shakespeare

Shakesperience is now available in the iBookstore: http://itunes.com/shakesperience

Comments  

 
+4 # chadmirand 2012-10-02 07:06
This sounds like a wonderful idea! This technology wasn't available when I was in High School, but we had Mr. Ludwig, head of the English Dept. and HUGE Shakespeare fan.

He would have us read the parts aloud, but before we began, he'd explain who the characters were, what their motivations were and with the added explanation of the period and the social mores of the times, we'd read it through a few times...pausing to explain words and phrases.

His enthusiasm was contagious and fortunately the other English teachers were just as excited about teaching. :)

I didn't realize how lucky we were until our kids were in High School and we realized their English Dept. fell short of what my husband and I experienced years before.

Bravo!
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+2 # Amanda Mecke 2012-10-02 08:31
Bravo! I hope you succeed and put the Big Six to shame for only repackaging previous mass market editions.

It is interesting that some of the earliest "multi-media" ebooks (remember Bob Stein's Voyager Books?) were about Shakespeare plays. The archives of video and recordings of famous performances can give all readers access.
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+2 # DominiqueR 2012-10-02 10:29
Yes, you're right. I loved what Bob did with Voyager.
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+2 # Krista Jo Miller 2012-10-02 09:36
This looks like a wonderful idea; I am the Director of a collegiate theatre program who is directing a production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona and about to teach A Midsummer Night's Dream in an Intro to Theatre class. Anything that can help engage students with Shakespeare is exciting to me. But I'm actually having trouble accessing it. I tried downloading the media packet and going to the itunes store and have yet to be able to access anything. There is information that is missing: Do you only offer the three plays so far? What are the plans to offer others? What about the format? Is it only available on Apple products? If so, it will be unusable in the academic setting, as I cannot require students to purchase an iPad for a single play. If you want widespread use, it needs to be available on multiple platforms.

That being said, keep at it. If this works, it would prove a great tool for someone like me.
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+2 # gregavila 2012-10-02 09:44
Thank you for your comments.

1) You can download the Media Kit directly through this link:

sourcebooks.com/.../...

2) You can find the plays in the iBookstore store at: itunes.com/shakesperience
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-2 # DominiqueR 2012-10-02 09:59
These are each eBooks. We've launched with 3 plays: Hamlet, Othello and Romeo and Juliet. We have 3 more in development right now: Macbeth, A Midsummer Night's Dream. Macbeth coming in Nov. and other two in Jan 2013. We are absolutely thinking about multiple platforms. I think what's next is web-based which would work for almost everyone. What do you think?
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+2 # Jack Dziamba 2012-10-04 08:38
Sourcebooks' excellent Shakespearience discussed in my blog at: whitherthebook.wordpress.com/.
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-2 # Tunika O 2012-11-16 22:29
Hi! I'm Tunika, a student writer for my school newspaper, the Pen. I would really like to interview you about this product as I am writing an article about it. I've looked at the books on iTunes, and it seems like a really fun and useful eBook for high school students reading Shakespeare. If possible, could you email me, and discuss whether you would be interested in answering some questions for our newspaper? Thank you so much.
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0 # Brian Yearling 2014-01-12 21:53
I am very intrigued! As a former English teacher, the Shakesperience user experience makes the plays more accessible to more students than hours of in-class discussions (painful for the students and the teacher) ever could, as you spent time re-reading and discussing every line of text to clarify the meaning to better help them get the bigger picture as well as the subtle details.

In my role as a Tech Integrator, I'm now looking at products like Shakesperience and wondering how we make this available to kids (we are a 1:1 iPad district) in a way that is financially sustainable for districts. At $6 a copy, a wonderfully priced product! However, the $6 per student per year quickly outpaces the current spending English departments are typically doing with their existing trade books, novels, and plays. Many of the departments I have known and worked with hold on to anthology textbooks for the better part of 15 - 20 years to get the most mileage out of their investments. That is not the model of eBooks, and wondering how those worlds collide and compromise.

I would love to chat about what the adoption process of the Shakesperience, a must have product to put in the hands of kids, would look like financially at scale in a large district. Can that adoption be viable and financially sustainable? How does Sourcebooks plan to attack that question?
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0 # hmoore 2014-01-13 08:47
Hi Brian - thanks so much for your thoughts on this product and adoption in to schools. We would love to continue this conversation with you. Someone will be in touch shortly!
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