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Things that must stop

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Thursday, Apr 26, 2007

The first two in a series of book-related media items that must stop:


  • How much longer can we possibly be plagued with stories about how the internet is destroying the ‘serendipitous discovery’ in bookstores?  For readers in most locations—that is, locations not blessed with great bookstores and plentiful used-book stores—this sort of noodling is just pointless.  But the notion that one can’t find serendipity online is pretty ridiculous.  Margaret Atwood and Kazuo Ishiguoro allow themselves to be quoted in the article as implying that the only form of serendipitous discovery is Amazon’s “you may also like . . .” feature.  That’s not even especially true as a description of Amazon: One might also find user-created lists of related texts; at the bottom of the screen there are links to cataloging-type descriptors that you can click on to bring up related books; you can see what others who bought a particular book have viewed or bought, etc.  The most important limitation of the argument, though, is that one doesn’t shop at Amazon or any other online bookseller the way one shops at a bookstore.  It’s true that I usually know what I want to buy when I start shopping at Amazon, but that’s because I’ve usually spent hours trawling other sites for things to read.  This sort of trend piece was all very well 5 years ago . . . but it’s done.
  • Likewise, it’s time for so-called conservative groups to recognize that reports like “Vanishing Shakespeare,” commissioned by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni manage simultaneously to be false as a description of higher education (as The Little Professor demonstrates easily) and clichéd as a salvo in the culture wars.    I will promise to take such reports seriously when they suggest how to craft a 36-hour major in such a way that it also satisfies the various accrediting agencies, offers needed support to general education requirements, and meets all the other extrinsic pressures brought to bear on the curriculum (including demands for accountability,  transparency in assessment, and responsiveness to employer demands for skills training).  Further, such reports should explain how on earth we would staff such a curriculum.  (My department, which has no Shakespeare requirement, teaches 6 or 7 sections devoted exclusively to Shakespeare every semester.  That’s more than a full-time professor’s teaching load, and doesn’t even take into account that that person would also need to teach 1 or 2 sections of composition, as well as any other courses in general education or in the graduate program.)

Besides, we don’t need to teach Shakespeare any longer.  The University of Guelph has it all sorted:


Reading Shakespeare can be a daunting and even dreaded task for kids. That is, until a University of Guelph English professor added a futuristic spaceship and an outer-space mission into the mix.


Daniel Fischlin has found an innovative way to use Shakespeare’s language to teach literacy skills through a fast-paced computer game called, ’Speare. It was officially launched today on campus and could soon become commonplace in the classroom.


The first of its kind, ’Speare raises the bar on Flash technology and is a pioneer in educational gaming. It was designed to teach students about literacy within a familiar arcade environment, using cutting-edge technology to create a highly interactive educational tool.


“‘Kids love this game, and when we tested it, we found that literacy scores increased by an amazing 72 per cent after just one hour of game play,” said Fishlin, who created the video game with the Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project (CASP) team.


You can play the game for free online here (registration required).


Between ‘Speare and Dickens World, the times are cushy for English-professor types. 



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