Thinking about course texts and technologies

After teaching a course designed to introduce students to Shakespeare’s plays and to their film adaptations, I’ve been wondering how reading technologies shape students’ engagement with course materials.  On reflection, the traditional screening format for films or film clips (single focal point, lights off) might implicitly invite students to tune out or change their focus when our classes don’t explicitly discuss the assumptions that we bring when we begin reading or interpreting.

When we used electronic versions of the plays (eBook readers, tablets, and laptops), the change in format seemed to free students from the implicit authority of the printed text and spur conversation.  At the same time, many of my students have talked about how their study habits differ when they work with either electronic or printed course texts.  Some prefer to print even short readings because the medium changes the relationship between the student and the text.

How, then, do embedded video clips within a course management system differ from the same clips shown during a classroom session? How do they differ as modes of educational instruction with their own implicit interpretive maps?

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Electronic Texts, or Staying on the Same Page

Having organized two extra-credit “reader’s theater” sessions in my general education Shakespeare courses this semester, I was drawn to the possibilities that electronic texts provided for this kind of learning experience.  While more carefully edited texts continue to have a central place in my classroom, I decided to work with a public domain text from Project Gutenberg because the primary intent of these sessions was to invite students to experience the aural quality of the texts at length*.  Many might not ordinarily attend a Shakespeare performance or even imagine themselves in an actor’s role, and the more informal setting meant that asking students to purchase texts would be a difficult proposition at best.  Because I would be trimming the texts down to about two hours’ time in performance (no small feat with some Shakespeare texts, which is why I didn’t suggest King Lear), I wanted to give students a single e-text that they could print or use as they saw fit within the reading.  The advantages of providing a single version for students would be that students should theoretically have the same texts, but I have some concerns about the possibility of needing to troubleshoot several different media (print texts, tablet, e-reader, laptop, phone) within a very short session.  Where should this kind of training and support come from in the twenty-first century university?

*As the Project Gutenberg terms indicate, these public domain e-texts can be reproduced/changed provided they are not sold and that those texts including any references to Project Gutenberg itself must then include their full terms of use.