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Shakespeare's plays enhanced through tablets and the web
How I Use It
Appropriate for general literature, English literature, or a Shakespeare elective, Shakespeare in Bits could be used as you study a particular play as a class or by small groups or individuals who wish to venture into his plays on their
The challenge with any single source, even one as good as this might be, is that it can become the sole authority for students. A richer study of the play would include multiple ways of interacting with the text, including student production of scenes, film, operatic or symphonic versions (where available), legendary sources of the storyline, paintings and sculpture, and commentaries. Reading a play is very different from listening to a reading of a play, seeing a stage production, or film version. Engaging multiple senses makes for a more complete
experience. At the same time, one should allow for multiple ways for students to express their own creative interpretations of the play.
Adventurous teachers could experiment with Shakespeare's characters using social media such as "tweeting" the story, creating Facebook pages for characters or finding other Macbeth fans (apps.facebook.com/macbeth-study-guide/), exploring the geography of Macbeth's Scotland through Google Lit Trips (www.googlelittrips.org), connect with students in other states or countries who are studying Macbeth, explore modern adaptations (see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macbeth). Students producing their own knowledge about this play should occupy as much if not more time in the class than reading the play itself. A deeper exploration of a single play is, in my view, far superior to a cursory explorations of several plays.
Shakespeare's plays enhanced through the iPad, web, and desktop apps
MindConnex is a Dublin (Ireland) based company that has released five of William Shakespeare's plays Shakespeare in Bits rubric, including A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, and the subject of this review: Macbeth. All of the plays are unabridged. I initially thought that the "bits" aspect of their title was a play on words suggesting computer bits, but the company's web site claims that it refers how the plays are presented "in a way that enables them [students] to read, digest, understand and appreciate the text in bite-sized chunks or 'bits' – either at home or as part of an organized class tutorial."
Each "bit" is no longer than about a 1.5 minutes, with many shorter than that, and presented in a very simple style of animation. The application is used on portrait orientation on an iPad, with animation occupying the left side of the screen and text of the play (with current dialog highlighted in red), or note about the play, a synopsis of the scene, or a place for students to enter their notes on the right. The animation can expanded to occupy the entire screen but in doing so you lost the option for displaying sub-titles, a very useful feature for anyone who may struggle with comprehending accents or the unfamiliar vocabulary and syntax of Elizabethan English. An unobtrusive soundtrack plays in the background, helping to set the mood. Headsets are recommended to be able to hear whispered dialog.
Among the most useful features of the products are the annotations which provide additional information to students about historical context, language, theme, questions for students to consider, and miscellaneous facts. Readers should be encourages to use these guides as they are presented to acquire a more complete understanding of the play.
At $14.99 per title, how does Shakespeare in Bits stand-up against other options in the iTunes store? One can find plenty of free versions of the text of all of Shakespeare's plays. If you're looking for supporting commentary about the plays, iBook versions of Cliff notes (the bane of teachers and savior of many a student) can be had for $1.99. There are also several versions of the film that may be purchased for about the same price as the application, iTunes U has free audio versions of the play as well as relevant lectures from university scholars, and of course there are a multitude of note taking applications for the iPad.
Fortunately, site licenses are available and schools may be able to acquire the software at a steep discount, starting at $5.00 per student per year. There are also desktop versions for Mac and PC (www.mindconnex.com/site/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=53&Itemid=21), as well as a browser-based option (siblive.shakespeareinbits.com/siblive/). Note that the browser version requires Adobe Flash, with rules out the option for Safari on iOS devices.
The significant advantage afforded by Shakespeare in Bits is that everything the teacher needs for teaching the play are available in one simple application. But as with most all-in-one solutions, there are compromises. The animation and acting lack the power of film versions of the play. The note taking is for individual students, lacking a social component of blogs and wikis for class discussion. The plays are in English only, which may limit their usefulness in some classrooms. Nevertheless, I find that overall I like the product quite a bit and would give it serious consideration if I was teaching Shakespeare in grades 7-12.