Written by Lauren A. Weber in Criticism and Research | 16.11.2018
The Better Strangers project leader Professor Liam Semler is in New Zealand, where he gave two presentations on the Shakespeare Reloaded/Better Strangers project.
On November 13 at the University of Auckland, Liam gave a paper titled ‘Finding Ardenspace: Teaching Literary Studies between Managerialism and Gamification’.
The paper introduced the idea of ‘ardenspace’ as a temporary space of educational experimentation that is free from the restrictive assumptions of everyday institutional education. It tackled the topic theoretically and practically. The first half of the presentation described the paradigm shift underway in the educational sector from over-systematisation (SysEd) to digitisation (AIEd). SysEd and AIEd are powerful discourses that impact the way teachers and students experience formal education especially in the field of Literary Studies. Students are reading less than they once did and teachers are complaining of a combination of admin overload and student disinterest. Against this backdrop, the second half of the presentation explored the philosophy and game-like structure of some of the activities on the Shakespeare Reloaded website. Shakeserendipity and Shakespeed are online, gamified modules that seek to generate educational ardenspaces and thereby engage with both SysEd and AIEd. An important discussion ensued after the presentation about what is gained and lost in the transition of schooling away from traditional models of discipline-based teaching to new models of problem-based learning.
On November 16 he gave a keynote paper and workshop for ‘the Big Day Out’, an event for teachers run by the AATEL: Auckland Association for Teachers of English Language. The paper was titled ‘English Teachers vs The Three Witches: Do you feel (p)lucky?’
The presentation described the current transformation of the educational sector and the position of English teachers within it. Just as Macbeth found his world turned upside-down by the influence of the three witches, so too English teachers are embroiled in a radically changing landscape. The three witches facing us at school and university are: SysEd (i.e. the over-systematisation of the educational sector), Presentism and Selfie Culture (i.e. the over-emphasis on the self now as opposed to the self in relation to history and otherness), and Absent Reading (i.e. the over-emphasis on digital entertainment at the expense of immersive reading). How should we act in a context such as this? To what degree can we positively control our destiny as English teachers (being plucky) rather than powerlessly hoping for the best (being lucky)?
The AATEL Big Day Out had about 150 teachers at the plenary sessions and workshops of about 25 teachers each. Liam’s workshop explored the Shakespeed module on the Shakespeare Reloaded website and how it could fit into classroom teaching and assessment exercises. Liam’s contributions were just one part of a day full of dynamic approaches to English at school including many workshops and concluding with a wonderful plenary presentation by the spoken word poetry team from Action Education.