K. Stooshnov

University of British Columbia (CANADA)
Drama provides a rich compliment to academic studies, and in most English-speaking countries, some of the richest experiences with dramatic language involve Shakespeare's plays. It is an unfortunate habit of teachers that this complex subject area is usually left until the end of most students' high school years, when few students are as engaged with the study of English, and most would argue that they are only studying Shakespeare to do well on a final exam, with no further implications in their lives. More innovative teachers have brought the "young English" that Shakespeare wrote some of most memorable lines in any language into intermediate and even primary classrooms. In order to assist younger learners with their first encounter with Shakespeare plays, the author proposes an investigation of the current pedagogical practices involving Shakespeare in the elementary classrooms, with special attention to how network and digital media play a part in this experience. Is it possible to create a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) that will allow students access into the plays as they were originally written for the stage, rather than as they are usually text printed, studied and worked over in paper-bound books? How interactive can this on-line resource become while still presenting Shakespeare's plays as works of literature? Finally, will students who explore the plays using the VLE become better equipped to understand the plays when they see them performed on stage, or even stage one of the plays themselves? These questions and concerns will be addressed in research conducted at elementary schools and learning centres in Vancouver, Canada, and the surrounding Lower Mainland in the province of British Columbia.

Informing this investigation into Shakespearean VLEs are the thoughts and pedagogical practices of Mary Hartman, the Director of Education for Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, an internationally recognized theatre company founded by current Artistic Director Christopher Gaze. Ms. Hartman's strong belief that children are ideally suited to play with Shakespeare's language, reflected in their readiness to communicate and collaborate with social media, makes a well-designed VLE a valuable tool for any teacher at any grade level. With these innovative thoughts on technology's place in drama at school, the oral presentation will also model what the VLE will look like, even demonstrate how it will be used by students who now do not even need to be in the same classroom to experience and learn about Shakespeare's plays. The possibilities for e-learning and student-centered study of the plays are as boundless as Juliet's sea, where the more students put into the resource, the more they have to learn from, "for both are infinite." (Rom. & Jul. II, ii, 135) The important first step in this innovative approach to learning and playing with Shakespeare is to gain the support of teachers who will guide their students towards a VLE experience with the plays.