Wednesday, September 14, 2011

English Teachers Wanted

This past spring I launched a new effort, ShakespeareAnswers.com. My honest hope for this Q&A style site is to corner the market on *correct* and *useful* answers to legitimate Shakespeare questions.  I'd been hanging out on Yahoo! Answers, Mahalo, WikiAnswers and others, and quite frankly the quality of both the questions and answers was often so poor (and at times downright incorrect) it made me sad.

My first big mistake was launching it in June, right at the end of the school year.  It peaked for a week or two, and then promptly fell off the face of the earth as everybody took off for summer and stopped asking Shakespeare questions.  Well, it's fall now, school's back, and I'd like to breathe some life into the project.

Here's the thing, though. Every time I bring it up, people think that it is a "Do your homework for you so you don't have to" site.  I try to explain to the nay-sayers that "Oh no, dear friends, you misunderstand - any kid who comes by looking for a short and sweet answer to his question is far more likely to get a lengthier earful than if he'd just listened to his teacher in the first place."  I was even accused of insulting teachers at one point by apparently suggesting that I was having to clean up their messes because they're not good at their jobs.

Still, I can deal with that.  Yesterday, though, I got into a conversation with a teacher who brought up something I hadn't considered - lazy student plagiarize.  They cut and they paste.  So here I am thinking that my essay-length answers to their questions (rather than providing overly simplified answers like, "Yes, Mercutio is the Prince's relative") is a good service, but what's going to happen is that kids will come by and simply copy and paste our answers into their homework. That's not cool.

I can think of a few ways around that, by mucking with the ability to cut and paste text from the site.  But that's on me, as the technical guy behind it. I'll work on that.

This gets me to my subject line, though. I want to build a resource that English teachers don't roll their eyes at.  On the contrary I want to build something that they'd actually recommend, if a student has questions that they can't (or don't have the time/energy/resources to) answer. So, I'm asking.  If you are a teacher of Shakespeare (even if you only do one unit amid a variety of other subjects), please take a moment to browse through ShakespeareAnswers and give me your honest opinion. If you knew your students were going to hit the google and end up there, what would you like to see that might make you think "Oh, ok, that's not just another one of those do-your-homework-for-you sites?"  I'll do my best to oblige.

My mission isn't to help kids pass tests. My mission is to always present Shakespeare in a way that makes it entertaining and accessible, in the hopes that even the lazy ones who come by looking to cut and paste some homework leave with a better understanding of what it's all about.  And, who knows, maybe even a little appreciation.

6 comments:

Margarita said...

I teach Shakespeare and other classic writers at a community college where cutting and pasting is rife. I rarely see an original thought and can now identify SparkNotes at 20 paces. Your site is a little trickier to steal from. No easy paragraphs, and the tone of some of the lines would stand out, I think. Interesting source, for sure. You can make it hard to cut and paste from, but it's more getting to the root of the acadmic honesty/intellectual integrity issue. If a student doesn't care about learning Shakepsare and is being "made to," then he or she will not be invested in actually learning. I have had some great students who have written wonderful papers. But many hand me Wikipedia, SparkNotes, and Cliff Notes with nary a blush. Keep up your source, though. It's interesting. I will definitely add it to my course links.

Editor said...

The Shakespeare Standard would like to help however we can. Let us know.

Duane said...

Thank you, Margarita. We'll do what we can to keep it a good resource and not a cheating haven.

Editor, the name of the game is volume and quality. So if you have ready access to a stream of students and/or teachers, I'm just trying to encourage everybody I can to post their questions, and to come back and help vote on the quality of those answers. The database has been pre-populated with several thousand questions combed from the search engines, so anyone who is interested is more than welcome to dig in and start answering on their favorite topic.

Kim (playsthetart) said...

Duane,

I think you can head off some of the plagiarism by providing a "Cite This" section, like Wikipedia does, that makes it easy for students to find all the citation information. My students

Anonymous said...

Duane,

I think you can head off some of the plagiarism by providing a "Cite This" section, like Wikipedia does, that makes it easy for students to find all the citation information. My students have admitted that this helps them a lot.

Kim said...

Wow. Sorry for the double post. Internet connection cut out mid thought!