A new software package offers pupils the chance to direct their own Shakespeare production - without all the toil and trouble. Debbie Davies reports
What is the best medium for conveying the magic of Shakespeare? Purists will insist that you can't beat the intimacy and energy of a good, old-fashioned, three-dimensional live theatre production. Broadcasters will argue that television adaptations do the job effectively, and if you missed the original transmission there's always a video or CD-Rom. And then there are software publishers.
Immersive Education is attempting to convince English departments to invest in its new storyboard program, which enables students to reconstruct scenes from the Bard's canon. Kar2ouche was named best ICT product at the Education Resources Awards at the Education Show in March. Similar to story-making software, Kar2ouche gives students a rich collection of backgrounds, figures, props and written and spoken text with which to tell a story.
Creative director Lloyd Sutton describes the program as a palette. "Cartoon drawing was too simple for the dramatic and realistic look we wanted students to achieve, irrespective of how well they can draw," he says.
The first edition of Kar2ouche supports Macbeth, with Hamlet to follow later. Immersive sees its storyboard technology supporting - or eventually being applied to - other subjects such as foreign languages, history and media studies.
Students ideally begin with paper and pencil, sketching how they will recreate a chosen scene. On screen, they create one frame after another, clicking to select their background, adding props, deciding where to drag characters and how to pose them. Speech and thought bubbles for typed and spoken text are added. There is a box below each frame in which further commentary can be inserted. The program includes the complete written and spoken text of the play, sections of which can be copied and pasted into storyboards. The results can be played back or printed out as a series of thumbnails.
Several schools have piloted the software and feedback from teachers has led to the interface being redesigned, the playback function simplified and the choice of clip art expanded. At Didcot girls' school, Oxfordshire, English teacher Steph Mastreson's concern that the software would encourage fiddling with trivial detail proved unfounded. "The program is easy to use, and students become familiar with the play," she says. "But the language will still need to be studied in the classroom."
Kar2ouche's main pitfall will be familiar to anyone who has used clip art. No matter how extensive the library, the selection bcomes restrictive once you try something like positioning the raven hovering side-on, only to find the designer has drawn it in stationary and full-flight positions only. And as everyone uses the same source material for their interpretation, results can look very similar.
Kar2ouche is certainly more expensive than most computer-based material and so far there has been no quantitative or independent evaluation. But its efforts to create a distinctive product matched to the needs of teachers may persuade English departments to give it a go.
* Schools have to purchase the application and the content titles they want to use. An unlimited user site licence for the application costs pound;775, plus pound;140 for each content title. As an introductory offer, Immersive is giving Hamlet free to those who purchase both the application and Macbeth.
Prices are less for restricted use. A licence to use Kar2ouche on up to 30 computers costs pound;325 for the application, and pound;100 per title. All prices are exclusive of VAT.
Enquiries to: Immersive Education, The Old Malthouse, Paradise Street, Oxford OX1 1LD. Tel: 01865 811000 or email info@immersive education.com * The Royal Shakespeare Company is expanding its website, with an emphasis on new materials for classroom teachers. Access will be from the main site at www.rsc.org.uk.
* The BBC has a GCSE Bitesize revision guide to Macbeth on its website - follow links from www.bbc.co.ukbitesize - and support material for study at key stage 3.
* 4Learning has launched a CD-Rom entitled Macbeth (pound;40, including VAT). Up to five additional copies can be bought for pound;10 each with the initial purchase. The program is designed for key stage 3 and key stage 4 and uses 4Learning's specially commissioned production of the play directed by Michael Bogdanov. Contact 4Learning on 01926 436444 or visit the website at www.4learning.co.uk.
TO BUY OR NOT TO BUY
Why you should think about Kar2ouche...
* Appeals to students
* Uses ICT in English
* Pictures help recall and analysis of characters, plots, locations and themes
* Interface is easy to use
* Encourages students to make their own interpretation and study text closely
...AND WHY YOU SHOULD HESITATE
* Playback mode requires practice and audio requires good quality microphones
* Lessons have to take place in the ICT room
* Time-consuming so only really practical for studying a single scene from an act
* Restricts creative interpretation to the props and poses drawn by the software
* Risks entertaining students without furthering their understanding of the text