Shakespeare game takes web learning to the next level

19 April 2016

A new web game for high school students and teachers is turning the cards on traditional approaches to Shakespeare and three of his best known plays. 

A portrait of William Shakespeare.

Three major Shakespeare plays feature in an innovative online game, developed by the University of Sydney with Barker College. 

Four hundred years after Shakespeare’s death, an online game developed by the University of Sydney is using the playwright’s best-known works to challenge traditional approaches to learning and teaching.

Professor Liam Semler of the University’s Department of English leads Shakespeare Reloaded, a project that is urging students and teachers to depart from the curriculum when looking at the British playwright’s work.

‘Shakeserendipity’ launches as global events explore and celebrate the Bard’s legacy. Where the game stands out is through its clever use of Shakespeare as a gateway to other learning. For example, Richard III’s numerous animal references and Julius Caesar’s espionage themes lead teachers and students to resources about biology and surveillance.

“Four centuries after Shakespeare’s death, we have to explore new ways of engaging with his work and using the genius of his plays in creative teaching approaches,” said Professor Semler.

“Shakespeare was an innovator in his time, so it’s fitting that a project like ours is using digital innovation to challenge and disrupt traditional ways of learning. We know there are ideas in Shakespeare that are timeless and can be used as a doorway to other learning — our new game encourages and enables these experiments,” he said.

The game allows players, be they teachers or students, to select two to four online cards from a deck of nine associated with an individual play by Shakespeare. Currently, three decks are available: The Tempest, Richard III and Julius Caesar.

‘Wild’ and ‘tame’ cards in each deck involve different levels of difficulty, and the ability to shuffle cards means teachers can create a range of possible educational scenarios that integrate online, in-class and out-of-class learning.

Barker College in Hornsby collaborates with the University on the Shakespeare Reloaded project, and hosted the pilot version of the game.

“The Shakeserendipity pilot provided some great approaches to teaching, by throwing out ideas to students to research and bounce off each other,” said Lucy Solomon, a Stage 6 English teacher at Barker College. “It’s exciting to take a text that is 400 years old and present it to students through lenses which appear totally out of the box.”

The Shakespeare Reloaded website and its resources are open access and based on the latest research into education conducted at the University of Sydney.

"The beauty of Shakeserendipity is that it takes the old 'flipped classroom' idea to a new level in which standard outcomes are done away with and student learning is imagined in the same dimension as teachers’ professional development," said Professor Semler.

Shakeserendipity and the research that was used to build it will be showcased at the British Shakespeare Association’s conference at the University of Hull, England, in September.