I’m in the midst of an amazing trip to England that included a visit to Stratford-Upon-Avon, the hometown of William Shakespeare. On the flight over, I read an excellent biography of the bard by Stephen Greenblatt. As I read the book and visited the various Shakespeare sites in Stratford, I was reminded how heavily Shakespeare borrowed from the existing literature of his day. In fact, most of his plays are based on well-known stories or historical books. Shakespeare Online has a good listing of the various sources. It shows how well read he was despite being without an Oxford education.
But, it also underscores the importance of artists being able to draw on exisiting works. The genius of Shakespeare was his ability to take existing stories and add both new twists and poetical language to make those stories his own. If he were alive today, I think he would approve heartily of the notion of a creative commons where people contribute their creative works to the greater good.
Here’s some good news: all of Shakespeare’s writings are in the public domain and available at Gutenberg so you and your students are free to draw on them for your own work. When I was still teaching English, I had my students write their own stories and poems based on Shakespearean themes. Now, I would open that assignment to include audio and video productions as well.
And for your reading pleasure, here’s one of my favorite sonnets, mostly because of its ironic tone:
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red, than her lips red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,–
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,
As any she belied with false compare.
Readers of this blog are aware of my interest in promoting open education resources. Last year, I was a formal member of a Joint Commission on Technology and Science subcommittee related to this topic. This year, there are no formal members besides the legislators, but the public is encouraged to attend. The meeting yesterday had a variety of great presentations, and as I left, I realized I had been watching the world change.
Aneesh Chopra, Virginia’s Director of Technology, talked about how the state has been innovating. I have never seen him present before, and he was nothing short of inspirational. I’ve added his weekly podcast to iTunes. He described a school he had visited where the textbook indicated that cathode ray tubes were a primary part of televisions. This textbook was being used in a community in which the plant that used to make cathode ray tubes had been closed because, of course, cathode ray tubes are not used in televisions any more.
Stewart Smith from the Community Ideas Station filled us in on their efforts to digitize and distribute their vast collection of multimedia through a project called eKlips. The materials are available for free. I can’t wait for some free time to poke around.
I was pleased that Dr. Richard Baraniuk from Rice University was able to teleconference in to talk about the Connexions project that he spearheaded nearly ten years ago. I had recommended him to the committee after seeing him present at NECC.
But, it was the last presentation that was most interesting in terms of watching the world change because we got a glimpse into a business struggling to figure out how they would survive in this new world. . Pearson spent some time discussing their plans for bringing textbooks into the 21st century. They were led off by former Virginia Board of Education President Kirk Schroder, an entertainment lawyer who is also a registered lobbyist for Pearson. His take on open education resources was that they were fine for higher education, but for K-12 with the pressures of high stakes testing, they were too much of an experiment. I took public issue with what I felt was a rhetoric of fear; it’s the same kind of argument that software companies make against open source products. The idea is that if you pay lots of money, you automatically get a better product and more support. But, then, as a lobbyist, Schroder’s job is to discourage the state from going down the path of open education resources, so his rhetoric is not surprising but a bit disappointing. A quick check of Pearson’s 2007 financial highlights (pdf) shows a 1.2 billion dollar operating profit with some 4oo million dollars coming from their K-12 sector. I think they could still make a profit and put some of that money into more public-minded partnerships with open education foundations. Continue reading Watching the World Change In Front of My Eyes