ICD Fellowship Project Highlight: a Q & A with Réme Bohlin

Student Perceptions of Shakespeare as a Pedagogical Resource

Project Summary: The debate about Shakespeare’s relevance in the twenty-first century, indeed the relevance of literary studies in general, is long-standing. However, undergraduate students are often absent from these debates. My project seeks to recruit undergraduate voices in the creation of an online, open-source Shakespeare class that directly addresses these questions. By surveying students, I hope to open up a conversation that, while urgent, has grown stale. Often, conversations about Shakespeare’s relevance begin and end with requirements for the major: should English majors be required to take a Shakespeare class? However, revising major requirements does not adequately address questions of relevance. How can questions of value and relevance be taken up in the (virtual) classroom?

What was the inspiration or motivation for the project?

As a graduate instructor, I had received ad hoc instruction on course design for literature classes. When it came time to teach two sections of Introduction to Shakespeare, I borrowed heavily from other instructors, and cobbled together a syllabus. I did not have a sense of what I wanted my students to learn from reading Shakespeare (i.e., learning objectives).

In this project, I wanted to consider new ways to do course design for literature classes, specifically for Shakespeare. Why do we teach Shakespeare? Is he still relevant for the twenty-first century student? If so, how? My first attempt at course design centered on which plays to teach. Now, I want to consider why and how we teach Shakespeare, and whether our students are on the same page with us. I designed a survey for undergraduates to determine whether or not they believe Shakespeare is relevant (for a college education, for the English major, for twenty-first century readers). I will use survey responses to design a set of learning objectives for an online Shakespeare class.

What do you hope to achieve through this project? What role does dialogue play in realizing your goals?

I hope to make a contribution to current conversations about Shakespeare pedagogy, professional development for graduate instructors, and the organization of the English major. I plan to use dialogue in my online Shakespeare course.

Tell us a bit about your activities this semester as an ICD fellow? (events? Preparation and planning; outreach etc?)

This semester I have been working on cleaning and analyzing the data from my survey which ran in Fall 2020. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with UConn’s Statistical Consulting Services who have consulted on the design of the survey, and are now working with the data to answer the larger research questions.

What are some of your findings through your surveys?

I’m still wading through the data, but can share some early findings! One part of the survey asked about student experiences with Shakespeare. For example, how many plays have you read total? What Shakespeare plays have you read? On average, survey respondents had read about five plays. Romeo and Juliet was the most read play, with 207 of 222 respondents having read it.

As you reflect on your experience as an ICD Fellow this year, what were some of the most significant takeaways? Where do you see this project after the ICD Fellowship year?

The most significant takeaway from my experience as an ICD Fellow has been the opportunity to learn about how to structure, facilitate, and moderate a dialogue. After the ICD Fellowship, I plan to use the survey results in the design of an online Shakespeare class. I will present the findings of my survey and the course design as part of my dissertation defense.

Réme Bohlin is a PhD Candidate in the department of English at the University of Connecticut