Taking Classics into the 21st Century: Pemberley Digital's Modernized Adaptations of Classic Literature
by Rikki Roccanti
There is no easy way around teaching classic literature. We try to make it interesting – or at least as painless as possible. We try to fit the movie adaptation into our busy curriculum. We try to incorporate technology. We try to find YouTube videos that relate. In effect, we are trying to pull these classic texts into the 21st century. Good news. There are other people working on this as well, and they have done much of the hard work for us.
The name of our hard-working savior is Pemberley Digital (http://www.pemberleydigital.com), a web video production company that creates modernized adaptations of classic texts through the use of new media platforms. The company began this venture with their adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, The Lizzie Bennett Diaries, which won an Emmy in the field of outstanding creative achievement in interactive media. The video series, produced by Hank Green and Bernie Su, envisions Lizzie Bennett as a vivacious, 24 year-old master's student creating a video dairy for a final project in a mass communications class. In addition to The Lizzie Bennett Diaries, Pemberley Digital is currently producing Emma Approved, an adaptation of Austen's novel Emma. For their next project, which will begin in August, the company is teaming up with PBS and breaking-ground on non-Austen classic with the creation of Frankenstein, MD which will reimagine the protagonist of Mary Shelley’s novel as Victoria Frankenstein, a female physician obsessed with proving herself in the male dominated field of medicine.
As modernized adaptations, these video series reimagine many of the details of the classic novels but include the main characters and follow the same general plot. The details of the novel change because they are refashioned into a form that contemporary audiences would more readily understand and to which they could relate. For instance, Darcy's house, Pemberley, does not exist in The Lizzie Bennett Diaries. In the video series the significance of Pemberley is transferred to the company Darcy runs, Pemberley Digital (which the series' production company eventually adopted as its name). Houses were signifiers of wealth, status, and identity in Regency England, so the series producers translate what Austen was trying to signify through Darcy's house to a modern day signifier – a company run by Darcy – in order to retain a sense of meaning for a contemporary audience.
Not only does Pemberley Digital modernize the adaptations through contemporary signifiers, but they also pull Austen's classic novels into the twenty-first century through the use of transmedia storytelling practices which communicate elements of the story through new media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, Linkedin, and Lookbook,. These venues serve to further immerse audiences in the story worlds of the adaptations as well as serve as interfaces which encourage audience participation through feedback as well as the collection, sharing, and discussion of story content. In the series Emma Approved, Emma Woodhouse is a matchmaker and lifestyle expert at Highbury Partners Lifestyle Group, and as such she uses her Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, and Tumblr pages to keep everyone tuned into her work life. For example, when Emma throws a bachelor’s auction as part of a benefit on human rights (the equivalent of the ball scene in Emma) Emma does not bring her video camera with her to the auction but @EmmaApproved tweeted about what was happening at the event to keep audiences engaged until the next video came out to recap the auction.
While these modernized, transmediated adaptations are of course entertaining on their own, they could also be easily incorporated into a middle or secondary English class teaching one of the classic novels. Each video is only around 4-7 minutes long which would make for a nice opening activity to transition students to talking about the novel. But the stories created by Pemberley Digital are not merely tools to distract students from the original novels or to keep their eyes from falling shut. These stories provide students with new ways to interact with old stories through the use of new media and participatory practices. These stories are providing students with new ways to “read” and engage with class literature. The stories can also open up interesting discussions about why the producers made the decisions they did in adapting the show. What have they changed and why? Does the story retain the same meanings? How are the producers using social media to add to the story? Not only can these stories serve as a means to analyze the classic novels, but their transmedia characteristics create gaps which encourage further expansion. For instance, students could create their own v-logs telling the story from another character’s point of view or from a scene (like the dance in Emma) that was discussed but not shown.
However you use these stories in your classroom, Pemberley Digital can attest to the fact that classic literature still intrigues and delights us. And it continues to inspire us. It inspires us to create our own stories out of the woodwork of timeless texts. And it inspires us to find new ways to keep the story timeless by utilizing the tools of 21st century storytelling to reach a new generation of young adults.
by Amy Piotrowski
Marc Prensky (2001) refers to students who have grown up in the early 21st Century as “digital natives,” claiming that, “students today are all ‘native speakers’ of the digital language of computers, video games, and the Internet” (1). Digital natives are now in teacher education programs, seeking to become the next generation of classroom teachers. Do digital native preservice teachers come to teacher education programs fluent in technology? Do digital natives already know how to use technology tools and know how to integrate technology tools into their teaching practices? Have digital natives made educational technology coursework obsolete?
No, a review of the research literature suggests.
I conducted a review of 12 empirical studies examining the perceptions and beliefs of preservice teachers regarding technology integration. I was interested in how preservice teachers learn about technology tools and how to use these tools in the classroom with students. Since several studies use the Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge framework as a theoretical basis (Jordan, 2011; Koehler, Mishra, & Yahya, 2007; Koh & Divaharan, 2011; Schmidt, et al., 2009), I included in the review Mishra and Koehler’s (2006) and Koehler and Mishra’s (2009) explanations of the TPACK framework.
The research shows that preservice teachers benefit from instruction in technology tools and technology integration. Jing (2009) as well as Kumar and Vigil (2011) found that preservice teachers spend lots of time using social networking tools, but that preservice teachers have little experience with other Web 2.0 tools. In other words, many preservice teachers report using Facebook, but few preservice teachers have used potentially useful tools such as Wikispaces, Wordpress, or Diigo. Anderson and Maninger (2007) concluded that teacher education coursework that included instruction in technology tools and technology integration raised preservice teachers’ measures of self-efficacy and confidence in using technology in their future classrooms. Jordan (2011) found that preservice teachers were concerned about solving technical problems in their classrooms, suggesting that education technology courses should prepare students to troubleshoot issues with technology when they arise. Pasternak (2007) reports that her preservice teachers “want to be comfortable with the technology with which they intend to practice” (p. 151). Preservice teachers report a need for experience using technology tools before using these tools in the classroom.
The findings of Mishra and Koehler (2006) and Schmidt, et al. (2009) suggest that technology integration should be taught in content area education courses, not stand alone educational technology courses. Mishra and Koehler (2006) argue, “Quality teaching requires developing a nuanced understanding of the complex relationships between technology, content, and pedagogy, and using this understanding to develop appropriate, context-specific strategies and representations” (p. 1029). In other words, technology integration is “context bound” and depends on the content being taught (Mishra & Koehler, 2006, p. 1032). Young and Bush (2004) argue from the viewpoint of English Education that technology integration should be purposeful, based on the pedagogical goals of English Language Arts courses and that English Language Arts teachers should critically think about which technologies will enable their students to develop needed literacies.
It would certainly be problematic for teacher educators to assume that preservice teachers already know technology tools and how to teach with them. Knowing how to teach effectively with technology is not something preservice teachers are born with or pick up from today’s digital culture – it’s something preservice teachers need to learn in teacher education programs.
Anderson, S. & Maninger, R. (2007). Preservice teachers’ abilities, beliefs, and intentions regarding technology integration. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 37(2), 151-172.
Beach, R., & Doering, A. (2002). Preservice English teachers acquiring literacy practices through technology tools. Language, Learning, and Technology, 6(3), 127-146.
Jing, L. (2009). Digital natives as preservice teachers: What technology preparation is needed? Journal of Computing in Teacher Education, 25(3), 87-97.
Jordan, K. (2011). Beginning teacher knowledge: Results from a self-assessed TPACK survey. Australian Educational Computing, 26(1), 16-26.
Koehler, M. J., & Mishra, P. (2009). What is technological pedagogical content knowledge? Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education (CITE Journal), 9(1), 60-70.
Koehler, M. J., Mishra, P., & Yahya, K. (2007). Tracing the development of teacher knowledge in a design seminar: Integrating content, pedagogy and technology. Computers & Education, 49(3), 740-762.
Koh, J. H., & Divaharan, S. (2011). Developing pre-service teachers' technology integration expertise through the TPACK-developing instructional model. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 44(1), 35-58.
Kumar, S., & Vigil, K. (2011). The net generation as preservice teachers: Transferring familiarity with new technologies to educational environments. Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, 27(4), 144-153.
Mishra, P., & Koehler, M.J. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for integrating technology in teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054.
National Council of Teachers of English. (2008). Position statement: The NCTE definition of 21st century literacies. Retrieved November 27, 2012, from http://www.ncte.org/positions/statements/21stcentdefinition
Pasternak, D.L. (2007). Is technology used as practice? A survey analysis of preservice English teachers’ perceptions and classroom practices. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 7(3), 140-157.
Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1-6.
Schmidt, D., Baran, E., Thompson, A., Mishra, P., Koehler, M., & Shin, T. Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK): The development and validation of an assessment instrument for preservice teachers. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 42(2), 123-149.
Young, C.A., & Bush, J. (2004). Teaching the English language arts with technology: A critical approach and pedagogical framework. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education. 4(1), 1-22.
by Amy Piotrowski
As technology has advanced, new tools for learning have made their way into the classroom, along with strategies for how to teach with these tools. School districts and principals expect new teachers to be prepared to integrate technology in ways that increase student engagement and academic achievement. Two teachers in Colorado decided to use Internet technologies to post lectures online for their students who missed class. The strategy of the flipped classroom took off from there and has gained popularity the past few years. Preservice teachers may find themselves working in a school that wants to flip classroom instruction, and that’s where teacher education courses come in.
The flipped classroom is defined by high school chemistry teachers Bergmann and Sams (2012) as a classroom in which “that which is traditionally done in class is now done at home, and that which is traditionally done as homework is now completed in class” (p. 13). They have their students watch video lectures at home, freeing up class time for practice with the concepts introduced in the lectures. Because the flipped model changes what is done in class, it also changes the teacher’s role. Bermann and Sams (2012) explain that “We are no longer the presenters of information; instead, we take on more of a tutorial role” as they go around the classroom, helping students who have questions or need additional instruction (p. 14). Other benefits of the flipped classroom, according to Bermann and Sams, is that the videos allow students who are absent to avoid falling behind and that the videos allow for mastery learning, in which students move through learning objectives at their own pace.
English teachers have been flipping their classrooms in low-tech ways for years. Many English teachers assign reading to be done at home so that the next day can be spent discussing the novel or play that the class is studying. But how can English teachers take advantage of Internet technologies in their teaching practices? Because there is so little empirical research on the flipped classroom and on preservice teachers learning to flip their classrooms, I conducted a qualitative case study focusing on four preservice secondary English Language Arts teachers. The study was guided by the following research questions: Do preservice teachers who have been introduced to flipped lessons in an education course plan on implementing flipped lessons in their classrooms? If so, how do preservice teachers plan on implementing flipped lessons in their classrooms? What benefits and drawbacks do preservice teachers anticipate when they consider implementing flipped lessons in their future classrooms?
The preservice teachers in this study took an online English Education course called Enhancing Teaching With Technology during the summer of 2013. I collected three sources of data: interviews with participants, the online posts participants wrote for the class, and participants’ Flipped Classroom/Digital Media Projects. For the Flipped Classroom/Digital Media Project, preservice teachers created a series of three flipped lessons on a topic of their choosing and then posted their flipped lessons online.
Participants reported a positive impression of the flipped classroom after learning about it in Enhancing Teaching With Technology. All four participants reported that they plan to teach flipped lessons in the future and that the experience of creating their own flipped lessons was valuable. They saw how students benefit from having the teacher present and available to help as students work with new concepts and information. One participant called the practice of presenting material in class and then sending students home to complete an assignment “useless” because the teacher isn’t there when she’s needed. Another participant said that flipping the classroom “allows students to be more active in the classroom, rather than passively sitting and listening to the lecture during class time.” Participants also reported that the flipped classroom makes learning relevant by affording active learning using technology. For students who may need some information repeated, they can watch the video lessons as many times as they want.
The participants also discussed advantages to flipping the classroom for teachers. Since teachers can film multiple takes, they can edit and perfect their lessons before posting them online. Teachers can also go back and watch their videos as a way to reflect on ways to improve their teaching. One participant pointed out that teachers “can go back and evaluate yourself in a more concrete way than just thinking back, ‘Well, a couple of years ago I did a lecture on this. I don’t know how it went.’ You know, you can actually look at your flipped classroom lessons and get better and better.”
Study participants saw some potential drawbacks to flipping their classrooms. Some students may not have a computer or Internet access at home to watch the videos. Students may not watch the videos at home even if they can watch them, so flipping the classroom may not be a cure-all for unmotivated students. Parents and students may be wary of a new way of teaching and learning. One participant told me that “some people are afraid of change, and parents may become concerned that this style of learning would not be as effective for their children as the original style they may have had when they were students.”
One of the flipped classroom’s most concerning drawbacks is that while the teacher is there when students are working in class, the teacher is not there when the student watches the video lesson. What do students do when they have a question while watching the video at home? Two participants addressed this problem in their Flipped Lessons/Digital Media Projects. At the end of each video lesson, the preservice teachers directed their students to the class blog. On the class blog, students were instructed to post a summary of the lesson, a response to what they learned, and any questions they had after watching the video. Blogging can be a way for a flipped lesson to be more interactive, for students to ask questions while those questions are still fresh on their mind after viewing the lesson, and for teachers to check that students are watching the videos. The participants said that they believed that flipped lessons should be interactive. Blogs provide a way for that to happen.
I found that the participants created lessons about a variety of topics using a variety of tools. Their lessons were about Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the novel Mansfield Park, the Hero’s Journey, and grammar. To create their lessons, they used Prezi, Power Point, SooMeta, screencasting tools, and clips from YouTube. By using these various tools to teach lessons on various topics, these preservice teachers built their Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge, or TPACK (Koehler & Mishra, 2009). It seems to me from watching the participants’ flipped lesson videos that it is not enough to just make a film or screencast of the same old lecture that teachers have done for years. By using images and video clips from popular culture, the participants used technology to bring in material they otherwise could not have brought into the lesson. How can teacher educators work with preservice teachers to make flipped lessons not just viewable, but relevant and meaningful? How can different technology tools be used to make lessons engaging?
Participants said that they enjoyed creating their own flipped lessons. They reported that they would like to see a flipped classroom in action so that they can better understand how to handle the daily logistics of teaching flipped lessons. One participant said that flipping his classroom is “actually enhancing my teaching because I can focus on what’s really important in the lessons in the classroom.” Flipping the classroom allows teachers to spend class time on what’s best done in the classroom while using Internet and digital technologies to deliver content that students can review outside of class. Teacher education programs have the task of preparing preservice teachers for classrooms where technology will change how teaching is done.
For more on this research, go to http://www.amypiotrowski.com/preservice-teachers-and-flipped-classroom.html
For more on TPACK, go to http://www.tpack.org
Bergmann, J. & Sams, A. (2012). Flip your classroom: Reach every student in every class every day. Eugene, Oregon: ISTE.
Koehler, M. J., & Mishra, P. (2009). What is technological pedagogical content knowledge? Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education (CITE Journal), 9(1), 60-70.
by Jose Paco Fiallos
I am an average 30-something living in 2014: I upgrade my smart phone at the earliest chance; all of my devices in my home are connected to the internet, even my air conditioner; I am part of many social media networks. I was raised with technology, from video games to personal computers to A/V equipment. But in my classroom I am something of an anachronism. Most of the technology that I am fluent with in my life gets checked at the door.
I have been to many presentations advancing this or that tech tool that would revolutionize the English classroom. I work with many teachers who live and die by their class social network, their smart board, their tablet computer, or their students’ use of apps on their cell phones. I, too, use these tools at various times in my own class, but never as the centerpiece.
I think I might be a little biased against technology when it comes to instruction. Maybe it comes from observing counties and school administrators using funds for new technologies that they then don’t provide training for, or that don’t have any immediate purpose in the classroom and so become little more than expensive toys gathering dust. Or maybe it’s because our textbooks are out of date and class sets of novels are constantly deteriorating. And as the debate over whether to convert to entirely digital textbooks and assigning each student their own tablet computer continues, important decisions about texts get pushed back.
Education, as a system, is a little too reactionary, I think. Or maybe impulsive is a better word. As educators we know that there are problems with some aspects of the system, from curriculum, to instruction, to assessment. And wouldn’t it be simple if there was a single piece of technology, or even a suite of tech tools that would address those problems and just make everything better?
There are tools being used effectively by teachers. I know it happens. And so I guess I am just a stodgy old English teacher who is tied to books and pen and paper; ink on the page, so to speak. And as such, I think that any tool, whether it be high or low tech, should not impede access to text in any way. Rather, technology should only serve as a means of increasing access, or even better, broadening the definition of what text is.
So maybe this will serve as a new beginning for me. It is helpful to state in concrete terms, putting digital ink to digital paper, what my own tech goals are.