More than 75 percent of teachers use the Internet every day for instructional purposes. Are they finding what they need? Are they equipped to integrate it into their classes? Do the materials improve the quality of instruction? These are some questions that EDC’s Center for Children and Technology (CCT) addresses in a new report on a PBS Web site called In Search of Shakespeare.
CCT conducted a focus group study with teachers who used the Shakespeare Web site, which explores Shakespeare’s life and the social and political climate of Elizabethan times. The project’s final report identifies three key elements for making websites usable for teachers: authenticity, navigation and functionality, and visual appeal.
“Usually PBS produces a general site for all viewers of their shows,” says Shelley Pasnik, EDC project director. “This time, they made a site especially for educators, with additional resources. They were curious whether this is a useful model, and whether it was helpful to teachers.” The site features professional development, lesson plans resources, a digital library, and a state-by-state review of current and upcoming Shakespeare dramatic presentations.
“We found that it is useful to have a teachers’ site,” says Pasnik. “Clear content supported with audio and video elements is valued highly by teachers. They are hungry for materials that don’t recreate textbooks. They want something new.”
Focus group participants—high school and middle school teachers and resource specialists in social studies and language arts—reflected on the presentation of the site. Many participants reported that they most appreciated the availability of video and audio clips. “They said they were a useful alternative to VHS tapes because many educators do not have access to a VCR or monitor,” said Pasnik. Many participants noted that they appreciated that teachers from varied educational backgrounds contributed to the content and structure of the site. “Participants said this approach resulted in a broader and more diverse interpretation and presentation of the curriculum,” said Pasnik. Regarding navigation and functionality, participants valued the “user friendly” nature of the site and offered suggestions to make the site more visually appealing.
The study also reviewed teacher usage, perceived value and educational efficacy and compared the site to other Shakespeare sites that are popular among teachers.
“Some teachers are happy with anything, and they are happiest with an abundance of material,” says Pasnik. “Others are more selective and want a respected cultural institution like PBS to vet the voluminous resources.”
“Teachers don’t have a lot of time,” notes Pasnik. “They are pressed to find good resources that are of value to them.”
Originally published on January 1, 2005