In Search of Shakespeare is a 'historical whodunit,' a new four-part PBS documentary that explores Shakespeare's life through the turbulent times in which he lived. CCT recently conducted a formative evaluation of the educational series and its accompanying, web-based teaching materials, located at PBS.org. Our study examined the usage, perceived value and educational efficacy among teachers of the materials contained on the site. As part of this research, CCT conducted a series of focus groups with educators to undertake a close analysis of the In Search of Shakespeare website, along with comparisons of the site to other Shakespeare sites popular among teachers. Our formative research was governed by a number of qualitative questions, including the following:
- What attributes of the In Search of Shakespeare website most appeal to teachers and how do these attributes relate to the documentary series?
- How do teachers envision using the online resources with their students?
- What are the characteristics of teachers who are drawn to use the kinds of rich-tech media available at the site?
- What is needed to optimize use of online materials among teachers who are less accustomed to using rich-text media?
We know from past research that teachers have different levels of comfort with rich-text media, calling for different kinds of support. For example, some teachers will be able to integrate the In Search of Shakespeare online resources into their teaching regardless of the site's particular organization and content. Likewise, we know another subset of teachers may want to use the materials but may require additional support than what the site offers.
In light of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB)'s interest in using In Search of Shakespeare as a model for the development of future on-air/online pairings, our focus groups concentrated on this second set of teachers. And, in so doing, our impact study provides material that CPB and PBS can use to supplement existing versions of their respective production toolkits (Enhancing Education Producers' Toolkit and the Classroom Policies area of the Web Manual), which will inform producers of online materials beyond this specific piece of research.