We’ve written about Dublin-based MindConnex Learning‘s “Shakespeare in Bits” series, a multimedia approach to teaching Shakespeare, aimed at the middle school and high school level and available across iOS, PC, and Mac platforms. This week we had the privilege of speaking with MindConnex CEO Michael Cordner and Zoe Faulder, Director of Marketing, who both provided insight into the company’s history, vision, and their upcoming plans.
The idea for Shakespeare in Bits came to Michael, an English literature major, in 2008 while he was working in education publishing at a large e-learning content production company in Ireland. He was looking around for good digital content surrounding Shakespeare’s plays, and found that little existed for teaching Shakespeare at the time. While there were already apps or digital versions of the straight text, there was nothing developed in a multimedia framework for schools. Thus, the idea for Shakespeare in Bits was born. “At first the idea was just a concept,” said Michael.
So he completed a market survey to see if there was a need for digital content that helped teach the Bard’s works, and it appeared there was. From there Michael created the first version of Romeo and Juliet from his bedroom. Once the iPad came along in 2010, Michael realized the market was going to be changing quickly, so he and his team created a version of Romeo and Juliet for the iPad. The version was picked up by Apple and garnered the product so much attention that the company received their first round of funding. MindConnex Learning has been a fully operational company since June of 2011.
Michael also stressed the importance of creating digital content that actually enhances the existing content. “The most rewarding thing that we see is to get emails from parents whose kids have been able to use our product, or students who use our product,” said Michael. “They write that as a result of using Shakespeare in Bits, they’ve been able to fully understand Shakespeare in a way they may not have previously by just using earlier, text-based methods.”
We also spoke with Zoe Faulder, who told us more about the company and the new products MindConnex will be releasing soon.
Technapex: Tell us a little bit about theShakespeare in Bits series. Which titles does MindConnex offer at this point? Are there plans for more?
- Zoe: In 2011 MindConnex launched the first play in the Shakespeare In Bits series: Romeo and Juliet. Four more plays have been added over the past year: Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet and Julius Caesar. With five of the most frequently studied plays now available, Shakespeare In Bits is a robust tool for any school to adopt. Othello is currently in development and will be released in 2013 with other popular plays being added thereafter.
Technapex: How are you promoting Shakespeare in Bits? Do you reach out primarily to students and parents, or do you market the products to schools and teachers?
- Zoe: The majority of promotion for Shakespeare In Bits is aimed directly at teachers; in the majority of cases it is the teachers who determine what resources will be used in the classroom. However, we have found that there has also been a strong pick up among parents for the apps or downloadable PC/Mac versions as they are more suited for one-to-one learning. There has also been a great deal of interest from school students on certain social media platforms — specifically Facebook.
Technapex: How is Shakespeare in Bits being used in the classroom? Can you share any examples of teachers implementing the product successfully into their curriculum?
- Zoe: We try to keep communication with teachers as open as possible and we have been very lucky to have a few of those teachers complete case studies that outline their use and experiences with Shakespeare In Bits. These case studies can be found at our website. Using Shakespeare In Bits Live! some of the teachers, such as Brandy Lowery at Iowa Park High School, have been able to implement a flipped class model in which the reading is assigned as homework – which in the past would have been tricky due to the difficulties students have with understanding the language of the text – and activities, discussion and debate are undertaken in class. Other teachers, like Anna Melville in Hartford Day School, run the play on the smart board and have students follow on their iPads. Heather Boone in Chinook’s Edge School Division used a similar method: “I used the smart board to play the scenes from the play, while students followed along on their laptops. This gave students the opportunity to read along and read the extra information provided with each scene. Some students also chose to bring headphones, and did not follow with the class, but went ahead.”
Technapex: How can parents and teachers tell if Shakespeare In Bits is successful?
- Zoe: Based on a survey undertaken during the summer, the majority of teachers using Shakespeare In Bits have noticed a clear increase in their student’s performance when compared with previous years. Fifty percent of respondents saw 11-20 percent increase. One teacher said, “There was a marked improvement in lower-level students. Visual aids and ability to access the program at home and work at their own pace was very helpful.” We have also received a great deal of feedback stating that Shakespeare In Bits improves student engagement with the plays. Specific examples include students reading ahead, exploring the analysis material and character maps without being prompted, and being more involved in class discussions and activities.
Technapex: What differentiates Shakespeare in Bits from other supplementary text aids on the market?
- Zoe: Most aids currently available on the market are still reminiscent of text-based learning and most could not be used as the core text. Shakespeare In Bits can be used as a core text, completely removing the need to purchase print editions of the plays. However, what we believe really differentiates our product is the integration of a fully animated visualization of the play with a high quality audio soundtrack that can be accessed and navigated in manageable segments. These elements, coupled with other innovative features such as the in-line translation of archaic terms and phrases to allow students to see the modern equivalent in context, provide a very accessible and engaging experience to students. It moves well beyond the scope of direct print to digital conversion and allows for the multimedia experience to be central, catering to a broad spectrum of learning styles.
Technapex: Are there any new MindConnex products coming out that our readers should know about?
- Zoe: Our next project, The Word Monsters, steps away from existing literature and branches out into the primary and preschool curriculum. The Word Monsters series is a set of decodable readers that aim to build on basic phonics and letter soundings and introduce children to reading in a fun and interactive application. The readers are aligned with Common Core standards and outline to parents and teachers what key skills are being developed in each reader. The Word Monsters series is currently in development and will be launched early next year. It will initially be available on iOS devices but, like Shakespeare In Bits, we aim to make the series available across multiple platforms.
Free individual trials of Shakespeare In Bits software are available at MindConnex’s website (www.mindconnex.com), or for a free trial of online versions for schools, readers can contact MindConnex at firstname.lastname@example.org.