Looking back at Mission Shakespeare 2017

Reflecting on the Mission Shakespeare pilot project and the Disruptive Media Learning Lab’s partnership with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and DigitalMe.

I wanted to look back at the Mission Shakespeare pilot project that ran for Shakespeare Week 2017. This first iteration is now being reworked to form part of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s year-round online education offer, and I thought it would be good to reflect on how the pilot came to be.

Mission Shakespeare is an online, digital badging initiative aimed at primary school aged children, designed for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s Shakespeare Week (learn about Shakespeare Week here). Mission Shakespeare provides a series of age-appropriate online challenges for primary school aged children, with children earning a badge for each series of challenges completed. The challenges, otherwise known as ‘missions’, range from Tudor cooking to performing a Shakespeare rap, engaging children with the life and work of William Shakespeare through active learning and creative, playful activities.

The project came to life through conversations between the Disruptive Media Learning Lab (DMLL) and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (SBT) who were looking for a digital, innovative twist to shake up their existing educational offer.

Image of the Shakespeare Week ‘Passport To Shakespeare’ 2016.

During previous years of the Shakespeare Week celebration, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust issued tens of thousands of Shakespeare Week Passports, a paper based activity booklet, every year to schools around the UK. Children who took part in Shakespeare Week through their school could complete the activities and send the physical passport back to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to be stamped. Many children and schools chose to keep their paper passports once complete rather than sending them back to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. This meant that gaining insight into the success of individual activities and exactly how many children were completing the passport each year was difficult to determine. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust wanted to rethink this arm of their educational offer so that they could be sure of the up take of the activities and how well they were received.

The Disruptive Media Learning Lab (DMLL) has been piloting the use of Open Badges at Coventry University since October 2015. The DMLL Open Badges project, “investigates the feasibility of using Open Badges to support students’ employability through digital accreditation of learning and skills outside of their course of study” . This work has led to the DMLL team developing a body of experience developing badges for HE students. Through discussion between the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and DMLL, the beneficial potential for digital badges as a digital, online replacement to the existing paper based passport became clear.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has an existing set of online educational resources for Shakespeare Week, through a closed online portal full of activity suggestions for parents and teachers to use with children. We wanted to look at how to repurpose these existing online resources, alongside new activities, to create an open offer on a safe online learning platform.

Makewaves, a DigitalMe platform, is a “safe social learning platform for children to share what they make, challenge themselves with Missions and show their achievements with badges”. The platform offers schools and organisations the ability to create and issue their own badges, for schools to manage a social online learning space for their pupils, and for children to learn through completing topic-specific challenges whilst building their digital fluency. Makewaves also allows young people the opportunity to export their digital badges from the platform as Open Badges once aged 13 or over.

Mission Shakespeare badges for Shakespeare Week 2017.

I joined the Mission Shakespeare project in November 2016, at which point the outline of what the pilot project aimed to do had already been defined between the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (SBT) education team and the DMLL’s Jacqueline Cawston and Jacqui Speculand. Between November 2016 and February 2017, DMLL Student Activator Charlie Legge and I started work on creating a framework for the content to be included in the Makewaves badges, and supported the SBT education team to understand what was possible through Makewaves and how to best format their resources and media as content for the suite of badges.

The project had a short window of time (November 2016 — February 2017) to create the Mission Shakespeare site and all supporting content. Alongside this limitation, all related websites (the Makewaves site, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust site, and the Shakespeare Week site) were being independently rebuilt and rebranded, which complicated the process of agreeing and building content for the initiative. This made the site development and build extra demanding within such a short timeframe.

With just the two of us (Charlie and I) building the content and site for Mission Shakespeare, we had to work in a hyper-organised, super-flexible, multi-talented manner using all strings to our respective bows. The whole build phase of the project was overseen and managed by me, with a huge amount of support from Charlie who has an apparent ability to turn his hand to anything. Throughout this process Charlie took to new challenges in his stride, and learned a whole bunch of new skills including how to use Adobe Creative Cloud (you can read more about Charlie’s experience here).

Moving the Shakespeare Week challenges to an online, digital platform allowed the SBT education team to develop new resources to be presented in a multi-media format with embedded video and audio. This new platform made it possible to design challenges that promoted digital making, with the platform itself allowing children to learn how to use web-based technologies and social media within a safe environment. The Makewaves platform also allows the mission content and learning resources to be open and accessible, promoting open culture and open knowledge — a big step from the main closed portal and repository of Shakespeare Week.

New activities for Shakespeare Week 2017 included “Rapping Tudor Style” with music from Devon Glover aka the Sonnet Man, and singing along to Musicline’s ‘Shakespeare Rocks’.

Landing page of Mission Shakespeare, March 2017.

Mission Shakespeare launched ready for Shakespeare Week 20th-26th March 2017. The pilot reached 149 schools and 92 home educators across the UK between February-April 2017, and received positive feedback from the SBT’s Shakespeare Week School Survey 2017. This first iteration is now being reworked to form part of the SBT’s year-round online education offer.

I look forward to seeing the updates to Mission Shakespeare and its continued success. For me, Mission Shakespeare highlights the broader potential of badge initiatives beyond accrediting learning: to democratise arts education (and education more widely), to recognise skills built through arts-based learning activities, and to promote active participation in the arts and cultural organisations. The combination of which could powerfully underpin the promotion of, and accelerated cultural engagement with, learning activities and experiences for young people and families.


Thanks to: Nicola and Sally from Shakespeare Birthplace Trust for their energy, enthusiasm and belief in this project, Matt and Joe of DigitalMe for all of their support and wisdom throughout, and to the rest of the DMLL team Charlie, Sarah, Koula, Jacqui and Jacqueline!