NEICN 2010 Dr Marie Arndt
Up your KILT! Techie teaching Waiting for Godot.
Technology has become an increasingly featured pedagogical tool in
teaching and learning. It is, however, unevenly used within various
disciplines, and is significantly less applied in teaching literature than in
many other disciplines. E-learning may be the salvation for many people
who want to study, but are unable to have direct access to education for
different reasons. In the current financial climate the additional constraint
of funding cuts, especially in areas like our own, alternatives must be
considered, but not allowed to reduce the focus on our subject.
E-learning, purely online studying, or blended learning, online and face-
to-face learning, offer alternatives that can help squeeze shorter contact
time and/or growing group sizes into a manageable situation for a
lecturer, but first you need to know what is available in terms of, for
example web 2.0 tools and the pedagogical gains to be had from using
technology in teaching and learning.
I am not going to give you a lesson in e-learning, but I am going to talk
you through an example of how technology can be used in teaching a
particular text that we all know, Waiting for Godot.
Waiting for Godot can be a challenge to teach to both A-level and
undergraduate students. Students are not necessarily familiar with the
theatre of the absurd in general, nor with Beckett or his work.
Furthermore, we would probably also encounter insurmountable
obstacles due to time constraints if we consider the diverse contextual
aspects, including culture and language, that we may want to bring to
our students’ attention. In this presentation I will pay attention to how
blended learning can be particularly beneficial when teaching an area
like Irish literature to students with little or no background knowledge of
the Irish context in order to acquire an informed reading.
In my introduction I highlighted the dilemma of covering a lot of material
and angles in a short space of time. This problem can be for example be
solved by preparing podcasts, documents and provide links for additional
material that students can access out of contact time, at any time they
wish. It is advisable that they are required to feedback on key material
provided, to check the progress of their learning and understanding of
context and the play.
Preparing podcasts may seem like a daunting and time-consuming task,
but there are easy-to-use programmes to use, like Audacity. Another
programme, ScreenToaster, allows you to record a sound to comments
on presentations or documents that can be stored as screenshots, with
sound to accompany the whole presentation. If you are teaching the
same text to several groups and for several years this presentation can
be re-used and thereby save you time. The students will also benefit
from podcasts as it provides the opportunity to listen several times, and
focus on parts that they find particularly difficult.
In designing elearning reflective writing has become an important
feature. This element requires or encourages students to record
difficulties or thoughts while engaged in study; these entries can be used
for peer or seminar discussions, revision and assessment. Reflective
writing can also benefit analysis and preparation for written assignments.
In this context it is worth mentioning that research has argued a lot for
the benefit of using reflective writing by students as a source for
assessment. Objections, however, have included arguments that if
students know that their reflective writing will be assessed it may inhibit
their honesty in verbalising difficulties in understanding a text, for fear of
being marked down. In order to overcome these obstacles it is
necessary to weigh up beforehand the pros and cons, and justify to
yourself and your students why you want them to use reflective writing
and for what purpose. Reflective writing can be done in blogs, in
eportfolio-systems like Mahara, or by using an eportfolio-style system,
like Google Docs. Your institutional VLE may allow all these methods.
Students should be encouraged to collaborate and technology makes
that easy. Apart from discussions in seminars students can comment on
each other’s blogs and also create a group wiki, for example, as
preparation of group activities and for collaborative preparation of
particular aspects of the text for seminars. Students can be encouraged
or required to keep a reflective journal throughout a course, in order to
keep track of their learning and understanding. All documents can be
collected in an eportfolio.
Example: integrating technology in teaching
Waiting for Godot.
+ What do you associate with the expression ‘Nothing to be done’?
Write down your thoughts in a blog post.
This reflection can form the basis of the initial discussion at the first
lecture, which can lead into an introduction of the play that can focus on
‘the human condition’ and that Waiting for Godot is a play where nothing
In a lecture we have time to give a few initial points about the philosophy
at the heart of the play, but only additional material, will give students the
opportunity to learn more about Existentialism.
Here you can record a lecture in a podcast about Existentialism and/or
refer in links to material on YouTube.
+ Students can then be required to write what they have learnt
about Existentialism in a blog entitled ‘Existentialism’, including
reflection on the difference between ‘existing’ and ‘living’. Also
encourage students to read and comment on blogs by their peers.
Students should go back to their description later, to check on
aspects of Existentialism in the play.
Students’ blog entries can form the basis of an introductory lecture to the
play, including a Power Point presentation. It is also helpful to add a
transcript, for students who need additional support to follow the
Students should now have learnt more about the philosophy and ideas
in the play, so they can start exploring the play.
Watch a clip in class from YouTube or any film source available of the
opening of the play. As this is a play, it is meant to be watched, not read.
Watch the clip with the sound turned off. Link to watch the opening of
While watching the clip consider the following points:
+ How does the lack of sound add to your observations about setting,
time, and the characters? Pay particular attention to how the pair
behave towards each other; you’ll find a lot of clues in their body
+ Does the silence give you a better idea about pace in the play?
+ Who seems to be doing most of the talking, Vladimir or Gogo? What
does that add to your understanding of their relationship?
+ The setting. Describe the landscape.
+ The characters. Describe their dress and what it may tell you about
them. Observe the body language to describe the relationship between
Vladimir and Estragon (Gogo).
Discuss in class
Now watch the same clip with the sound switched on.
Consider the following points:
+ Describe Vladimir and Gogo’s perception of time and place?
Remember that Vladimir says that conversations will help to ‘pass the
+ What difference does it make to watch the clip without and with
Discuss in class. Afterwards there students should add comments in
their blog, including points about watching the clip with and without
sound. This is reflective writing as a follow-up from lecture and
Students prepare for lecture or seminar.
Read Act 1 Reflect on the following point:
+ The language in the play. ‘Nothing to be done’ is a key phrase in
the play, and it is repeated several times in this short clip. When
would you use that phrase? Why are Vladimir and Gogo using it so
often? How does it relate to their waiting for Godot? How does it
relate to what you know about Existentialism?
Add your notes to your blogpost about the opening of the play.
These are examples of how technology can be used in teaching
literature. What you use depends on time at your disposal, learning
objectives, students’ technological skills, what they can easily access
and technology available in the institution. Whatever you use, you must
be comfortable using it and justify its pedagogical benefit.