This past spring I launched a new effort, ShakespeareAnswers.com. My honest hope for this Q&A style site is to corner the market on *correct* and *useful* answers to legitimate Shakespeare questions. I’d been hanging out on Yahoo! Answers, Mahalo, WikiAnswers and others, and quite frankly the quality of both the questions and answers was often so poor (and at times downright incorrect) it made me sad.
My first big mistake was launching it in June, right at the end of the school year. It peaked for a week or two, and then promptly fell off the face of the earth as everybody took off for summer and stopped asking Shakespeare questions. Well, it’s fall now, school’s back, and I’d like to breathe some life into the project.
Here’s the thing, though. Every time I bring it up, people think that it is a “Do your homework for you so you don’t have to” site. I try to explain to the nay-sayers that “Oh no, dear friends, you misunderstand – any kid who comes by looking for a short and sweet answer to his question is far more likely to get a lengthier earful than if he’d just listened to his teacher in the first place.” I was even accused of insulting teachers at one point by apparently suggesting that I was having to clean up their messes because they’re not good at their jobs.
Still, I can deal with that. Yesterday, though, I got into a conversation with a teacher who brought up something I hadn’t considered – lazy student plagiarize. They cut and they paste. So here I am thinking that my essay-length answers to their questions (rather than providing overly simplified answers like, “Yes, Mercutio is the Prince’s relative”) is a good service, but what’s going to happen is that kids will come by and simply copy and paste our answers into their homework. That’s not cool.
I can think of a few ways around that, by mucking with the ability to cut and paste text from the site. But that’s on me, as the technical guy behind it. I’ll work on that.
This gets me to my subject line, though. I want to build a resource that English teachers don’t roll their eyes at. On the contrary I want to build something that they’d actually recommend, if a student has questions that they can’t (or don’t have the time/energy/resources to) answer. So, I’m asking. If you are a teacher of Shakespeare (even if you only do one unit amid a variety of other subjects), please take a moment to browse through ShakespeareAnswers and give me your honest opinion. If you knew your students were going to hit the google and end up there, what would you like to see that might make you think “Oh, ok, that’s not just another one of those do-your-homework-for-you sites?” I’ll do my best to oblige.
My mission isn’t to help kids pass tests. My mission is to always present Shakespeare in a way that makes it entertaining and accessible, in the hopes that even the lazy ones who come by looking to cut and paste some homework leave with a better understanding of what it’s all about. And, who knows, maybe even a little appreciation.