Getting Creative with the Bard and Technology – Jarlath McGill, Northern Ireland

Bringing Shakespeare to life is something of a passion for Jarlath McGill. Whether he’s using technology to illuminate the mysteries of Macbeth, or directing a children’s version of Hamlet for the BBC Shakespeare Festival, McGill is an expert at connecting his students to the classics.

As a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert teaching at a Microsoft Showcase School, McGill has witnessed a great deal of change in his 17+ years as an educator. He blogs about his perspective on these changes, and is particularly excited about the ways in which technology can support creativity.

“The use of 1-to-1 computing allows the children so many opportunities for interesting and creative lessons,” McGill says. “Learning has become so much quicker and the amount of depth I can go into allows the children to actually learn more.”

McGill uses Microsoft Movie Maker and other tools to allow students to stage scenes of Shakespeare’s plays, and then record a radio/television presentation. At the end of the unit, students create a PowerPoint to summarize main points of the play. Here’s McGill’s presentation on the unit itself, and one student’s very creative interpretation of the assignment.

Enjoy today’s Shakespearean Daily Edventure with Jarlath McGill.

What inspired you to become an educator?

I always loved learning but didn’t particularly like the way I was taught by a lot of teachers. I felt I could try and inspire children to achieve more and bring my enthusiasm into the classroom. I used to work in a bank but found that it really didn’t suit my personality or talents. I also felt that I was not doing anything that I could be proud of. So I left and went to complete my Post-Graduate Certificate in Education.

What was a defining moment in your career when you felt proudest to be an educator?

My proudest moment so far was when I directed a performance of Hamlet for the BBC Shakespeare Festival. This 30-minute version featured children with very little confidence, so the sense of achievement when they performed to a sell-out theatre of 700 was amazing. I felt that day that I had actually made a difference and helped. I still sometimes see those students and the first thing they mention is the performance. This has shown me that educators have the ability to influence someone’s entire life.

Why do you feel passionate about innovation and technology in the classroom?

I love the idea that technology can help with creativity and allow children with differing talents to achieve their potential. For example, children with handwriting difficulties can produce work that looks marvelous and be proud of how it is presented. I recently used PowerPoint to allow the children to create a movie trailer for their own fictitious movie. The results wildly exceeded my expectations and opened my eyes to the potential of the pupils.

Whether it’s a day-to-day challenge or larger problem, what’s the biggest obstacle you or your country or region has had to overcome, or will have to overcome, to ensure a quality education for students?

The transition from older style traditional classrooms to the future classrooms we envisage will be the biggest difficulty. The training of teachers is essential in this, as is a joined-up approach from education authorities. If the teachers don’t actually use the available tech then we are just wasting the money and the opportunity. Meaningful time for teacher training is essential for this, rather than the “add-on” approach we currently have. Parents should be informed at every stage so that they cease to see a full exercise book as a mark of achievement.  

In terms of education innovation, what are you most excited about for the future? What is your biggest hope for today’s students?

I think we are really just at the beginning of this exciting new road. I believe that we will soon see changes in the physical environment of schools and move away from desks/chairs in traditional classroom settings. I hope that the use of technology will allow every student to find their true interests and talents and find a job for life that they actually love doing and that brings out the best in them. As Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

About Jarlath McGill, English Teacher, Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert

St. Mary’s College

Derry, Northern Ireland

@jarlatheducator

  • Birthplace: Coleraine, Northern Ireland
  • Educational background: B.A. Hons English Literature, University of Ulster, Coleraine; P.G.C.E. English teaching with Drama, Liverpool Hope University College
  • Website I check every day: bbc.co.uk
  • Favorite childhood memory: Ricky Villa scoring in the 1981 F.A. Cup Final for Spurs
  • Favorite book: American Tabloid by James Ellroy
  • Favorite Microsoft product, tool, technology: I adore using PowerPoint. It is so versatile.
  • What is the best advice you have ever received? Never underestimate anyone. 
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