Where do you get your news? Do you buy a newspaper? Do you read magazines? TV? Are you on your iPad skimming the articles? Facebook (be honest)? Instagram? Buzzfeed? Twitter? How many of you turn to your textbooks when you want to learn about up-to-date-real-time advances in your field? Probably none of us. Yet we expect our students to do just that. With life happening right outside our classroom we want students to turn all that off for the next hour and fifteen minutes and learn about something that many of us refuse to link to what is currently going on. It sounds ridiculous when you see it explained that way, doesn’t it?
I love to update my class readings every semester because facts are stranger than fiction. Headlines rarely disappoint to increase readership so why not allow those into the classroom? My discipline is communication so analyzing the rhetoric that was used during the presidential campaign is a natural link but isn’t that true in English as well? What about a historical speech analysis that compares and contrasts past speeches with the Oscars acceptance speeches? That works for my communication classes but history too right? They are always ways of linking and when we are passionate about our field those things become more and more obvious. We do it all the time, even when we’re reviewing a film after just watching it. For instance when my husband and I watched Arrival he was nerding-out in terms of linguistic anthropology while I was sure it had been written by a communication scholar.
It’s not hard to envision how pop culture can be used in our classroom but how easy it is to have a new supplemental source that it is much more likely to enable students to see our academic concepts reflected in art and real life.
How many of us read journal articles regularly? If we do, how many of us can refer it to a friend? What if that friend isn’t an academic, can we expect them to read the article and afterwards have a heated discussion with us? Then why are we teaching our students that is the only way to go about learning and understanding? Bring in a Buzzfeed article as a supplemental reading that relates to your chapter and see how much more engaged your students are. Watch how students that have never raised their hand before are suddenly interrupting you to add comments.
Pop culture is not the enemy, it is the social commentary. When we separate ourselves from that, our lectures and course material become outdated and useless which makes us very dangerous to our students. I also like pop culture because it allows for a framework. Most of our students are immersed in what is going on via a pop culture lens so when you say, let’s talk about Katy Perry, they are immediately prepared with an opinion. You then use your course material, let’s say in psychology, and discuss how her recent comments about Britney Spears highlighted the stigmas that we place on mental health. Give them a way to understand what is happening in the world around them. Let your students learn from a variety of resources, allow them to have a diverse educational background so that they are better at listening, better learners, and more equipped to succeed.