Using Popular Culture to Engage Students in Your Discipline:  

A Conversation with Dr. Joseph Foy

In the spring, I attended a workshop at UW-Stout on how teachers are portrayed in film. Mary Dalton, the workshop leader and author of The Hollywood Curriculum: Teachers in the Movies, challenged attendees to think about how we could use these representations to talk about teaching and learning with our students, who are so familiar with these stories.  This use of popular culture as a way to nudge our students toward thinking more deeply and critically about their college experience reminded me immediately of the work a handful of our colleagues (Greg Ahrenhoerster, Timothy Dunn, Dick Flannery, Dean Kowalski, Craig Hurst, Margaret Hankenson, and Nathan Zook) have been doing in a series of books edited or co-edited by Dr. Joseph Foy, then associate professor of political science at UW-Waukesha and now assistant professor at UW-Parkside.  

The authors in Homer Simpson Goes to Washington: American Politics through Popular Culture (University Press of Kentucky, 2008), Homer Simpson Marches on Washington: Dissent through American Popular Culture (University Press of Kentucky, 2010), and SpongeBob SquarePants and Philosophy: Soaking-Up Knowledge Under the Sea (Open Court, 2011) demonstrate the academic relevance and even significance of using pop culture across the curriculum.  I wanted to hear more, so I sat down for a conversation with Joe. --Nancy Chick, 2011 VTLC Director

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For Further Study, Reflection, and/or Discussion
  • In addition to the chapters in Joe's books (Make sure to browse the tables of contents by clicking "Look Inside" at each link above.), the following resources will be useful for exploring how you can connect popular culture to your content:

Reflect, Respond, or Interact

Ask students--even if in the minutes before class starts--what movies they've seen lately, what TV shows they watch, what music they like. Explore their common answers sometime soon, search online for quick descriptions, or ask colleagues and friends for information.
How are they useful illustrations or analogies for course concepts or disciplinary representations?

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