It can be tough to engage a student when a course's curriculum is seen as dry or hard to understand. Increasingly, educators have found that using pop culture references in the classroom can be an effective way to connect with students, and promote learning with an already-familiar topic. Integrating media clips and pop culture topics into a lesson plan can be an effective way to engage students, and encourage deeper analysis and discussions in the classroom.

Is there a place for popular culture studies?

From Taylor Swift, to Mean Girls, to Harry Styles, cultural zeitgeists have frequently found themselves to be the stars of college electives. But while some students may think they're signing up for a "bird course" or an outlet for their fandom, they may not realize that these courses still require the same degree of academic effort one would exert for, say, Introduction to Psychology.

But, not everyone is headed to Stanford University to study Taylor Swift. And oftentimes, the courses in question are for upper year students that have taken all the relevant prerequisites. Why gatekeep such a learning environment? Colleges have pop culture classes and other interesting electives, and high schools would be prudent to take note to provide their students with similar learning opportunities.

Upgrading cultural studies

The Speak Up Research Project conducted a study on key educational issues in the digital age, and found that 50% of middle school and high school students admitted that they were not engaged in what they were learning at school. The onus is on educators to find a way to resonate with the rest of the classroom.

Providing media clips and other popular culture phenomena can provide "real-life" examples for students, who often wonder how a course's curriculum will serve them after graduation.

With technology at their fingertips, drawing from popular culture reference in the classroom has allowed educators to reflect on current societal trends, furthering students' understanding of contemporary society. Students are able to develop critical thinking skills and explore diverse perspectives with modern-day examples, all while following the curriculum at hand.

From film to popular music

Prior generations are all too familiar with a giant television being rolled into the classroom, as the teacher hits "Play" on the VCR to show the Leonardo DiCaprio version of "Romeo & Juliet." The television as a classroom babysitter is no longer the way forward. Media references in the classroom must continue to stay fresh and innovative, and must promote discussion to enhance students' learning.

A course about Taylor Swift may not entirely be a course about Taylor Swift. Instead, it can serve as a vehicle to pose questions to students about the world around them, forcing them to analyze what they're seeing, provide media literacy skills, and understand the greater narrative at large. How is the media shaping this narrative, and how are people responding to these messages?

For a generation glued to TikTok, there are greater lessons at play here. What might seem like a fun high school elective can often provide a deeper understanding and appreciation for the subject at hand. The lessons learned could inspire future college enrollments in the subject, or even a career.

These classes foster creativity and encourage students to express themselves through media that resonate with their generation. Taking a pop culture-focused approach on incorporating media clips into lesson plans takes into consideration what students are finding important in their day-to-day lives as they scroll through social media and consume digital media, and what they want to discuss. The results are sure to extend beyond the latest in celebrity gossip.