Pop Culture English Literature Classes Turn Fantasy Into Reality

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Instead of sticking to Shakespeare, Chaucer, or Bradstreet, students can opt for courses that cover folklore, magical creatures, TV shows, and other pop culture phenomena to meet the demands of the General Education. Credit: Kathleen Jones | Journalist Lantern

Professors in the Ohio State Department of English have found ways to incorporate conversations about Jon Snow and Dracula into their curricula.

Students have the opportunity to take popular culture classes to spice up and meet the demands of general education. Instead of sticking to Shakespeare, Chaucer, or Bradstreet, students can opt for classes that cover folklore, magical creatures, TV shows, and other pop culture phenomena.

“It’s living literature,” said Karen Winstead, professor in the English department. “It’s literature that people read because they want to read it, not because someone told them they had to read it.”

Winstead teaches English 3364, “Special Topics in Popular Culture Vampires, ”a class she concludes with a variety of unique endwork assignments.

One of the homework asks students to imagine themselves from the perspective of five characters they discovered throughout the semester, and then write an article about what they would discuss among themselves at a vampire convention.

“This kind of prompt asks students to tell a story and use their imaginations, but it’s basically the same kind, it requires the same skills as a more conventional writing prompt,” Winstead said. “Compare and contrast the XYZ themes in five of the vampire texts we’ve read so far. It’s the same, but in a different package.

Elizabeth Renker, a professor in the English department, said she uses the close reading method in her 2261 English class, “Introduction to Fiction “Game of Thrones’ as Literature”, which teaches students to analyze media in depth for literary techniques.

Renker asks students to watch the entire show before starting the class. After that, they review one episode per class and have in-depth, guided discussions about the literary language used on the show.

“This is not a course on memorizing things to repeat them on an exam, it is a course on thinking,” Renker said. “They can’t learn these methods unless they apply them themselves. ”

Renker said the importance of his course, which most of his students use to meet a general education requirement, lies in its use of popular culture as a teaching tool.

“A lot of these students won’t take another literature class,” Renker said. “So for me as a teacher this course is important, among other reasons, because it teaches students using something they like. “

Rachel Stewart, an English graduate student, said the vampire class Winstead taught changed her view of popular culture. She took the course in her second year of undergraduate studies, just after graduating from the English major.

“It really opened my mind to the possibilities of what I could actually do in my degree and then, you know, how many years later I’m here as a graduate student, focus on vampires in popular culture and historical popular culture as my career path for the rest of my life, ”said Stewart.

English 1110, a first year English composition course, offers different sections with different themes. Stewart teaches his section with a vampire theme, something that was heavily influenced by his past enrollment during Winstead.

“That’s the thing that showed me, like ‘Oh, your passion can actually be something that you can teach others and continue to explore,” said Stewart.

Teaching popular culture is a useful way to incorporate things that people value into their education, Stewart said.

“I think a lot of people don’t realize that you can study a TV show in an English class and things like that, that English encompasses the way you look at the media, rather than the type of media that you look, “said Stewart.


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