Pop Culture Pedagogy

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Popular culture has been, largely, a consumer culture – a fixed divide for the most part between performer/creator and artist.  With the plethora of free tools that exist and their ease of accessibility and use, the playing field has been leveled…we no longer have that fixed divide and everyone can be both a producer and a consumer.

Engaging with popular culture in a transmedia environment means that people are increasingly able to be creative in ways they never could before. This doesn’t mean that the consumer culture is disappearing. But the ‘creative’ and ‘mash-up’ culture is growing alongside it at least, supplementing it, and in some cases, taking over.  It would be wrong to assume that any new opportunities in culture afforded by transmedia can displace after school enrichment – but it will certainly add dimension to what students can do to construct their own learning, outside school and beyond the school walls.  The best transmedia experiences are not be restricted to merely digital opportunities – they take in the whole mental, physical and emotional world of the child and young person.  Take for example, PBS KIDS’ hit show Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.  This TV series, inspired by Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, invites young viewers into his world, giving them a kids-eye view of his life.  As kids and their families closely follow and share Daniels' everyday adventures, they learn skills necessary for growing and learning.   In his the new app, Daniel Tiger’s Day & Night, Daniel helps kids learn basic morning and nighttime routines as he gets ready for school in the morning and ready for bed at night.  Daniel Tiger's world allows for learning anywhere through out the day and night and enriches the screen-based activities with many other kinds of activites including real-world physical, collaborative and emotional.  

Teaching both in school and at home can be done *through* popular culture. We can create and contribute to popular culture in ways that support different kinds of learning. This includes making, critiquing, and otherwise participating in the active creation of popular culture media.  Through recognition of the broad affordances of transmedia – they enable the full range of activity-types to happen, from simple consumption of content, to complex construction of knowledge across multiple media and multiple platforms.  Teachers should enable their students to explore whole worlds of learning – in their heads, through their hands, on screens, in material to be shaped, in collaboration with others (their immediate peers, or anyone around the world), by taking existing content and mashing it, by producing their own new content (alone and/or with others).  This is wherein the value lies, not within 'contained’ products or properties or within the confines of a pre-constructed environment. It is extremely important for teachers to completely validate pop culture, and to allow learners to enmesh themselves in every aspect of it that appeals to them – putting aside even their own biases. 

Our relationship to media is already more complex than it has even been before, and it is becoming ever more complex by the day.  Social media, for example, is changing the face of so many aspects of pop culture.  Arguments surround us as to whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, but most of all it is a fact of life now in the 21st century, and any attempt to pretend it can be ignore or wished away is to make a serious mistake.  Teachers need to accept that change is happening, and that it is therefore completely incumbent upon them as professional educators, at the very least, to familiarize themselves with key aspects of new media and the changes that are being wrought – to do otherwise is to render them irrelevant across so many aspects of life that are important to young people.  The most innovative popular culture pedagogy of tomorrow will be one in which everyone – teacher and learner alike – recognizes that we are all learners now, and that we must learn to learn together. The best teachers keep themselves relevant to their school communities by also being the best learners.