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Professor Lisa Jackson is always looking for unique ways to lead her MVC English classes. Recently, she may have come up with her best idea yet. 

Jackson created a "pop culture" syllabus that has students focusing on science fiction, ethics and identity in three popular fantasy mediums: zombies and vampires, science fiction, and anime. This leads to discussion, and composition pieces that evolve into argumentative, database and research-supported essays. 

Not only has it turned students on to movies, television shows and books that were released "when most of the students were too young," Jackson said, but it's also generated favorable responses in the classes by providing outside-the-box research and discussion topics. 

So outstanding was Jackson's "pop culture" syllabus, it was accepted and will be presented by the upcoming Pop Culture Association National Conference. 

"Since our dual credit students are inevitably influenced by popular culture, I thought that it would be reasonable to use that as a vehicle to foster student engagement and increase success in those areas," Jackson said. "Initially, I think that the students were caught off guard that they would spend so much time in a college class watching popular movies. They didn't know what to say when I asked the seemingly simple question of 'What did you think?' after we viewed a film."

Discussion begins with the reading of an academic article, and analyzing the argument and referencing the points made throughout the course of the unit. The class then watches and analyzes a popular movie, always tying back to the original topic and to the core objectives. At the end of the unit, students write an essay. 

It may take a while, Jackson said, but eventually, she gets buy-in from the students. 

"Most of the students are now so sufficiently invested in the course material that they are willing to work to articulate their thoughts on complex issues," she said. "They are devising claims like 'If vampires are real, rather than living in secret, they should come out to the public because technology makes it too difficult to live secretly,' and 'society is more open-minded now than in ages past, and both [humans and vampires] can help each other.'"

Per the Popular Culture Association website, "the PCA was founded by scholars who believed the American Studies Association was too committed to the then existing canon of literary writers such as Melville, Hawthorne, and Whitman," and that "they believed that the ASA had lost its holistic approach to cultural studies; there was little room, as they saw it, for the study of material culture, popular music, movies, and comics."

That group will now have research from Jackson's own creation.

"To have my proposal accepted by a group of scholars validates the time and effort that I put into my craft, and I definitely believe that teaching is a craft that requires not only skill but also creativity and passion," Jackson said. 

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