Edutainment in the classroom: What students are saying about college media

This is the third post in a series on Learning Through Edutainment.



It is no secret that students don’t like school. Who wants to sit in a classroom all day and either hear lectures about boring topics or complete difficult assignments? While some students excel in this type of environment, many other students struggle to keep up. It’s hard to retain information when the method of presentation isn’t engaging and fun.


But what if learning could be made more fun? What if the curriculum could be developed in a way where learning and fun are presented simultaneously? In the previous blog post in this series, I talked about how people retain more information through engaging information outlets such as media. In this post, I want to talk about how to use the concept of edutainment, or educational entertainment, to teach concepts in a way that maximizes learning. Being that this is a college interest blog, the focus will be on using edutainment as a college preparation tool.


Edutainment is defined as entertainment that is intentionally designed to be educational. It’s a simplistic definition, but there is a lot to unpack there. Not all entertainment is educational, and not all education is entertaining. An edutainment program requires careful development to ensure that the ratio of education and entertainment is not only balanced, but blends well together to meet learning outcomes.


In this post, we will share some quotes from high school students about what they think of the college media around them. In a 2019 study, a group of six high school students were shown several forms of college-themed media. Specifically, they were shown the movie Rudy, episodes of the television series A Different World and Gilmore Girls, and the mystery novel Halls of Ivy. The idea of this study was to interview the students before, during, and after watching and reading these forms of college media to find out what they think of them as illustrations of real colleges.



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You may notice that the works chosen were not “traditional” college media. These works were intentionally chosen to minimize stereotypical college depictions such as partying, drinking, and Greek Life. The idea was to see how nontraditional stories of college students just being college students impacted the high school students who learned about them.


So what did they learn?

The study with these high school students revealed a number of interesting themes about both college life and media consumption. The following quotes came from the high school students in the study. The names of the students were changed in this report to self-selected nicknames to protect their privacy.


‘I don’t watch live TV’


Three of the six students mentioned that they rarely watched live television, opting instead for streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu. When asked about the amount of TV she watched, Vanessa told me that she watched it on her own time. ‘I don’t watch live TV. I just don’t have time. I watch a lot of Netflix. I, uhh, like to watch musicals and comedies and stuff like that.’


Chicksgirl and Paige also described the use of streaming services to watch TV shows and movies, explaining that they generally are not home enough to watch a TV show consistently when it airs live. Lane, Sally May, and Jett did not describe their source where they get their media. However, their media consumption was generally considered lower than the others.


‘I don’t have time’



Five of the six participants focused on how busy they were and how it limited their time in watching movies or TV shows. Sally May summarized it best: ‘I probably only watch two hours of anything a week. I don’t have time to do anything else, cause I have honors homework to do, I always have drumline to do, or I have work.’


This sentiment was repeated by the other participants, although for different reasons. Paige, Sally May, and Lane all found themselves busy because of work. Paige, Sally May, and Vanessa also focused a lot on studies and schoolwork which kept them busy. Chicksgirl, while busy as well, tended to focus more on her social responsibilities.


I am so busy I don’t have time. And it kinda gets boring watching movies by yourself. So it’s just kinda like ‘oh cool a movie’. Unless, I’m more of a social person, like, so I like to spend a lot of time going to the movie and stuff even though the movie is really expensive. But, so, I mean, yeah.

Busy meant different things to different people, but the commonality that I found here is that high school students find themselves to be very short on time. To me, this was a surprise, as there is generally more of an expectation that high school students have plenty of free time. Only Jett, the homeschooled student, seemed to have plenty of time to engage in his interests.


‘College is gonna be tough’


The next theme that was apparent across all participants is the belief that college will be very difficult. Chicksgirl summarized best the feelings of the four participants regarding what college will be like:


I think that once I get to college, I won’t be as nervous as I am now, because I’ll be more prepared for it. And so, I think I’ll just… I won’t be… as wound up about it, like ‘oh my gosh, there are gonna be so many new people there’ and I have no idea who they are or anything. And so, I think that, I know college is gonna be tough so… [laughs]


I found it interesting that all the students shared this sentiment, because a large number of college movies are known for downplaying the role of academics in college life, instead focusing on the “more fun” and “easier” aspects of college life. Perhaps this has to do with the movie-watching experience of these students. When asked about the college movies they have watched, not a single participant mentioned famous college movies such as Animal House or TV shows such as Greek. The shows, books, and movies they engaged with in the study were also more academically-oriented, all showing the struggles that the protagonist faced in regards to schoolwork. It is important to note, however, that these college expectations were shared before showing them any of the college media, so they had these beliefs coming into the first interview.


The participants were concerned about classes and keeping their grades up. Vanessa best summarized a struggle that most students shared with me during their interviews. ‘[It will be difficult] trying to keep my grades up, mostly in math. But, math and history are not my strong-suits. Grades will probably be a big problem.’


‘Knowing more makes things less stressful in general’


The above quote was said by Jett when asked about the educational aspects of media. He said that learning about the fictional characters in the media I provided him addressed some concerns he had about college, like learning about what an RA was and being able to ask them for help.


Participant opinions tended to agree with Jett’s regarding the educational value of college-themed media. Lane’s answers were short and simple, but they also summarized this best: ‘[College movies] probably teach you how to prepare for college. Like what’s gonna happen and what you can probably go into, stuff like that.’


Similar to Jett, Lane believed that the lessons taught in college media were helpful for understanding college better. When asked to explain what college movies have taught her, if anything, Paige said not to ‘let other people influence you, unless it’s like a good, positive influence, because negative people and negative energy is not good and it will just drag you down, and you’ll have to work a lot more and harder to get where you want to be.’


Sally May had a different opinion. She believed that the shows, movie, and book I showed her had very little educational value and that she did not learn anything about college she did not already know. I asked her if she believed that college movies and shows could potentially be used to teach people about college. She said that it is possible, but not the way that it was done in the shows and movie she watched.


‘You want to make friends’


Lastly, the importance of friendship was a recurring theme among four of the six participants. Paige, Chicksgirl, Vanessa, and Jett all talked about the importance of having friends in college. Vanessa said that ‘you want to make friends because you don’t want to be like the “lone Latinas”.’ The ‘lone Latinas’ were two characters in the Halls of Ivy book who were secluded from the rest of the campus. They were shy and unwilling to branch out and make friends with others. Vanessa explained her fear of being labeled as a loner and that having friends was important. However, she also said that one should have friends but to ‘also try to keep some time for yourself,’ understanding the balance between socialization and personal space. Chicksgirl also believed that college was a great place for social engagement. Like Vanessa, Chicksgirl valued her friendships. The difference between Chicksgirl and Vanessa was that Chicksgirl put higher value to friends than schoolwork or other things. Her answers would generally revolve around her friends and her interactions with them.


Media is a Powerful Teacher


Taken together, the experiences of these students taught us two important lessons about edutainment through media:


1. Media often reinforces beliefs that students already have about college. Although the students all experienced the same works of fiction about college, they took away different messages based on their own experiences, beliefs, and expectations. The accepted the stories that confirmed their opinions and were more hesitant to take in lessons that conflicted with their own worldview.


2. Their ability to learn through edutainment is directly related to how engaged they are with the media they are consuming. The students who enjoyed what they were watching or reading were more open to absorbing the takeaways. Those who didn’t much care for the story or the characters treated it as just another educational lesson that they could choose to ignore.


These are important takeaways when trying to use edutainment in the classroom. There is plenty of opportunity to incorporate edutainment programs like the one done in the pilot study, for any topic. The key is to understand the interest of your students and provide them content that is fun and engaging, and allows for discussion afterwards to let the students reflect on what they saw, heard, or read.


While this study merely collected opinions from the students on college media, a follow-up study actually tested what they learned from college media using a pre-test and post-test. Check out How a group of students became college-ready by reading a mystery novel coming up in a later blog post in this Edutainment series.


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