Netflix: When words are not enough

Netflix“What are the top three things you love about technology?” is a question I’ve posed to hundreds of pre-service teachers I’ve taught as part of an icebreaker for the overview to ed tech class.  

“Netflix” has made the list of almost every one of them.  92% of college students have access to a Netflix account according to a 2017 Business Insider survey.

“Why isn’t your (homework, chores, #younameit) done?” is a question I’ve posed many times to my kids over the years.  

“Netflix” seems to be the most common distraction culprit.  I’m sure the words I originally used in my head for Netflix are not fit for print.  In a 2018 survey, teens spend 38% of their screen time on Netflix–more than anything else.

I’m not sure when I made the jump from thinking Netflix as something akin to street drugs to thinking of Netflix as a powerful teaching tool, but I did.  Here are a few reasons why:

    • One High Leverage Practice (HLP) research identifies as a fundamental k-12 teaching strategy is explaining and modeling content, practices, and strategies–also critical for higher education.  Consider picture books for young children learning to read.  How do we explain and model content for students with no frame of reference to interpret and assimilate new knowledge?  For example, Hidden Figures is a great platform for discussion about many ideas, ranging from historical and political ramifications of the space race to educational equality and access for women overall and women of color specifically. 
    • This Visual Frankenstein video one of my ed tech students created speaks directly to the importance of visualization for students for learning and engagement.  
    • Brave-Girl-Rising-800x0Understanding others’ perspectives is part of the the 21st Century Skill set needed for successfully working in our global economy, an integral part of teaching empathy, and essential in many professions such teaching, policing, nursing, and more.  Movies have long been a mechanism to help us enter the emotional life of others.

Sharing settingsMovies and Netflix create connections between students and allows them to invite others to come along on their learning journey.  Movies are social events, even viewed through Netflix on their mobile device. Students aren’t just passively watching Netflix–They’re discussing them in person, sharing them on social media, editing them for their favorite parts, making their own short snippets imitating them, and more.   

Netflix is also available in VR environments, where you can watch movies on the big screen with your friends while in you your own physical house!  If you’re interested in the possibilities of VR and other technology advancements, you might enjoy watching movies such as Ready Player One, Avatar, and the classic, the Matrix.

TRY IT!  The holiday weekend coming up is a great opportunity to test this strategy out.  A simple implementation is to ask students to share a link to a movie or show they watch over the long weekend in a discussion board, describing how some part of it relates to one of your learning outcomes or upcoming assignments.  Then have them reply to the post they feel is the most interesting connection from their peers.  Or, assign them all the same movie to watch where you know multiple content connections exist, and ask them to share how they would connect it!  Have movies to recommend?  Reply in the comments section with your top pics!

Additional resources:

Berk, R. A. (2010). How do you leverage the latest technologies, including Web 2.0 tools, in your classroom? International Journal of Technology in Teaching and Learning, 6(1), 1-13

Edutopia, multiple resources with teaching ideas, movie lists, tools for helping students make their own movies, research about using movies to teach and more

Journeys in Film, a website with numerous websites about teaching with film for educators from the USC Rossier Center Edge.  

Sample assignment I use with pre-service teachers creating their own short digital story to help others visualize their ideas.


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