I integrated unconventional media in my course, and students loved it

Close up view of hands playing an electric guitar

Can Madonna and superheroes make you a better teacher? It’s not easy to compete with the incessant update of a student’s social media feed. I’ve realized that the only way to really keep a student focused on the lesson is to become more entertaining than the distraction of the latest media post.

Think about the time you spend listening to your favorite song. Mine happens to be Lucky Star by Madonna. I love everything about that song’s starlight twinkle of the chimes, the funky baseline, the ominous growl of the electric guitar, and Madonna’s tough yet vulnerable vocals. I know every lyric, and sing along badly.

But wait a minute, how is it that I know every lyric and beat of a song that I didn’t even write? When you enjoy something, you pay attention. You listen to it closely and repeatedly in your mind.

I’ve had the challenge of teaching personality types to a diverse group of students in the entertainment field. Although most people find the psychology of personalities at least mildly entertaining, no one grins at the thought of a teacher preaching from a boring slide presentation for hours. I knew I had to try something different, innovative, and maybe even shocking. Madonna.

Can you imagine the look on my students’ faces when I announced that we would be learning about personalities by studying the lyrics to a song? They were immediately my captive audience, and no Kardashian scandal could draw them away from me!

We analyze the lyrics to Madonna’s Live to Tell, a mysterious song about a character who lives with constant regret for hiding a crime. My students must read between the lines to discover the secret of the story. I ask, “What personality type would speak this way?” “What is the motivating force for the character?” “How many characters are in the story?”

I soon realized that entertainment could unlock a level of learning that far surpassed any slide presentation, textbook, or lecture I could preach. But there was something else. I enjoyed teaching this way even more! I began to think of other ways to teach my project and team management course using “edutainment.” Naturally, I turned to another love of mine, superheroes!

Although you might think of cartoons as a great Saturday morning babysitter, they have actually been used as an educational tool for decades. In the 1980’s, Rankin/Bass hired a psychologist to review scripts for the ThunderCats cartoon and insert social lessons to be reinforced by local schoolteachers.

This sparked an idea for me. Why not create my own cartoon with superheroes that would act out the lessons I teach? I pitched the idea to our design team and left the meeting with the project approved and a deadline for the first script!

In the same way that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, a hero’s super powers help us face our fears. My students watch our show, The League of Defenders, on their mission to save the world from a meteor impact. The heroes must form a team, brainstorm solutions, plan the best option, and resolve internal conflicts or the Earth will face certain doom! It sets the tone for a friendly conversation about the serious topics students will face in the real world.

I soon realized that I was actually using our online platform like a television station. That meant that I could add more episodes, so I started filming an interview series with recent graduates. In these episodes, graduates encourage the next class and give advice for entering the industry. There is nothing like having your course content validated by a recent graduate.

So how do I know for sure that Madonna and superheroes have made me a better teacher? Every now and then, I receive a message from a graduate reading something like, “I just watched the new Marvel superhero movie.” In that moment I know that our lessons have stayed with the student. My favorite message from a graduate read, “I heard that Madonna song on the radio today and thought of you.” That message tells me that more than any of my assignments or lectures, the student remembered me. Nothing will ever outweigh the educational power of friendship.

You don’t need a design team to bring “edutainment” to your classroom. You can create your own cartoon with websites like Goanimate.com. Think about how you can bring your own “lucky star” personality and interest to the subject you teach.


Nicholas was one of our featured presenters at Cite 2016. His presentation, Innovative Learning in a Digital World, explored ways to inspire learners and incorporating media was one of the topics he covered. Recorded sessions from Cite’s virtual track can be viewed until July 2016. Watch this one and more than 30 others.


About the Author
Nicholas Carver

Nicholas Carver

Nicholas Carver teaches the Project and Team Management course in the Entertainment Business Masters program at Full Sail University. Students in his course learn to produce various entertainment projects and the emotional development of teams. His students have the opportunity to partner with a local comic mega-shop and produce their own show in a theatre-style venue. Students gain practical knowledge while creating fashion shows, concerts, game tournaments, and original plays. The experience leads to networking with major entertainment companies, like Nickelodeon and Hasbro, and even the creation of their own intellectual properties. Many of his students have actually created their own jobs in entertainment as a result of their successful projects.