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Using Public Administration-related Popular Culture OER Content To Engage Learners

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Valerie L. Patterson
September 19, 2022

Why OER?

The William + Flora Hewlett Foundation website defines OER as teaching, learning and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others.

In a 2022 PA Times article, Lois Warner discussed the adoption of the Recommendation on Open Educational Resources (OER) by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Exposing students to the vast OER that are available, bolsters access, lowers the cost of higher education courses and enhances learning in the field.

How OER With Popular Culture Content Can Be Used

I have long argued that popular culture influences the public’s perception of the impact and effectiveness of government organizations. Popular culture engages and informs those who are consumed by and immersed in the culture.

In a 2007 Public Voices article, Beth Wielde and David Schultz suggest if popular culture defines generations, by both creating and reflecting trends, film as a medium of popular culture can be useful for educating the next generation of public administrators.

My incorporation of popular culture in my public administration courses, via the use of classic and contemporary films (also television series, fiction, art and music) began over twenty years ago. With cinema, articles have been published on both positive and negative portrayals of bureaucrats in popular films. Del Bharath, in a 2020 Teaching Public Administration article titled “Film in Public Administration Classrooms: Developing Responsible Administrators in the Information Age argues that films create engagement by connecting theory to practice; contribute to cultural competence and are useful for practicing/imagining/visioning ethical leadership and decision-making. My objective in using films is to provide an opportunity for students to use the portrayal as a case study that ultimately produces the identification of best practices and lessons-learned across multiple contexts in government organizations.

Film and Television Series

The use of film as a pedagogical tool in teaching public administration concepts and ideas cannot be underestimated.  Film review allows students to apply theory to the cinematic portrayal of government organizations as “practice”. Erin Borry in a 2018 Journal of Public Affairs Education article titled “Linking theory to television: Public administration in Parks and Recreation” asserts that film and other audiovisual materials, bolster learning as both right and left brained thinking are engaged. Beth Wielde and David Shultz in their 2007 Public Voices article, also argue that films communicate certain messages about government officials and that film portrayals become what they term a “pseudo-reality” to the general public. Deciding to use film as a pedagogical tool involves more than having students view a film or view excerpts. Also useful are popular television series located in government settings. Erin Borry identifies the use of the popular series Parks and Recreation as a fun and beneficial teaching tool. While this content is copyrighted, Erin Borry reminds readers that educators can use the content in limited ways. Learning objectives, outcomes and assessment must all be planned and implemented in the use of each medium.  

Over time, my strategy for incorporation of films and popular television series included the purchase of videotapes, video disk sets (Season 1 or 2 of a popular series), blue ray videos and use of my multiple streaming subscriptions to access content for my students. This can be awkward, illegal and impossible in the online environment. There have also been scenarios where students rented or purchased films to view for group assignments. In searching the internet for public administration syllabi where films review figured prominently, there were several courses where students were required to rent and or purchase movies.

A state-wide goal in Florida and in many parts of the country is to make course resources affordable. In the classroom setting, one goal must be to move from requiring students to “rent/purchase” to embedding film/video in course content. For example, in his assessment of the use of film in public administration classrooms, Del Bharath asserts that equity best practice of the use of film in the public administration classroom requires that “materials must be accessible to all students”.

In my research I learned that films and other media can be streamed via the following OER links—kanopy.com, hoopladigtal.com (promoted as your public library at your fingertips), youtube.com, oercommons.org and other sites.

With planning, the use of film and video content in public administration courses broadens and deepens the learning for both undergraduate and graduate students. The use of OER content increases accessibility and affordability for learners.

Other OER Content Worth Consideration


Museums are increasingly digitizing their collections.  Social distancing required by the Covid-19 pandemic created opportunities for innovation in accessing museum collections and exhibitions. This content can be connected to public administration courses and incorporated into course learning modules. One emerging example with over thirty galleries for permanent and special collections is the Virtual Museum of Public Service (https://vmps.omeka.net/home).  This virtual museum explores and presents digital representations and achievements of those who have answered the call to public service. VMPS digital content includes a Diversity and Leadership wing, a Foundations of Public Service wing, and a Special Exhibits wing.


Podcasts like the series produced by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), Voices in Local Government (https://icma.org/keyword-search/voices-local-government) and those produced by ASPA chapters including the ASPA South Florida Chapter, Public Sector Works! (http://aspasouthfl.org/podcast), can be accessed as OER for use in public administration classrooms.

While I’ve focused on OER use in the college classroom, college students aren’t the only beneficiaries of increased access. Ebba Ossiannilsson in a 2019 article in the International Journal of Open Educational Resources argues that OERs “are catalysts for lifelong learning and continuous professional development”.  The increasing attention and availability of Open Educational Resources reveals a new world for accessing films, television series, museum exhibits, podcasts and other forms of popular culture in public administration courses and beyond. I intend to bolster my advocacy of OER use.

Author: Valerie L. Patterson, Ph.D. is a Clinical Professor of Public Policy and Administration and Director, African and African Diaspora Studies at Florida International University in Miami, Florida. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @professorval

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