Netflix and (Up)Skill: Using Digital Literature in the Curriculum

Can engagement and satisfaction of re-sitting GCSE English be improved by replacing traditional literature with digital literature? Project led by Alexander Hellens.

About the project

Measuring the impact of the project

I can measure engagement through the production of student work (both written and online), attendance and progress made across the project with formative assessment. I can measure satisfaction through a series of evaluation surveys/questionairres before and after the project.


According to a recent article published in The Guardian (July 2021), the reach and exposure of the streaming platform Netflix has never been higher: ‘80% of people aged 18 to 34 in the UK are now either subscribers or have access through their families or shared passwords’. Consuming what I’ll call ‘digital literature’ (films, mini-series, documentaries) has also never been higher, no thanks to covid, but is also ushering in what I see as a new age of popular and high-quality storytelling: Netflix earned more Emmy nominations than American cable giant HBO in 2018, and more Academy Award nominations than any other film studio in 2020. Stories, and the way they are consumed, is shifting with the digital era, and I think that there is a creative way to embrace this change in terms of engaging learners with reading to enhance engagement and raise literary skills.

Here are some relevant statistics about reading in the UK:

  • By the final year of compulsory schooling in England, the reading skills of children from disadvantaged backgrounds are on average almost three years behind those from the most affluent homes.
  • Low levels of literacy cost the UK an estimated £81 billion a year in lost earning and increased welfare spending, impacting on ‘the success of the economy as a whole’.
  • Higher literary skills are associated with a range of positive societal benefits, including having a stronger sense of belonging to society.

My view is that, as an English teacher in FE, my role is to create and deliver an engaging and creative curriculum to try and affect the learners’. While the purist in me sees the indisputable value in traditional reading, I am also a realist and cannot divorce myself from the facts above. I am proposing that the teaching of English Language (which incorporates aspects of fiction and non-fiction) can be taught through the medium of Netflix. I believe that this has the potential to address key aspects of the college’s wider strategic plan,not only  in terms of the genuine intent behind the project to re-engage learners with reading, but also with how this can be implemented within curricula. Having taught in the FE sector for seven years, I can see the value in approaching the course in this way and feel that, along with my teaching experience, I can find new and creative ways to get learners reading effectively.


Before I begin the research, I will collect data from my learners (qualitative and quantitative) by means of questionnaires and starting points from the course up until this point in the year. I will also reach out to parents and guardians to ensure I am collecting ethical data; I will not include the data of learners who are unwilling to take part in the research.

Towards the end of the calendar year (week commencing 6th Decmeber) there is a formative assessment that assesses learners on the four key reading assessment objectives on the course. I plan to use this data as the starting points from which I can measure the impact of the project.

During the first term of the new calendar year I will deliver the planned curriculum using digital literature resources only available form Netflix’s streaming service. During this time I will continue to collect data from learners to capture engagement and satisfaction. By the mid-point on January I hope to have collected this data and have started to map these findings against the starting points and my original hypothesis.

By the end of the project in the middle of March, I will have completed a formative assessment that re-assesses learners on the same skills from the end of December. This will give me quantitive data in terms of distance travelled during the project, while further summative and evaluative questionnaires will allow me to see the impact that the project has had on learners’ satisfaction and engagement with the content.

If I find that the project has been successful to this point, I will continue to deliver my teaching in this way until the Easter break, and use the time to train my team and, if all goes well, provide opportunities for the wider college group to benefit from re-integrating learners with creative new ways of reading.

I should state that with the immense amount of digital content that exists not only Netflix but on all streaming platforms, I can see scope for this way of embedding innovative reading practices in all departments and faculties within the college group. I wish to prove that ‘reading’ can be done in a creative and forward-thinking new way that does not compromise or place any lesser value on other more ‘traditional’ forms of doing so.

What will the outcome be?

The outcome will be a plethora of resources that can be used both in-person and online, as well as a new strand/module that can be introduced to the curriculum plan going forward. This model could also be introduced into the wider college curriculum very easily, if successful.

Research findings

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