The free, eight-week MOOC, titled "Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC's The Walking Dead," will be offered on Instructure's MOOC platform, Canvas Network, and will be taught by a multidisciplinary team of UC Irvine faculty: Zuzana Bic, public health; Joanne Christopherson, social sciences; Michael Dennin, physics; and Sarah Eichhorn, mathematics. They were handpicked based on experience in teaching MOOCs, history of using pop culture in the classroom, and strong curricular alignment with case studies from the TV series.
"Fans of the show know that The Walking Dead is about more than zombies; it's about survival, leadership and adapting to situations that are perilous and uncertain," said Theresa Beyer, vice president of promotions and activation at AMC. "AMC is excited to be the first entertainment group to make the foray into the online education arena through this unique partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and Instructure. There is clearly a growing appetite for engagement with The Walking Dead, and we hope this online course will drive a deep, sustained connection with the show during its upcoming fourth season and offer a legitimate educational experience that can be applied even more broadly."
Enrollment in the course is currently available to anyone in the world via www.canvas.net/TWD. The first class is scheduled for Monday, October 14, the day after the Season 4 premiere of AMC's The Walking Dead. The course will run for eight consecutive Mondays through December 2. Because the series will air at different times around the world, Canvas Network will put in place provisions to help international participants avoid spoilers.
While using pop culture references in the classroom is nothing new, this MOOC represents a unique level of experimentation in teaching and learning by formally infusing an academic syllabus with contemporary media. It's also the first time a technology firm, entertainment company and major university have collaborated in this way.
UC Irvine, which is ranked first among U.S. universities under 50 years old by the London-based Times Higher Education, has been a leader in the MOOC movement and a pioneer in open education for more than a decade. This partnership reflects UC Irvine's next step in utilizing popular culture and flexible technology to improve outcomes in the open, online learning environment.
"As an educator, I'm always looking for ways to make scholarly ideas come alive for my students," said Bic, who regularly employs pop culture analogies in her teaching on public health issues. "The Walking Dead provides many poignant case studies related to the scholarly areas covered in the course, and it helps that it's one of TV's most popular shows. There will be something for everyone in this course, which will explore concepts as varied as post-disaster nutrition, the foundations of human survival and stereotypes in a Darwinian environment."
In addition to including content from the TV series, the online course will allow professors to digitally insert guest lecturers to add depth and variety to the curriculum. A recent study by Instructure and the enterprise survey company Qualtrics revealed that students are most likely to complete MOOCs if they have a uniquely engaging academic experience.
"The education industry continues to experiment with MOOCs and is yielding insights into how to economically educate on a global scale," said Instructure CEO Josh Coates. "The Walking Dead MOOC by UC Irvine will explore new ways to teach serious multidisciplinary academic curriculum in a popular social context that is engaging."