The CITE, a blog published by the National Association of College Stores, takes a look at the intersection of education and technology, highlighting issues that range from course materials to learning delivery to the student experience. Comments, discussion, feedback, and ideas are welcome.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

With TV Ties, It's Do or Die for MOOC

Zombies have lurched their way into all facets of pop culture and now it’s apparently time for them to take a bite out of higher education. The University of California, Irvine, is collaborating with the AMC television network and the Instructure technology company to offer a massive open online course (MOOC) based on AMC’s rabidly popular show The Walking Dead.

The eight-week multidisciplinary class—which just happens to start the day after the show’s fourth-season debut on Oct. 13—will be taught by four UC Irvine faculty members specializing in public health, social sciences, physics, and mathematics.

At first glance, the course may seem like the MOOC equivalent of underwater basket-weaving, but the brains behind it are dead serious about the goals of the course. In the average MOOC, registrants drop faster than zombie plague victims. By weaving a TV show into the class content, UC Irvine thinks participants are more likely to survive to the end of the course.

“As an educator, I’m always looking for ways to make scholarly ideas come alive for my students,” said Zuzana Bic, one of the instructors.

Working through Instructure’s Canvas online learning platform, Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC’s The Walking Dead will mix video lectures, expert interviews, academic resources and articles, and group discussions with clips from the TV show and exclusive interviews with cast members. There will be occasional quizzes but no final exam.

The course will explore public health issues and the spread of infectious diseases; analyze social roles and human behavior, particularly within the context of a disaster; examine the mathematics of population dynamics and energy consumption; and, according to the course description, resolve the nagging question, “Nutrition in a post-apocalyptic world—are squirrels really good for you?”

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