Posted on October 2, 2013 in Archive

Zombified online course gives university learning a pop culture twist


Cable TV network AMC has teamed up with the University of California at Irvine and the technology company Instructure, to create an online course based on the popular zombie show The Walking Dead.

The course is called “Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’”, and is expected to draw in large numbers, just like the show. Exciting as that sounds, don’t just expect it to show you how to remove a zombie’s dangerous limbs (namely the jaw and arms) in order to transform it into a pack mule, like the katana-wielding Michonne character did.

Neither will the course simply be a vehicle for the show, like that scene from the Simpsons where Troy McClure teaches thousands of children nationwide from a TV, and awards partial credit for answering math questions with “Pepsi?” (the future sponsor of Pepsi Presents Addition and Subtraction).

Instead, the course will use clips and content from the show to teach – well yes, apparently a portion of it is about zombies, but it’s also about public health, Maslow’s hierarchy, pandemics, the science of hope, managing stress in disaster situations and stereotyping within social roles, focusing on characters like protagonist Rick Grimes and antagonist The Governor.

The massive open online course (or MOOC) hopes to reach a wider audience through teaching such widespread, albeit connected, topics. What’s AMC gaining from this, though? You’d think that anyone who wanted to watch a zombie TV show would have picked up on TWD by now – fishing for new viewers in the ole’ tertiary education watering hole doesn’t really make sense.

The answer comes from Theresa Beyer, VP of promotions and activation at AMC. “We hope this online course will drive a deep, sustained connection with the show… and provide a legitimate educational experience. ”

Infrastructure, the company behind the learning management system, claims that the course is an experiment in increasing engagement through pop culture connections.

It takes a special kind of fan to enrol in a MOOC simply to learn more about a TV show and it’s zombified, expanded universe, but that might be what Instructure, AMC and UC Irvine are banking on.

The course is set to start on October 14 – coincidentally, within 24 hours of the premiere of the fourth season of The Walking Dead. This means that the course coordinators are able to align their course material with the general theme or occurrences of the previous night’s episode. Smooth.

If a course like this works, it could open the door for other more specific online courses that launch off from pop culture. “How to Get Ahead in Business with Walter White and Jesse Pinkman” (Breaking Bad) or “Advertising in the 20th Century, Featuring Don Draper and Hard Liquor” (Mad Men) are some courses I’d love to see in the future.

All of the partners invested in this course should tread lightly with their integration of TWD material into the course syllabus, however. There’s a fine line between using TV footage to support and encourage learning, and using tertiary education as an 8 week-long advertisement.

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