MOOCs and mass media just collided in a big way. AMC, the cable television channel that is home to hits like “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men,” is using a massive open online course (MOOC) to promote another popular series, “The Walking Dead.” Crazy, right? Well, that’s the point, but the model is intriguing to educators looking for ways to get their students engaged.
Here is some background on the show, whose fourth season premieres Sunday, October 13. A disease that turns humans into zombies spreads across America, wreaking havoc and creating anarchy. The disease spreads when zombies — referred to in this show as “biters” and “walkers” — bite humans, who then also become zombies. The government is overrun, the military is defeated and tribes of survivors roam the country in search of safety. The show focuses on a small group of survivors who are forced to designate leaders, make impossible decisions, and find the food, water and other resources they need to live. As any fan of the show will point out, “The Walking Dead” is about people, not zombies.
Higher Education: Back from the Dead
Before you dismiss the idea as ridiculous, you should know that AMC has partnered with the University of California, Irvine, and four Ph.D.s to teach the course, titled “Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC’s The Walking Dead.” According the official registration page, the course will explore the spread of disease, social structures, and the role of the government in public health, among other themes. Here’s a closer look at the curriculum:
- Maslow’s hierarchy of needs—is survival just about being alive?
- Social order and structures—from the farm and the prison to Woodbury
- Social identity, roles, and stereotyping—as shown through leaders like Rick and the Governor
- The role of public health in society—from the CDC to local community organizations
- The spread of infectious disease and population modeling—swarm!
- The role of energy and momentum in damage control—how can you best protect yourself?
- Nutrition in a post-apocalyptic world—are squirrels really good for you?
- Managing stress in disaster situations—what’s the long-term effect of always sleeping with one eye open?
Each week we’ll watch engaging lectures, listen to expert interviews, watch exclusive interviews with cast members talking about their characters, use key scenes from the show to illustrate course learning, read interesting articles, review academic resources, participate in large and small group discussions, and—of course—test our learning with quizzes. We recommend that you plan on spending about two (2) to four (4) hours per week on this course, though we believe the course is compelling enough you’ll want to spend more time.
When Education, Marketing and Pop Culture Collide
AMC and UC Irvine are using Instructure’s Canvas Network as the course platform. Instructors will use video lectures, discussion forums and social media to provide learning materials throughout the eight-week course. The partnership between higher education and Hollywood is groundbreaking and will provide interesting insight into the future of marketing, education and educational content. UC Irvine is excited about the opportunity to tie pop culture to education in a meaningful way, especially since “The Walking Dead” is “the most-watched TV series in basic cable history.”
“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.”