Given the popularity of AMC's The Walking Dead (as well as the graphic novel series that preceded it), you didn't have to be a brain surgeon/slurper to figure UC Irvine's massive open online course (MOOC) themed after the show would be a big hit with students.
But the MOOC turned out to be so huge–attracting more than 65,000 participants around the world over its eight-week run–that the course itself is now the subject of study.
"UC Irvine plans to conduct academic research around the course," announced Instructure, the private company that provided online tools and resources for the multidisciplinary MOOC taught by UCI's Zuzana Bic (public health), Joanne Christopherson (social sciences), Michael Dennin (physics) and Sarah Eichhorn (mathematics).
"As a faculty member, this course presented a fun challenge to recast traditional academic content in the framework of a pop culture show," says Eichhorn, who is UCI's assistant chair for undergraduate studies in mathematics, in an Instructure release on the course. "UC Irvine has a rich tradition of involvement in open education, and this course represented a unique opportunity for us to bring academic content to a new population, who without The Walking Dead as a teaching resource might not have sought out such a learning experience."
It's already clear that the popularity of the MOOC "Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC's The Walking Dead," a joint UCI and AMC presentation, is causing scholars and entertainment programmers to think about other pieces of pop culture that might lend themselves to online study, according to Instructure.
"This initiative was an experiment to determine whether a pop-culture MOOC in a multidisciplinary format would create a compelling academic experience. The answer–an unequivocal 'yes,'" says Instructure's co-founder Brian Whitmer. "This different audience provided us with new insights that will shape the way we approach designing and developing MOOCs going forward. By acting as a springboard for exploring academic ideas in contemporary media, this course illustrates the potential for pop culture to serve as a modern-day literature review."
To that end, Instructure conducted a survey of 12,000 Walking Dead course participants. Among the findings:
- Nearly nine in 10 of the survey respondents had never taken a MOOC.
- 59 percent of respondents had never enrolled in an online course.
- 90 percent of respondents learned something they would have not otherwise considered studying.
- 55 percent reported interest in possibly taking other multidisciplinary courses online as opposed to standard, single-topic courses.
- Four in five reported spending more than an hour each week on the course.
There were results of the Instructure survey that AMC could cheer as well:
- 60 percent of survey respondents said they became a bigger fan of The Walking Dead.
- 73 percent said they had more fun watching the show because of the online course.
Download survey findings here: http://www.instructure.com/downloads/twd-mooc-feedback.pdf
Among the course users who got something out of "Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC's The Walking Dead" was a professor emerita at Hofstra University.
"As an accomplished academic and an adult learner, it was exciting to see how popular culture provided a unique context for teaching and learning. It was clear to me that physics can be fun when engaging with zombies," Janice Koch says in the Instructure release. "The best part of this format is that it made watching television an active experience, one that was both intellectual and worthwhile."