Zombies may just want to eat some brains, but AMC is betting that fans of The Walking Dead will want to fill their brains with some sweet, sweet zombie knowledge. The network is embarking on an ambitious partnership to turn the popular television program into one of the largest free online college courses ever. Society, Science, Survival: Lessons From AMC's The Walking Dead is an eight-week course taught entirely by University of California, Irvine faculty members all about the world of the popular television show. The interdisciplinary course begins October 14th, and each weekly installment will cover themes addressed in that week's episode of the show.
A college course on zombie studies? It's not as ridiculous as it sounds. The massive open online course (MOOC) is the brainchild of Instructure, a Utah-based online learning company that competes with much better-known companies such as Coursera and edX. Instructure's co-founder, Brian Whitmer, told Co.Create his firm originally reached out to AMC about a MOOC based on their programming. AMC gave their blessing, and Instructure brought in UC Irvine. All three parties get something out of it: AMC receives a prestigious, low-cost burst of publicity, UC Irvine gets a chance to increase their name recognition and attract potential students, and Instructure gets a valuable opportunity to steer participants towards their many other online courses.
Melissa Loble, UC Irvine's associate dean of distance learning, said the most important thing was recruiting the right mix of professors to handle a multidisciplinary course based around the lives of some of the last surviving humans in a ravaged, post-apocalyptic zombie world. Topics for the course include public health epidemiology (how would a zombie outbreak decimate humanity?), physics (why do walkers react differently to axes and bullets?), sociology (what exactly happens to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs after the world ends?), biology (what long-term effects would stress have on survivors), and other disciplines. Courses, which require between two and four hours weekly of participants' time, include video clips from the show to teach different educational concepts.
For the professors involved, the course is an opportunity to explain how fictional television concepts have parallels and equivalents in the real world. In a phone conversation, Irvine physics and astronomy professor Michael Dennin told Co.Create that he "has done similar courses for outreach that took place on a very general level. I talk about physics topics first—things like energy, momentum, and how they are illustrated by the zombies on the show. People don't often think about the connection between simple physics and how things work."
But the big question for all parties involved is how many participants in the MOOC will actually finish the course. Purely vocational- or career-oriented MOOCs have an infamously difficult time retaining users, and an entertainment-based course such as "Walking Dead" will have an even harder time. There's no real precedent for a fictional television show launching a tie-in college course tied to a program where classes are keyed to each week's episode. It's new territory, and if it becomes viable, expect to see many more entrants in this category.
[Image courtesy of AMC | Gene Page]
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated the MOOC began on October 22nd. It begins on October 14.