UCI to Offer Free Online Course Based on The Walking Dead

September 5, 2013

The hit television show The Walking Dead will soon lure its fans off the couch and to the classroom. According to Wired, cable TV network AMC, educational tech company Instructure and the University of California, Irvine have joined together to create a massive open online course that will use the TV show to explore academic topics such as principles of science, physics, math and health sciences.

"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, in a press release. "…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."

According to the press release, the online course, called "Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC's 'The Walking Dead,'" will be free and open to anyone around the world. The first class will be Monday, October 14, the day after the Season 4 premiere. The course will run parallel to the show, with classes every Monday through December 2. It will be taught by a handpicked multidisciplinary team of UC Irvine faculty, all of whom have experience teaching MOOCs and have used pop culture case studies in past curricula. Wire noted that although no one involved got spoilers from AMC, it was confirmed that the planned syllabus is aligned with the show.

Though the course is centered around a pop culture TV show, it will still have a firm academic stance. Josh Coates, head of Instructure, told BBC News that the show is extremely relevant and the class will educate people on the science of disasters.

"This is real curriculum about infectious diseases, public health, nutrition, psychology and sociology. The fact that the context is this fictional world of an apocalypse is incidental," said Coates. He added, "…We have terrorist attacks, we have Katrina, Fukushima, all these things happen in our world today, which create small vignettes of a local apocalypse."

Forbes noted that this is not the first time pop culture has been used as an educational tool. Georgetown University offers a philosophy and Star Trek course. Baltimore University has offered a zombie class and the University of South Carolina has had a sociology class on Lady Gaga. The UC Irvine class is different, however, in that it is a multidisciplinary course, touching on topics from physics to social sciences and math to public health. According to the press release, this is also the first time that a technology firm, entertainment company and major university have collaborated on an educational endeavor. Loble told Wired that this approach will offer students a broad educational experience.

Although there will be tests and discussions, BBC News noted that the class is not for credit. The course is also an experiment to address a major problem for MOOCs -- the high dropout rate. Those involved hope that the experiment will provide insight on how to improve the online learning experience.

Enrollment is now open and with a fan base of 10 million, hundreds of thousands of online students are expected to participate.

Compiled by Heidi M. Agustin


"AMC, Instructure and UC Irvine to Offer Cross-Disciplinary MOOC based on 'The Walking Dead'," prnewswire.com, September 4, 2013

"Apocalypse 101: Take the Free Walking Dead Online Course From UC Irvine," wired.com, September 4, 2013, Graeme McMillan

"Now You Can Take A College Course On 'The Walking Dead'," forbes.com, September 4, 2013, Dorothy Pomerantz

"University launches online course with TV show," bbc.co.uk, September 5, 2013, Sean Coughlan

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