Instructure today announced key findings from its massive open online course based on the hit TV show "The Walking Dead," a joint production with AMC and the University of California, Irvine that attracted more than 65,000 users around the world over its eight-week run.
Titled "Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC's 'The Walking Dead,'" the MOOC was offered for free on Instructure's MOOC platform, Canvas Network, and explored a wide range of scholarly topics through the lens of a hypothetical zombie apocalypse. A survey of the online course's participants received more than 12,000 responses and delivered several new insights for the MOOC community.
Among the survey's most illuminating insights was that the course tapped into a new market for pop culture-infused online learning by reaching thousands of people outside of the core MOOC-taking audience. Instructure's survey found that nearly nine in 10 of the survey respondents had never taken a MOOC before and 59 percent of respondents had never enrolled in an online course.
"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,'" said Instructure 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."
Additional key findings from the survey revealed that the online course provided both a highly entertaining and rich academic experience for participants.
Learning for learning's sake The survey found that 90 percent of respondents learned something they would have not otherwise considered studying. The high-profile nature of the MOOC not only drew in first-timers, but also encouraged a spirit of independent, self-driven learning.
Experiment in online pedagogy The MOOC took a novel approach to online learning, releasing a new course topic each week in subjects ranging from public health and social sciences to mathematics and physics. This multi-disciplinary approach appealed to the survey respondents, as 55 percent reported interest in possibly taking other multidisciplinary courses on Canvas Network in the future as opposed to standard, single topic courses. Because participants resonated with different themes and professors, "The Walking Dead" MOOC highlights the success of teaching a multitude of academic concepts under an overarching theme.
High level of engagement Four in five respondents reported spending more than one hour each week on the course, diving deep into academic content connected with pop culture. This statistic reveals that participants actually spent more time in the course than they did watching the show.
Increased fan engagement The survey's findings also suggest clear incentives for content producers like AMC to increase their involvement in MOOCs. After taking the course, 60 percent of survey respondents said they became a bigger fan of "The Walking Dead," and 73 percent said they had more fun watching the show, indicating a strong endorsement for blending education and entertainment.
"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," said Janice Koch, Ph.D., professor emerita at Hofstra University and a course participant. "The best part of this format is that it made watching television an active experience, one that was both intellectual and worthwhile."
The MOOC was taught by a multidisciplinary team of UC Irvine faculty: Zuzana Bic, public health; Joanne Christopherson, social sciences; Michael Dennin, physics; and Sarah Eichhorn, mathematics. UC Irvine plans to conduct academic research around the course.
"As a faculty member, this course presented a fun challenge to recast traditional academic content in the framework of a pop culture show," said Sarah Eichhorn, assistant chair for undergraduate studies in mathematics at UC Irvine and one of the MOOC's instructors. "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."
The key findings from the report can be downloaded at http://www.instructure.com/downloads/twd-mooc-feedback.pdf