The Pop Culture MOOC Experience

65,000 people signed up for a MOOC offered on the Canvas Network by the University of California, Irvine that was based on AMC's very popular TV show The Walking Dead.

It makes an interesting test case. Though the "course" (not really) had interdisciplinary objectives, it sounds like it could be fun for the viewer who wants to get more into it.

It was called "Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC’s 'The Walking Dead.'" It was free - as a MOOC should be - and it ran for 8 weeks. It was offered on Instructure’s Canvas Network MOOC platform (I taught a MOOC there last year.) The teachers/facilitators were four UC Irvine professors from different disciplines: Zuzana Bic, public health; Joanne Christopherson, social sciences; Michael Dennin physics; and Sarah Eichhorn, mathematics.

Their goal was to use the show as a way to do case studies related to concepts from post-disaster nutrition, the foundations of human survival and stereotypes in a Darwinian environment. Sounds like a course.

Now that it has ended, I have seen a few stories online that focused on the fact that just 2,203 of the 65,000 people who enrolled in the course completed it. Completion horror stories have, unfortunately, become the big story in MOOCs the past six months. The folks at UC Irvine say the low completion rate doesn't bother them. They did get 80% of participants to spend at least an hour working on the class.

Actually, the course was designed to allow students to drop in and out of the modules. I did the same with my course. If you passed a quiz at the end of a lesson, students would earn a badge and getting all eight badges meant a certificate of completion.



But the story here might be more about the idea of seeing whether or not offering a "pop culture" course would attract a new audience or mean greater engagement and completion. Their completion rate is less than the usual 10-15% that is usually attached to MOOCs - and no one is happy with those numbers in academia.

90% of the students said they had never taken a MOOC before. (They got survey responses from 12,000 participants.) It might be more significant that 59% had never tried an online class at all.

I am sure you could get even more engagement and "completion" if you dropped some of the school elements of a course, increased the pop culture elements ("Let's learn about the actors and watch clips!") and the gamification elements ("Correct answers help you kill zombies!) and offered some swag or prizes ("Meet the cast!").

Of course, that's not what academic MOOCs are supposed to be all about.

We are still learning about how MOOCs work and how they might help enhance learning online and offline. I have never viewed completion as the the mark of success in MOOCs and don't see all non-engaged students as "lurkers" because I know some of them are "auditors" interested in only a portion of the course content.

We have things to learn from non-academic MOOCs too.



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