01/10/2014 05:55 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

'Walking Dead' Course's Architects Aren't Concerned With The Low Completion Rate


Just 2,203 of the 65,000 people who enrolled in a free online course based on AMC's hit TV show "The Walking Dead" made it all the way through to the end of the class in December -- a fact that the course's designers say doesn't bother them a bit.

The massive open online course, or MOOC, was titled "Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC’s 'The Walking Dead.'" It was hosted on the MOOC platform of Instructure, an education technology company, and taught by four professors from different disciplines at the University of California-Irvine: Zuzana Bic, public health; Joanne Christopherson, social sciences; Michael Dennin physics; and Sarah Eichhorn, mathematics. The school announced the results of the course Friday.

Melissa Loble, UC Irvine associate dean of distance learning and the course's architect, said the low completion rate doesn't bother her.

"I was more interested in students walking away with one idea or walking away with one new approach," Loble told The Huffington Post. "That was more of what success was to me."

Low completion rates have been one of the focal criticisms of MOOCs as a whole. In this case, the course creators are shrugging off the fact that few participants completed everything assigned, since they still got four out of every five to spend at least an hour working on the class.

The professors would rotate every week to three weeks and take over with their lesson, distributing PowerPoint presentations, discussion prompts and quizzes and then monitoring the discussion forms online, Loble said. The way the course was designed, she added, was to allow students to drop in and out of different lesson plans being taught in different weeks. After attempting to complete a quiz at the end of a lesson, students would earn a badge. If they earned all eight badges, the student could collect a certificate at the end.

An Instructure representative said this particular course was meant to see if pop culture could attract new audiences to MOOCs, which it did.

"There were quite a few people who took the course who had never seen the show before," Loble disclosed.

Students needed familiarity with the show and the characters, but didn't need to have watched it freshly. If they needed a reminder, AMC provided clips the faculty could reference.

Nine out of 10 students in the class indicated they had never taken a MOOC before, according to survey responses from 12,000 course participants -- and 59 percent had never tried an online class at all.

"By acting as a springboard for exploring academic ideas in contemporary media," said Instructure co-founder Brian Whitmer, "this course illustrates the potential for pop culture to serve as a modern-day literature review."



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