Of Monsters and MOOCS: Why UC Irvine Is Teaching About Vampires


Of Monsters and MOOCS: Why UC Irvine Is Teaching About Vampires

By Tony Wan     Jun 22, 2015

Of Monsters and MOOCS: Why UC Irvine Is Teaching About Vampires

Hackers, diseases and…vampires? Classes must be starting up again for UC Irvine and Instructure, which are teaming up to offer a free MOOC based on the FX show, The Strain.

Titled “Fight or Die: The Science Behind FX’s The Strain,” the course will be offered on Instructure’s Canvas Network platform. It will run from June 22 to October 1 and explore three themes: parasitic invasions, disease dynamics and cyber attacks, led respectively by a biologist, mathematician and computer scientist.

Each lesson will start off with a video lecture about the discipline, followed by video clips from the show with a narrator discussing how the scenes relate to the lessons. Throughout the videos there will be pop-up quizzes, provided by Zaption, a video learning startup, along with discussion forums and optional readings. There will also be a spotlight on research currently in progress led by UC Irvine faculty to show how the lectures relate to science in the real world.

It’s not the first time that UC Irvine and Instructure are collaborating around a popular TV series. Last year, the two offered a MOOC, “Society, Science and Survival: Lessons from AMC’s The Walking Dead.” The eight-week course, which touched on social science, public health and mathematics, attracted over 65,000 students, 90 percent of whom had never taken a MOOC.

“People often think the academic disciplines are walled off from one another,” says Sarah Eichhorn, the Associate Dean of Distance Learning at UC Irvine who will lead the strain on disease dynatmics. “I really learned the value of tying together different fields.”

Students won’t be an expert in cyber security or epidemiological modeling after this MOOC—and that’s not the point. Eichhorn sees the MOOC as a platform for experimenting with new ways to engage and educate the general public on issues that may seem unapproachable—but yet are highly relevant to today’s world. No grades will be given, but students will receive a badge for each learning strain that they complete. They will not earn any official credit or unit. “I don’t expect that will happen in the near future,” says Eichhorn. She also believes that the lessons learned from designing and teaching MOOCs “will translate to how we teach on-campus courses.”

The Strain seems so far-stretched because there’s a parasite that turns people into vampires,” Eichhorn adds. “But it’s a fascinating and relevant. I don’t think most people would normally be interested in learning about toxoplasmosis, a parasite that 30 percent of humans have”—and which can turn flies and mice into zombies.

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