Inviting monsters into the online classroom

Not long ago, we were looking to create a new online course that would engage students in serious discussions about sociology, ethics, psychology, and epidemiology.

Colleges are using connections to pop culture to draw interest to online courses.

The answer, obviously, was to create an online course on zombies.

Yes, zombies. Both of us are fans of The Walking Dead, AMC’s popular television series about a post-apocalyptic America, as well as other literature and films about zombies.

We realized that all joking aside, an online course on zombies would allow us to explore serious subjects in an engaging manner.

Many students say that ENG 315: Zombies in Literature and Popular Culture is the best class they’ve taken at Excelsior College.

Lured in by the title, they’re often surprised at the depth of knowledge they acquire while studying apocalyptic scenarios from historical, sociological and psychological perspectives.

After first exploring the cross-cultural history of zombies, students apply this knowledge to contemporary issues such as religion, mercy killing, Stockholm Syndrome, and worker exploitation.

In addition to watching The Walking Dead, the class reads selections from The Living Dead, a zombie anthology edited by John Joseph Adams. We also explore themes and symbols in Alden Bell’s The Reapers are the Angels, a haunting novel detailing the life of a girl who sees a zombie-filled world as one of opportunity rather than threat.

Fighting personal demons and chance encounters, she focuses on helping a developmentally disabled man find his family.

Students particularly enjoy the online discussion boards that form the heart of the course.

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