Using Pop Culture, Interactivity To Engage Online Students

Career College Central summary:

  • Educators have used a lot of methods over the years to hold students’ attention, but the fact that some professors have started relating complex issues to zombies still might seem surprising. Since the advent of online courses in the 1990s, instructors have struggled to keep students engaged when they aren’t able to reach pupils in the classroom. The issue of student engagement has begun to loom particularly large in the growing field of massive open online courses (MOOCs), classes designed to reach hundreds — or even thousands — of college students.
  • A recent study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education crystallized this issue. The group studied 1 million users of MOOCs at the university and found that only an average of 4% of students actually completed their chosen courses. “We found that such a small percentage of students completed the courses, and while some were just checking the courses out initially, many more failed to stay engaged,” says Laura Perna, the study’s lead researcher and a professor at the school.
  • Utah company Instructure, partnered with faculty at the University of California-Irvine, stepped in to try to combat student disinterest by relating complex sociological and scientific concepts to zombies in a MOOC titled “Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC’s The Walking Dead” in October through December 2013. “We wanted to try something new, and whenever we talked about it, it seemed like The Walking Dead kept coming up, since it seemed so interesting and timely,” says Instructure co-founder Brian Whitmer.
  • The eight-week course enrolled more than 65,000 users and covered a wide spectrum of topics, using images and video clips from the show to illustrate concepts such as the spread of infectious diseases or social order and structure.

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