Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC’s The Walking Dead
University of California, Irvine
Oct 14, 2013 to Dec 22, 2013
Cost per enrollment: Free
- Provides video lectures
- Provides opportunities to interact with the instructor or students
- Uses discussion forums
- Contains external social networking participation or elements
- You will not be given a final grade in this course
- Contains content not appropriate for children under 18
From understanding social identities to modeling the spread of disease, this eight-week course will span key science and survival themes using AMC’s The Walking Dead as its basis. Four faculty members from the University of California, Irvine will take you on an inter-disciplinary academic journey deep into the world of AMC’s The Walking Dead, exploring the following topics:
- Maslow’s hierarchy of needs—is survival just about being alive?
- Social order and structures—from the farm and the prison to Woodbury
- Social identity, roles, and stereotyping—as shown through leaders like Rick and the Governor
- The role of public health in society—from the CDC to local community organizations
- The spread of infectious disease and population modeling—swarm!
- The role of energy and momentum in damage control—how can you best protect yourself?
- Nutrition in a post-apocalyptic world—are squirrels really good for you?
- Managing stress in disaster situations—what’s the long-term effect of always sleeping with one eye open?
Each week we’ll watch engaging lectures, listen to expert interviews, watch exclusive interviews with cast members talking about their characters, use key scenes from the show to illustrate course learning, read interesting articles, review academic resources, participate in large and small group discussions, and—of course—test our learning with quizzes. We recommend that you plan on spending about two (2) to four (4) hours per week on this course, though we believe the course is compelling enough you’ll want to spend more time.
At the end of this course, you will be able to:
- Describe how infectious diseases—like a zombie epidemic—spread and are managed
- Apply various models of society and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to existing and emerging societies as a means for understanding human behavior
- Analyze existing social roles and stereotypes as they exist today and in an emerging world
- Debate the role of public health organizations in society
- Describe how mathematical equations for population dynamics can be used to study disease spread and interventions
- Apply concepts of energy and momentum appropriately when analyzing collisions and other activities that either inflict or prevent damage
- Summarize multiple methods for managing stress in disaster situations
Joanne Christopherson, Ph.D.
Lecturer, Social Sciences
Dr. Joanne Christopherson is currently a lecturer in the School of Social Sciences and associate director of the Demographic and Social Analysis M.A. program at the University of California, Irvine. She’s also a big fan of psychological thrillers with multi-dimensional characters and situations. “It is an amazing experience to be involved in this MOOC. The Walking Dead can be scary, but the zombies aren’t even the scariest characters in the show. Each episode is rich with social issues: what it means to be human, the basis of social order, freedom and action, value judgments and human differences, and personal and social change. It was hard to pick just three social topics—social identity, models of society, and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs—for this course.”
Dr. Christopherson currently teaches courses that cover history and principles in social science, social policy, public service, research methods, and computer skills for research, including geographic information systems. Her research interests include prevention of school violence, youth and elder suicide, Alzheimer’s disease, and child obesity. She has been teaching her courses online for four years and developed the first online course offered during the normal academic year at UC Irvine.
Dr. Christopherson graduated summa cum laude from UC Irvine with a B.A. in psychology and continued at UC Irvine for an M.A. in demographic and social analysis, and a Ph.D. in environmental health science with a concentration in epidemiology.
t: @UCIDrChris r: UCIDrChris
Michael Dennin, Ph.D.
Professor, Physics and Astronomy
Michael Dennin is a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California, Irvine, where he’s been for the last 16 years. In addition to teaching a wide range of physics courses, including the Science of Superheroes, he runs a research lab that studies the behavior of bubbles and foam. He has appeared on numerous science specials for the History Channel and National Geographic Channel, including the Science of Superman, Batman Tech, Spider-Man Tech, and Star Wars Tech. “Combining popular science fiction with actual science education brings together an audience with a basic interest in science (whether they realize it or not) and a raw curiosity about what is possible,” he says. “That’s ultimately the scientific search: to determine what is possible. Shows like The Walking Dead work not just because they are fun (which they are) but because they ask the question ‘What is possible?’”
The course unit taught by Dr. Dennin aims to satiate that curiosity and bring science into the everyday realm. “In The Walking Dead, people are faced with two basic issues of physics: protecting against damage and causing damage.” He continues, “So, how realistic is the depiction of damage causes and protection in television, movies, and video games? Asking this question allows us to explore fundamental ideas of physics: energy, momentum, and forces.” The course will explore how these ideas form the basis of describing material properties (strength and elasticity), interactions between objects (from weapons to flight), and even general issues of energy generation. The course will also explore important scientific concepts like precision and accuracy, in the context of targeting weapons.
Dr. Dennin received his undergraduate degree in physics from Princeton University and earned his Ph.D. in physics from UC Santa Barbara. He then spent a year and a half at UCLA in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry as a postdoctoral researcher.
t: @DenninMichael r: mdennin
Zuzana Bic, DrPH, MUDr.
Lecturer, Public Health
You’ve heard of the CDC, right? Well, meet Dr. Zuzana Bic, a tenured lecturer and the director of Student Experience in Public Health Practice at the Department of Population Health and Disease Prevention at UC Irvine. “The Walking Dead is surprisingly real in showing the human reaction to stressful situations,” Dr. Bic says. “Given my background as a physician, a public health professional, and a college educator, it’s difficult for me to see the characters in the show experiencing chaos, suffering, pain, anger, anxiety, helplessness, and depression. But it forced me to ask: Why does this show exist now? Why offer a course on this? Perhaps it’s for the public to learn something—something good. I’m an academic and an optimist.”
In this course, Dr. Bic will elaborate on the concepts of public health, the role of the CDC and other public health agencies, and the management of communicable and non-communicable diseases. She’ll explore questions like: What can we learn from past epidemics? What is the common denominator for all diseases? Can we survive in a state of chronic high stress? What are the tools for coping with stressful situations? What’s the role of proper public health communication? How is food important for our mental health?
Dr. Bic has taught online courses for several years and was one of the first faculty members at UC Irvine to offer a MOOC (Principles of Public Health) to over 15,000 students worldwide. She was recognized as Lecturer of the Year (2008) and Outstanding Professor (2009, 2010, and 2011) at UC Irvine. She received doctorate degrees in both public health (Loma Linda University) and medicine (King Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic). She serves on the Community Leadership Board for the American Diabetes Association, and is currently the chair of the Mission Delivery Committee.
t: @ZuzanaBic r: ZuzanaBic
Sarah Eichhorn, Ph.D.
Lecturer, Assistant Vice Chair for Undergraduate Studies in Mathematics
Besides being a tenured lecturer and the assistant vice chair for Undergraduate Studies in the Mathematics Department at the University of California, Irvine, Dr. Sarah Eichhorn is a longtime sci-fi fan with a particular affinity for all things post-apocalyptic. A latecomer to The Walking Dead world, she binge-watched all three seasons in under a week. “Surprisingly, there’s actually a lot of interesting math related to The Walking Dead,” says Dr. Eichhorn. “I’ll be teaching about how mathematics can be used to model population dynamics and project future species survival or extinction. I’ll also show how mathematics could potentially help curb the spread of walker disease via a variety of interventions—vaccinations, treatments, cures, better weapons, etc.”
Dr. Eichhorn earned a Ph.D. in applied mathematics from the University of Arizona. Her dissertation research involved using elasticity theory to study planetary tides, particularly on Jupiter’s moon, Europa. She has since worked on research problems in data assimilation, adaptive learning, and combinatorial game theory. Eichhorn currently co-directs two NSF-funded undergraduate training and research programs—one in computational applied mathematics and one in mathematical biology. She has personally advised over 70 undergraduate researchers.
Eichhorn is extremely passionate about teaching and has won several teaching awards, including the 2011 Mathematical Association of America Alder Award for distinguished teaching and the 2013 UCI Distinguished Assistant Professor for Teaching award. She has experience designing and teaching courses using a wide-range of instructional techniques, including traditional lectures, small seminars, independent studies, technology-enhanced classes, flipped classes, and online courses. She has even taught an algebra and a precalculus MOOC to over 84,000 enrolled students. In 2013, Eichhorn began a split appointment in the UCI Distance Learning Center, where she works as a course designer, instructional researcher, and OpenCourseWare website manager.
t: @SarahEichhorn3 r: SarahEichhorn
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