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A MOOC Hopes to Sink Its Teeth Into a New Audience: TV Fans

Vampires are everywhere these days — books, television shows, movies. And now, a MOOC.

The University of California at Irvine plans to offer a four-week MOOC based on the FX television series The Strain, which follows the spread of a disease with the “hallmarks of an ancient and evil strain of vampirism.” The course, “Fight or Die: The Science Behind FX’s The Strain,” will be hosted on Instructure’s MOOC platform Canvas Network.

Three Irvine faculty members will teach the course, which will focus on three topics that come from the show: parasites, cyber attacks, and disease dynamics.

Sarah E. Eichhorn, associate dean of distance learning and a lecturer in the university’s school of physical sciences, says she hopes the MOOC will get people interested in mathematics and science by leveraging the popularity of the television show.

Ms. Eichhorn, who will teach the segment on disease dynamics, says she plans to use clips from The Strain to illustrate the rate at which epidemics spread in real life. Perhaps surprisingly, Ms. Eichhorn says, the show is not all that unrealistic in its depiction of how quickly a disease transmitted by human contact can spread.

“The only real fantasy part is the exact nature of the disease,” she says. “We’re probably not going to have a disease that causes these vampire-like symptoms and things like that.”

Some people view “edutainment” as a dirty word, Ms. Eichhorn says, but she disagrees. Being entertained while learning is hardly a bad thing. “If people want to spend their entertainment time learning,” she says, “I’m all for it.”

Instructure and the University of California at Irvine have worked together previously to create a MOOC based on a television show. In 2013 the two collaborated on a course based on AMC’s The Walking Dead, which garnered more than 65,000 participants.

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