UC Irvine to Offer MOOC on Disease Dynamics in ‘The Strain’


The University of California, Irvine has teamed up with Instructure and cable channel FX to offer a four-week course titled “Fight or Die: The Science Behind FX’s ‘The Strain’.”

The vampire themed free course will be offered through Canvas Network, a learning platform by Instructure. The interdisciplinary course will offer a complete understanding of cyber attacks, parasites and disease dynamics, according to Rhea Kelly, executive editor for Campus Technology.

“This course will provide both teachers and students a unique opportunity to examine academic principles in a non-traditional setting. It’s not every day we get to structure a course against the backdrop of a rapidly spreading disease epidemic and devastating cyber attack. Using clips from ‘The Strain,’ our course will let students take a closer look at the science behind the popular TV series, all while discussing real-world examples of parasites changing host behavior, hackers taking down communication networks and diseases rampaging through populations,” Sarah Eichhorn physical science academic says.

Enrollment for the course is free and available on the Canvas Network. Classes are to start in summer, just three weeks before the season 2 premier of ‘The Strain’.

The course will teach students how disease and bacteria spread and about the role of parasite behavior in viral proliferation. Explaining the significance and role of the MOOC course, Kenya Hardaway, VP of integrated promotions at FX, notes:

“As society becomes more globally and technologically interconnected, the impact of biological parasites and computer hacks will only become more pronounced. This course will leverage the popularity of ‘The Strain’ to help fans and the general public alike better understand these complex issues.”

Melissa Loble, vice president of Partners and Programs at Instructure, says the program presents the opportunity for series fans and the public to delve deeper into themes of the show in an enlightening academic context. She adds:

“We believe MOOCs have the power to help the education industry gain insight into how people learn.”

Enrolled students do not have to plow through the entire four-week course if they are unable or unwilling. The MOOC offers distinct sections so that students can only study what interests them. Toward the end of the course, students will be expected to create a project of original content.

The Strain has been ranked as the most watched cable drama of 2014 and the free one-month course will unveil and analyze key themes, anecdotes and multimedia of the series, according to Instructure. The FX series follows a scientist’s investigations and struggles as he attempts to decode a viral outbreak that turns humans into vampires.

This is not the first time a TV show inspires the development of an MOOC. In 2013, a popular MOOC was created by UC Irvine based on ‘The Walking Dead’ zombie TV series. The 2013 zombie themed course “Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead'” was an eight-week free course that focused on social science, public health, mathematics and physics through the lens of the zombie apocalypse-themed show.

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