6 offbeat MOOCs that merge education with fun

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The University of Irvine grabbed headlines last week with its announcement that it was working with Instructure to organize a MOOC based on AMC's zombie show "The Walking Dead." The course is billed as "edutainment" but will have some serious elements: The syllabus calls for examining the role of public health in a pandemic and the science of hope.

Like traditional universities, some MOOCs are reaching beyond the core topics and offering what can be described as "guilty pleasure" courses. What are some of the subjects stretching the boundaries?

Here are our picks for the top six offbeat MOOCs:

 

1. COMIC BOOKS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS

Coursera and the University of Colorado at Boulder have partnered to offer a class tackling a single, central question: How can comic books be discussed as literary art? The course starting this month isn't even the first comic book MOOC. In the spring, Ball State University offered Gender Through Comic Books

 

2. SCIENCE & COOKING: FROM HAUTE CUISINE TO SOFT MATTER SCIENCE

This Harvard/EdX MOOC takes students from the classroom to the kitchen. The class, taught by a professor of physics and a professor of applied mathematics, takes online learners into the kitchens of such high-profile chefs as Nathan Myhrvold, David Chang and Wylie Dufresne to hear about how their recipes work. As the course description says, "In what other science course do you get to eat your lab?" 

 

3. DINO 101: DINOSAUR PALEOBIOLOGY

For those whose childhood dinosaur fascination has continued into adulthood, the University of Alberta — located in a Canadian province known for its richness in fossils — is offering a beginner course in paleontology with Coursera. Students learn how dinosaurs lived, fought and died. In one of the coolest touches, lessons are delivered from museums and fossil dig sites.

 

4. SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY WRITING

This Arizona State University MOOC offered via Canvas introduces basic novel-writing skills, particularly as they apply to science fiction and fantasy writing. The sample novel for the course is the instructor's own "Star Wars"-based novel and the other required reading is utterly flexible: "any novel published in the last two years, written by an author after whom you would like to style your writing."

 

5. THE LINGUISTICS OF SWEARING

The course introduction for this University of Utah course offered via Canvas contains a straightforward warning: "Students sensitive to obscene words are discouraged from enrolling." Instructor Randall Eggert has a Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Chicago and is no stranger to foul language: He has taught "Bad Words and Taboo Terms" since 2006.

 

6. THE MUSIC OF THE BEATLES

This six-week course offered as a partnership between the University of Rochester and Coursera tackles the band's earliest days, the frenzy of Beatlemania, right up through "Abbey Road." One catch: Copyright restrictions mean the music itself won't be featured in the video lectures, so students are on the hook for tracking it down. Oh, and if the Beatles aren't enough, MOOC learners can tackle the entire History of Rock in a two-part course


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