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MOOC Uses Comic Books To Teach Social Issues

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Image courtesy of Christina Blanch.

A Ball State University doctoral candidate in education studies is preparing to teach her second comic book-based MOOC.

Christina Blanch will teach the Social Issues Through Comic Books MOOC on the Canvas Network from March 10 to Aug. 18. The course will cover topics such as addiction, immigration, privacy and sex using comic books such as Scalped, Daredevil and Swamp Thing. But the course will involve much more than reading and discussing comic books. It will also include lectures, live interviews with academics and comic book authors and academic readings. According to information from Canvas, students in the course will "learn about social issues and how they are presented in comic books and the impact that those books have had on the issues." The course is free and open to anybody over the age of 18.

Blanch's first MOOC, Gender Through Comic Books, drew 7,200 students from around the world. The course was such a hit that many students continued to meet with each other in person to discuss comic books and issues even after the course had ended, and the course's Facebook group is so active that Blanch can barely keep up with the activity. She kept getting emails and text messages from students asking when her next class was going to be. "It made me feel like I really need to do this, like I owe it to people," she said. "They really want a nice safe place to come and learn and to talk about comics in a way that really affects them."

Blanch taught the Gender Through Comic Books MOOC using the Canvas Network through Ball State University, but when the university stopped using the Canvas Network, Blanch decided to strike out on her own to teach the Social Issues Through Comic Book MOOC. Canvas Network then got in touch with her and offered to host the course.

Although the course is suitable for anybody with an interest in social issues or comic books, Blanch said it's also beneficial for educators who want to learn how to use comic books in their own teaching. Blanch gives presentations on using comics in education, and teachers often approach her for advice about how to incorporate them into their own classes. She said that taking a class with comic books is a great way to learn firsthand how they can be used in an educational context. Some of the students in her first MOOC were teachers who have since gone on to use comics in their own classes.

Blanch said she thinks comic books are a great way to engage students of all ages. When she first started using comic books in the courses she was teaching at Ball State, she noticed a huge difference in the students' interest level. "It got them actually reading the academic books because they wanted to do well on the assignment and understand it," she said. "It also created this kind of equality in the classroom, where everybody was reading the same thing, and they started talking about it inside the class and outside the class and in other classes, and I would have instructors from different areas saying, 'Hey, these students really love this book. They brought it up in class,' and you just don't see that with a lot of textbooks."

With this second MOOC, Blanch is making some changes based on her experience teaching the first MOOC. Nearly 3,000 students from the first MOOC — almost half of the class — responded to a post-course survey, and Blanch used the information when planning this second MOOC. One change is the timing of the course. The first one ran for six weeks in April and May, "which is right at the end of the semester for most people who are teachers or students," said Blanch. "A lot of people got behind because of that."

 

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Image courtesy of Christina Blanch.

Another factor that caused people to fall behind was the six-week duration. "Every week we had a new unit, and they just didn't have enough time," she said. "A week just wasn't enough for the amount of material because it's not just reading one or two things; there are articles, quizzes, live interviews, discussions. There are a lot of components to it. So people got behind and felt like they couldn't catch up."

The Social Issues Through Comic Books MOOC is scheduled for six months, rather than six weeks. Each module will be a month long. The readings for the module will be available from the beginning of the month, but different discussions and events will be scheduled to take place throughout the month.

Further information about the Social Issues Through Comic Books MOOC can be found on the Canvas Network.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at leilameyer@gmail.com.

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