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Professor uses zombie invasion scenario to teach political science

World politics could become tricky in the event of a zombie invasion, and pondering the complexities sparked such lively discussion in a WCU international relations class last year that Niall Michelsen, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, incorporated the unusual topic into the syllabus.

In addition, Michelsen and his former student Alan Goggins, a recent WCU graduate who is now a biomedical sciences doctoral student at Tulane University, co-authored a paper titled “Teaching World Politics with Zombies” that will be presented at the annual American Political Science Association meeting over Labor Day weekend.

Niall Michelsen

Niall Michelsen

Alan Goggins

Alan Goggins

The zombie invasion teaching tool for Michelsen’s class was the collaborative “brain child,” so to speak, of Michelsen and Goggins. They began to develop the idea after discussing a Canadian epidemiology research paper that Goggins had come across outlining the mathematical model for a zombie invasion. Meanwhile, an international political scholar posted on a blog about the world’s theoretical reaction to a zombie invasion. “Dr. Michelsen suggested that I come to his class to discuss this paper with his students, and apply political theories to a human-zombie co-existence,” said Goggins, who presented the scenario with Michelsen to a class in fall 2009. “The class was immediately engaged in conversation.”

In the scenario, zombies arise at various places around the globe and begin eating human brains, said Michelsen. “How would the world respond?” he asked. “Would countries be able to cooperate against a common enemy, or would some countries be able to handle their zombies and sit back while some of their adversaries succumbed to zombies? In other words, would world politics continue the same as it has thus far?”

One theory predicts, for instance, that cooperation would be limited. Another predicts that the United Nations might become the center of effective cooperation. Yet another based in Marxist theory might predict that zombies would become a source of cheap labor since capitalists are known to be able to exploit everything for profit, said Michelsen.

Jennifer Cooper, assistant director of the Center for Service Learning, said she was intrigued when she heard about the zombie presentation and was able to attend. “It was clear that the exercise helped the students to deepen their understanding of international relations, and allowed them to see how the theories that Dr. Michelsen covered in the class could be extended to other situations,” said Cooper.

Michelsen was pleased with the results and the students’ interest. “Part of it was the novelty, part of it was the zombie craze, and part of it was that they were actually able to apply some of the theories and concepts of the course to this hypothetical situation,” said Michelsen. “This is my goal – to help students go beyond remembering the material presented in the course to be able to transfer that knowledge to a new situation.”

By Suzanne Raether

Categories | The Reporter


Photos | WCU News Services

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