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Lessons from The Talking Dead

Posted on: February 17, 2016

The second half of the sixth season of The Walking Dead resumed earlier this week. I thoroughly enjoy this TV programme as much as I do its companion show, The Talking Dead. Talking Dead is broadcast ‘live’ right after the prerecorded Walking Dead.

There are important lessons and reminders that teachers can take from the format of the talk show.

Note: I share screenshots under Fair Use for illustrative and educational purposes. Both the shows I mentioned are the property of AMC.)

When Talking Dead starts, its host, Chris Hardwick, will warn viewers that there are spoilers if they have not watched the episode of Walking Dead first. Viewers can ignore that message because they have a choice.

How much choice do teachers give their students?

Hardwick then mentions some Walking Dead highlights before introducing a panel of three guests. Most of the time two of the three guests are associated with the show, i.e., they could be its actors, directors, or producers. Quite often the third guest is a celebrity who is a fan of the show, but is not directly involved in it.

The “insider” guests provide insights into the programme that you would not otherwise get. The “outsider” guests tend to provide alternative points of view.

Good teachers know how to create interest in the topic by providing teasers or highlights. How many bring in content experts into their classrooms with the help of recorded videos, or conferencing with Google Hangouts or Skype?

To anticipate a complaint: Why should teachers think this is troublesome or difficult when such resources and tools are readily available? It is one thing to learn content out of context, it is another to hear from a primary source on how to use it. That is, there is learning about and there is learning to be.

Various social media channels are mentioned and used throughout the talk show. Twitter in particular is used to collect questions, comments, observations, and fan art. The Twitter handles of the panel are also shown when each member is introduced or featured.

How many teachers take advantage of social media to reach as they teach?

The other formulaic elements of the talk show are:

  • A memoriam of the characters and zombies that died
  • A Dead ‘live’ quiz (done in real time)
  • ‘Live’ polls on what the audience is thinking about an issue
  • Show insights via behind-the-scenes video snippets, stills, and summaries
  • Audience members being invited to walk up to a microphone and fans to call over the phone to ask the panel questions
  • Fans tweets that are featured on screen at strategic intervals
  • A sneak preview of the next episode
  • A reminder to connect on social media

These should sound familiar to a teacher: Critical summaries, quizzes and polls, visual media, Q&A, learner feedback, link and hook to the next lesson, and how to contact me outside of class.

The quiz is something that stands out for me. The viewer is not told that they will take a quiz nor what the objectives or content are. They watch Walking Dead and then take the ‘live’ quiz in Talking Dead. The questions could come from anywhere in the episode.

Such a quiz design is contrary to what most teachers might have been taught. For example, there must be clear alignment between curricular goals, lesson outcomes, lesson activities, and assessment. Teachers are taught to prepare the students first and to let them know what the objectives and outcomes are.

The show’s quiz breaks this formula because people want to watch the show, they are paying attention throughout, and they might even watch the show again if they did not notice something. The quiz is gamified in that participants compete to be the fastest and have the most correct answers, and the winners (with anonymised handles) are displayed in a leaderboard.

All these and the panel interviews are done in the space of 30-40 minutes. This might sound chaotic, but the elements are implemented so skilfully and seamlessly that it looks effortless. The pattern is formulaic, but viewers are drawn to the Talking Dead because it is so enjoyable.

The differences are down to agency. How might teachers give the ownership of learning, complete with its excitement and its problems, to the learner so that it is a joyful burden to bear?

Other than these “lesson” elements, Chris Hardwick is a consummate host and he reminds me of a skilled classroom facilitator who relies on the pedagogy of questions. How many of our teachers still prefer to be purveyors of content instead of facilitators of thinking and learning?

I can already hear zombie teachers moaning and groaning that Talking Dead is for entertainment, not education. I say we be humble enough to learn from non-educators with good ideas how to be better educators.

2 Responses to "Lessons from The Talking Dead"

Gemma Loke: RT @ashley: Lessons from The Talking Dead… #edsg via


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