The University of Alabama

UA Professors Turn Zombies Into Teaching Tools

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Dr. Matt Payne and Adam Schwartz, University of Alabama telecommunication and film professors, have one thing on their brains: “BRAINS.”

Actually, that’s not entirely true, but Payne and Schwartz are each teaching a UA course this semester on zombies, cashing in on the monsters’ current popularity to provide students with culturally relevant instruction while teaching them the skills they need to succeed after college.

“What’s going to catch people’s attention is the subject matter,” said Payne, an assistant professor in telecommunication and film, who is teaching TCF 444: Zombies in Culture. “At the same time, pedagogical utility is vital. It’s very important to us to underscore what the learning objectives are.”

Schwartz, also an assistant professor of telecommunication and film, will teach TCF 451: Advanced Television Production, in which students will produce a television pilot episode. He said the class provides students an experience that closely mirrors real-world production work.

“From the beginning we stress, ‘This isn’t a class project,’” Schwartz said. “I mean, it is, but it’s also for distribution in festivals. I tell my students that if they’re worried about the grade, they’re worried about the wrong thing. You have a job in this class, and there are very specific expectations for the job you are supposed to do. If you do your job, the grade will come.”

Students will have a chance to use their audio/visual skills but also will learn about things like special-effects makeup and social media campaigns for promotion.

Payne and Schwartz wrote a script for the production class over the summer, focusing on creating a “zom-com” or zombie comedy. The pilot, titled “Zom-Com,” (“Clever, right?” Schwartz said.) will tell the story of a group of zombie chasers (think storm chasers, but with zombies) who are working with various corporations to tag and study zombies.

“Unlike most zombie fiction that trades in a lot of overt gore, this group is actually a very humanitarian group, so what’s challenging for them is getting the data without actually harming the zombies,” Payne said.

Students in the production class will also participate in portions of Payne’s zombie history class. Payne said the zombie is much more than just a monster, and he hopes he can help students appreciate that.

“Sometimes the monsters in our lives are the monsters we can’t see or recognize,” Payne said. “The zombie is an incredibly agile monster that creates a really nice shell for communicating or articulating a number of social anxieties – racism, sexism, militarism, class inequities.”

Both Schwartz and Payne said they hope to shoot in locations across Alabama and make use of the physical and creative resources the state offers. They also said they hope to incorporate other departments and entities on campus for a truly collaborative final product.

“It’s really unique, despite the abundance of zombie media, to have this type of collaboration at a state university,” Schwartz said. “I don’t think this has ever been done before.”

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.