Just came across the personal blog of Nick Pearce, a scholar at Durham University’s Foundation Centre, who is doing some very interesting research on higher education, technology, and zombies. I discovered his website while researching existing work on zombies and higher education, and I discovered that he is one of the scholars putting together the much-awaited anthology “Zombies in the Academy: Living Death in Higher Education” (to be published in 2012).

I was particularly drawn to an old post on “Zombies, Technology, and Capitalism,” because of Pearce’s use of the zombie metaphor in depicting some of the recent trends in higher education. He states rather eloquently:

The very general thrust is that VLEs (such as Black(magic)board, and VOODLE) replace face-to-face ‘human’ learning with undead digital teaching. These VLEs have rapidly spread across the sector (virally?) without being explicitly demanded by either teachers or students. The embedded pedagogy of these VLEs is restrictive and they offer a level of social control and conformity not possible with more traditional teaching practices.

In Pearce’s words, the Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) of today’s academy sap the human element out of the classroom (or computer screen in this case). He also likens these new forms of “teaching” to new forms of social control; I am pushed to think about Foucault’s notion of discipline creating docile bodies amongst the student body, or Marcuse’s one-dimensional man.

I find this depiction of higher education as an inherently “zombifying” institution very interesting. For those of us who work in the academy and teach classes, the notion of higher education creating student zombies (or researcher zombies) is very appealing. Who among us does NOT get frustrated at our students’ general sense of apathy and passivity in the classroom? Who among us does NOT feel slightly overwhelmed with all the general administrative duties and academic requirements that our schools now place on our shoulders? And who among us does NOT tire of giving multiple choice examinations rather than more creative forms of assessment and pedagogical instruction? I know I tire of all these things. Perhaps you do too?

I often feel like I am teaching a classroom full of zombies…

Maybe the zombie has a place alongside the cyborg as a metaphor for the human condition in contemporary society. If we conceptualize the zombie as the passive, non-responsive, human-slave, then this metaphor may be apt—this is the traditional figure of the zombie in Haitian folklore and early cinema. Or perhaps the more contemporary figure of the zombie as one of rabidity, infection, and “rage” (as epitomized by Boyle’s 28 Days Later) is more appropriate? Either way, I think the zombie metaphor is a powerful symbol of mass society, something that the cyborg—in all its individuality and flesh-machine symbiosis—lacks.