Designing and Offering a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) at Fanshawe College
Senior management at Fanshawe College in London wanted to explore the potential of MOOCs as a way of reaching more students and of extending their outreach and profile. Applied sustainability was chosen as the MOOC topic, reflecting Fanshawe’s commitment to sustainability and the high level of interest in the issue around the world. Wendy Wilson, in Organizational Development and Learning, worked with colleagues to research, prepare, and launch the course – all in six weeks. The course was launched on May 13, 2013.
The course was designed to emphasize the practical and the personal elements of sustainability, with each of the six modules featuring on-site video interviews in locations and with experts involved with different aspects of sustainability. The themes of the modules focus on: water, waste and wastefulness; homes; streets and neighbourhoods; cities and regions; policies and certifications; and a final section on our community, your community.
In the last module, a visit is made to the headquarters of Desire2Learn (D2L), the learning management system used for the MOOC. D2L worked closely with Fanshawe on the course development. Their building has been re-purposed and contains many sustainable design features, illustrating key concepts of the MOOC.
Structure of the Modules: The first module on water, waste and wastefulness provides a good example of the online approach. The brief introduction is based around questions that set the issue in a broad context, and then bring it down to the personal level. Students have access to tools to calculate their personal carbon footprint and water usage.
Three short videos (8 to 10 minutes) highlight three specific themes through visits to facilities directly related to waste and water such as the Greenway Wastewater Plant and the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (pictured below). Staff interviews, facilities tours, and demonstrations of their ongoing work are presented. The interview approach supported the practical focus of the MOOC – as the interviewer was learning along with the student, as opposed to having an expert deliver a presentation. Topic-related links are provided to articles, report summaries, videos, TED talks, and other resources.
Each module ends with a short quiz and students have three tries to earn 70% to pass. With successful completion of all the quizzes, the student is awarded a Green Certificate of course completion.
Levels of Achievement: As is common with MOOCs, no formal credit is awarded. Instead, this MOOC offers four levels of achievement, with the Green being the first. At the Silver level, students take part in weekly discussion on such topics as the use of rain barrels and antibiotics in agriculture. The Gold level involves completion of a weekly task, such as undertaking a three- day waste audit at home, posting a photo of the accumulated waste, and reflecting on personal consumption and disposal habits.
The Platinum level of achievement requires the completion of one project over the length of the course, assisted by a project manager from Fanshawe. The project options include creating a Green Gaming Journal by using a blog, Tumblr, YouTube, or a podcast to comment on the green elements of a video game with ecological themes, such as SimCity. Another choice involves using QGIS, an open source geographic mapping system, to map a neighbourhood and analyze issues such as park vs residential space usage.
The Green Video Diary project requires creating a video diary on what the student was learning in the course, with a focus on one aspect such as water or waste, and posting weekly videos and commentary. In the Green Sketchup Design project, students use free software to draft a building or neighbourhood design, stressing elements of sustainable design from the course. The visual below is one of a series of sketches submitted by a student depicting a detailed design for a sustainable house and neighbourhood.
Registration and Participation: When registration closed, there were 539 registrants, and the completion rate was 17.5%. Most completions are at the Green level, but more than a third of completers achieved at one of the high levels – and some completed all four levels. About half of the registrants are over 35 years of age, with the rest equally divided between those under 25 and those between 25 and 35 years of age. The great majority reported the “intrinsic value of learning about sustainability” as their reason for joining the MOOC. Most students found out about the course through word of mouth and the Fanshawe web site; additional publicity was provided by radio and newspaper interviews, blogs, tweets, and features on other websites.
Outcomes and Benefits
For the students, the most significant benefits they reported on the MOOC assessment were the changes they made in their thinking, behaviour, and habits concerning sustainability – for some it was truly life changing.
The wide range of students from around the world appreciated the truly applied nature of the course.
Fanshawe College gathered important and useful experience in creating and supporting a MOOC that can be used to guide further developments.
Challenges and Enhancements
The development of a MOOC in six weeks was a considerable challenge, followed by the ongoing demands of being available and responsive to student needs and requests.
The multiple levels of achievement may have been too complex and demanding. In future MOOCs, there would be only one advanced level with a focus on one, less complex project rather than a variety of weekly tasks.
Fanshawe College is considering the possibility of offering more MOOCs. This may involve repeating this one on applied sustainability, incorporating the lessons learned through this first experience. Other topics are being considered as well, such as English as a Second Language and International Business.
In late September 2013, Fanshawe is launching an updated version of the Applied Sustainability MOOC, which includes information on sustainable landscapes and permaculture. Information and registration are available at www.fanshawec.ca/MOOC.
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