Online course with worldwide impact

Participants from 183 countries logged in to take part in the first MOOC conducted by the Cologne University of Applied Sciences. Especially participants from developing countries wanted to use the free online course to learn more about coping with the effects of climate change.

Live In action: The developers and teachers of the MOOC „Disasters and Ecosystems: Resilience in a Changing Climate“ ©ITT/iversity

Live In action: The developers and teachers of the MOOC „Disasters and Ecosystems: Resilience in a Changing Climate“ ©ITT/iversity

The students, researchers, engineers and NGO staff who took part in the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) “Disasters and Ecosystems: Resilience in a Changing Climate” in spring 2015 tuned in from India, Bangladesh, Kenya, the Philippines, in Germany and the US. All they needed was a laptop, Internet connection and some English language skills.

The Institute for Technology and Resources Management in the Tropics and Subtropics (ITT) at Cologne University of Applied Sciences (TH Köln) specializes in responding to climate-related catastrophes such as rising sea levels, droughts, tropical storms and landslides that bury entire towns. And the experts at the ITT in Cologne, which is home to three DAAD-funded Development-Related Postgraduate Courses, also want to share their know-how with as many interested parties as possible around the world.

“With the MOOC we are complementing our traditional teaching format and reaching out not only to our students but also to decision-makers and experts in the developing countries that suffer most acutely from the consequences of climate change,” explains Dr. Udo Nehren, who led the course together with three other colleagues.
The MOOC was the perfect format for sharing knowledge and expertise, but TH Köln had other reasons for developing and conducting the online course. Innovative teaching, for one, is a key focus area for TH Köln. The online course was also a valuable networking opportunity – not only for the participants, but also for FH Köln staff, who had the chance to make new international contacts and expand their impact internationally.

Attractive course offering
The United Nations lent its support to the MOOC, the contents of which are very much aligned with the goals of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The UN support allowed TH Köln to develop a comprehensive course complete with professionally produced videos, which UNEP is also sharing and promoting worldwide via the MOOC website . The MOOC is also hosted by the German online education platform “iversity”. In addition, the MOOC Facebook group has already attracted some 8,000 members with its spirited dialogue and exchange.

12,000 persons registered during the four months that the course ran in spring 2015. While many simply “listened in” on the course, some 2,000 participants completed sub-sections of the course and took the tests. The course evaluation revealed that most participants brought practical, “real-life” experience to the course.

Sequel to follow
Feedback from a meteorologist and environmental risk manager in Madagascar exemplified the positive response to the course: “The MOOC helps us to improve our risk analysis for mangrove forests.” This is the kind of feedback that Udo Nehren and his team had hoped for. “Through the Internet we were able to reach many interested parties who have real and immediate need for this knowledge,” said Nehren. “This would never have been possible in Cologne alone.” After fine-tuning the course based on participant feedback, the MOOC will be conducted again in early 2016.

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