COLUMBUS, Ohio — Anyone with access to the Internet, any time, anywhere, can take a series of free online introductory courses in environmental science at The Ohio State University.
Three new Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are available for anyone interested in learning more about Earth’s environment and sustainability. The courses are part of the Introduction to Environmental Science series offered by the Canvas Network.
The first course in the series, Earth’s Environment: Soil, Water, and Air, introduces students to environmental science, environmental literacy and the scientific process.
The series’ second course, Energy and Earth: Fossil Fuels, Alternative, and Renewable Energy, explores human energy production and use and their impact on the environment, human health and Earth’s ecosystems.
The third course, Life on Earth: Biomes, Climates, Ecology, and Evolution, looks at the vast diversity of life on Earth.
Brian Lower, associate professor in Ohio State’s School of Environment and Natural Resources (SENR), leads the courses’ team of instructors. SENR is part of the university’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).
The new series is being made available to students across the globe at no charge through Canvas, which, according to its website, works “to promote openness and innovation in education.” It does that by assimilating courses from colleges, universities and organizations to create open-access educational experiences.
“These courses have the potential to reach a variety of learners, and we hope that the material helps students reach their educational or career goals,” Lower said.
Designers from Ohio State’s Office of Distance Education and eLearning (ODEE) helped develop the new series. ODEE has collaborated with SENR over the past three years to develop several online courses for Ohio State undergraduate students, including Sustainability Metrics; Introduction to Rural Sociology; Introduction to Environmental Science; and Introduction to Forestry, Fisheries and Wildlife.
Enrolling to learn
Anyone from across the globe can easily enroll in the series once they create a Canvas.net account, said Ella Weaver, one of the courses’ instructors and an instructional aides associate who works to support SENR’s eLearning initiatives.
“By enrolling, students are able to connect to open content in an online platform at their leisure,” Weaver said. “Each course offered is free and self-paced, so students have access to all the course material and resources on a continuous basis and don’t have to worry about cost or time constraints.”
Offering the course content as a series allows greater flexibility for the diverse needs of students, Weaver said. Students can opt to enroll in the full series or simply enroll in an individual course in the series that aligns more with their interests or goals.
“We recommend spending three hours per week if students are going to be active participants in the courses,” Weaver said. “Participants may also just access the chapters they are interested in and pop in and out of a course.”
Designed to expand access
Lower said the new courses keep with Ohio State’s tradition of developing innovative approaches to teaching and learning. He said he and the other instructors have strived to provide engaging, inclusive educational materials to attract a diverse audience of students.
“Several hundred students have enrolled in the course during the first month, and we expect this number to grow to several thousand enrolled students in 2018,” he said.
Through a welcome survey built into the courses, the instructors have learned more about their student enrollees. For example, of those completing the survey, 65 percent were outside North America, 43 percent use a language other than English as their primary spoken language, and 23 percent were taking their first online course.