I recently completed the course “Forests and Humans: From the Midwest to Madagascar“, a free online course from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This ran from September 30th til October 28th, on the coursera.org website.
I’ve taken a number of online courses before, using the coursera platform. This offering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison was shorter in duration than some (running over four weeks), but was packed full of information including video lectures, interviews, scientific journals and more. Whilst no stranger to forests – I already had a grounding in the subject through my undergraduate degree and my work as a Ranger – the course added a lot to my knowledge. It gave a global context for forests, covering forest ecosystems around the world in the first week. It then delved into the value of forests to humans, our effects on forests, threats to forest habitats and biodiversity, and some of the possible solutions for preserving forests into the future.
Each week of the course (a “module”) included activities, and I thought this element worked really well. For example, Week 4 had us watching a video, and reading, about protecting forests for carbon offsetting, then posting our views in the discussion forums on using forests and owning carbon. Each week also included a quiz, which one needs to pass at 75% or higher to get a Statement of Accomplishment at the end of the course. Although this course was shorter than some of the others I have undertaken, the quizes were rigorous and had me wracking my brain on a number of occasions. I took this as a good thing, because testing is a useful part of learning and actually improves our recall and understanding of a topic. With two attempts allowed on each quiz, if you take the time to work through all parts of the module (and perhaps revisit some of the harder parts in between attempts), it is still very possible to get a passing score on the quizes. I have a Statement of Accomplishment to prove it!
Overall, I really enjoyed this course. It was a great opportunity to expand on my knowledge of forests, putting my work in UK forests into a global context. I also got to talk to people in other parts of the world, and learn from them about their forests and the threats and conservation efforts therein. I think the course could be improved by developing on this aspect; perhaps some of the activities could involve working collaboratively with a peer.