I’m working my way through an excellent free course on the coursera website, “Mountains 101” from the University of Alberta. It’s an interdisciplinary MOOC delving into the history, geology, ecology and even the cultural significance of mountains. Here are the key facts:
Time requirement: 12 weeks of study, 3 – 5 hours/week
User Ratings: Average User Rating 4.7
Cost: Free, with the option to pay for a certificate (45.00 EUR according to mooc-list.com)
The Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) was once the most adbundant bird in North America, possibly in the world. Humans hunted them on a massive scale in the 1800s, and they were driven to extinction in the early 1900s. Have we learnt anything from the plight of the passenger pigeon?
A course about conservation
I’ve been taking the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) “Introducing Conservation” offered by United for Wildlife. United for Wildlife is a collaboration between seven big conservation organisations, and has the Duke of Cambridge as President. Their course aims to educate people all over the world about conservation, and encourages people to get involved themselves. I’m always keen to expand or refresh my knowledge, especially when there are certificates to reward the worthy! I’m currently working through Lesson 1: Life on Earth, and one of the exercises asked me to write briefly about an extinction from the last 500 years. I chose to write about the Passenger Pigeon, a dramatic example of human-caused extinction due to both the huge numbers involved and the short timescale over which it occurred.
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.
Learning from experts
Learning through course videos
Forests and Humans course from UW Madison
A Ranger blogging about nature conservation, wildlife, and travel.