First Impressions of a Climate Change MOOC – Will the Climate Change?

I’ve just finished the second week of the University of Exeter’s climate change course through Futurelearn, and thought I’d post some reflections. First, the pedagogy. I’m still unsure about the linear nature of the materials. The contents links for the week are presented as a single page, and once you’ve clicked on one and marked it as complete you have the choice of ‘previous’ or ‘next’, with no obvious way back to the contents page. The contents page is broken into blocks by headings, and within each heading the blocks tend to follow a video-article-article-discussion pattern, or a close variant of it. Now, in one way that’s good because the blocks let me plan how to break down the week’s work. On the other hand, it would be really useful if I could jump around the content a little more easily so that I could revisit some underlying concept, or simply because I’d like to study the material in a different order. On a positive note, I’m impressed with the quality of the videos, both in terms of their educational content and in terms of their production values. Complex concepts are explained in simpler terms with high quality and appropriate animations and graphics.

In terms of content, so far we’ve covered the basics of the climate system, some of the feedbacks, and the origins of some of the variability in the climate system. I have noticed some sceptic viewpoints in the discussions, but no outright trolling as such. For example, so far I’ve spotted ‘no climate change since x’, ‘the climate has always changed’, and ‘humans are not changing the climate’, but myself and others have then responded with analogies or further evidence. So far, it seems, the sceptics seem to be true sceptics, perhaps repeating misinformation they’ve heard from other sources, but open to examine the evidence for themselves, at zero cost except for time. And isn’t that one of the opportunities MOOCs offer, for access to education and the opportunity to learn? Personally, I think MOOCs have a place, but remain doubtful they’ll achieve even a fraction of what the hype has predicted for them. Will the climate change? Well, next week we move on to look at the man-made influence on the climate, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens then and how the course team manages.

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