A global classroom to address a global challenge

University of Alberta partners with University of Tromsø and University of the Arctic on new climate change MOOC.

Jennifer Pascoe - 22 January 2016

As one of the world's northernmost research universities, the University of Alberta has spent decades getting to the bottom of what is happening at the top of the world. Now U of A researchers and instructors are partnering with colleagues from the University of Tromsø and the University of the Arctic-a co-operative network of universities, colleges, research institutions, and other organizations concerned with education and research in and about the North-to present a series of massive open online courses (MOOCs).

This series of four MOOCs focuses on introducing the Arctic to people around the world. The first course, "Introduction to the Arctic: Climate," launched earlier this month through Coursera. "We have a social responsibility to educate people on the profound changes happening to the planet," says Jonathan Schaeffer, dean of the Faculty of Science at the U of A. "Nowhere are these changes more obvious than in the Arctic."

In four lessons, students will examine the geography of the circumpolar North, the Arctic climate system, the cryosphere (ice), and the implications of human-induced climate change. The course is available free to anyone anywhere in the world and will be offered for credit to U of A students in the future.

Comprehending climate change

"We are creating a global classroom to address a global problem," Schaeffer says. "We are joining the chorus of voices to ensure people understand the science behind what is happening to the world. If this MOOC can help educate people on the new reality of climate change, we will have done our job."

Students will examine why the Arctic is cold and ice-covered, and how that affects its climate and ecosystems. Consideration will also be given to how the Arctic is connected to the rest of the world. Finally, the course will examine present-day climate change, the processes driving it and evidence for it in the Arctic, before examining the implications in the rapidly changing North.

Schaeffer, one of the pioneers of online education in Canadian universities, was the driver behind the U of A's participation in this partnership. Forthcoming courses include a focus on the economy, sustainability, and peoples and cultures of the Arctic. As with the first course, all will involve global collaboration to provide a global perspective.