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UW-Madison Using MOOCs To Draw New Students

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is returning to Coursera for seconds next year when it undertakes delivery of six new massive open online courses on the MOOC platform during 2015-2016. Whereas the institution's original experiment involved four disparate classes, this time the theme will be relationships: among people, among communities and between humans and the natural world. The original four-course pilot drew 135,600 registrants from every state and 141 countries.

The university said it was inspired to undertake the new theme by the work of Aldo Leopold, the late renowned expert on wildlife management who was also an environmentalist and author. Starting in 1933, Leopold also held the first professorship of game management at UW-Madison, and the institution houses the Aldo Leopold archives.

Among the new MOOCs will be "Understanding Aldo Leopold’s Legacy," a session exploring his land ethic and taught by three faculty members.

The other courses will be:

  • "Changing Weather and Climate in the Great Lakes Region";
  • "Energy and the Earth";
  • "Forests and Humans";
  • "Climate Change and Public Health"; and
  • "Virtual Shakespeare."

If that latter course sounds like the odd sock in the drawer, school officials explained that it would incorporate "environmental readings" of four Shakespearean dramas.

"I am delighted to move into the second and an increasingly important phase of our MOOC program," said Provost Paul DeLuca. "This new program will be thematic in nature and clearly display the Madison campus intellectual breadth and scholarship... Sustainability and environmental stewardship are subjects of great importance and we are uniquely positioned to enlist science and the humanities to address complex challenges while connecting to our communities around the state. I look forward to this next phase and continuing to watch the development of MOOCs on our campus."

The topics making up phase two of the university's MOOC program were culled through a campus-wide call for proposals. Those applications went through a review and recommendation process by an Educational Innovation core team made up of faculty, staff and a graduate student.

Through its MOOC contributions, UW-Madison is hoping to draw people who might be interested in pursuing additional education from the university. "We hope that by making MOOCs a free and easy point of entry for participants interested in a UW-Madison educational experience, we can help direct them to our credit-bearing online and residential postgraduate degree programs, certificates and professional development opportunities," said Jeffrey Russell, vice provost for lifelong learning and dean of the Division of Continuing Studies.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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