The Mega MOOC: Taking Marine Megafauna online in Spring 2014!

Duke recently announced the next set of online courses that it will offer to the world through the Coursera system, and I’m excited and honored to be one of the next faculty to offer a course through this mechanism. In the spring the of 2014, I will be teaching Marine Megafauna: An introduction to marine science and conservation as a Massively Open Online Course (MOOC). For those interested in Duke’s approach to online education through Coursera, see these pages.

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Why do an introductory ocean MOOC?

Healthy oceans are essential to all life on earth. A Duke MOOC that introduces basic marine science and conservation concepts can reach a large number of people and educate them about key issues related to ocean science, marine resource conservation and general ocean health. At present there are few (if any) MOOC courses that focus on marine science topics, and this course will help fill this important gap. Materials developed for this Coursera course will also be used to enhance teaching of the standard Duke Marine Megafauna class, making it more interactive. Furthermore, the lessons learned during the development of this online course will hopefully help other marine scientists at Duke develop similar offerings on more focused topics.

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Charismatic megafauna as the pedagogical hook

The Marine Megafauna MOOC will introduce a large number of students to the biology, ecology and conservation of marine systems using compelling examples that exploit charismatic large ocean creatures (e.g. penguins, whales, sea turtles, sharks, giant squid etc.) as the key pedagogical hook. These species attract and maintain the attention of people across age groups, and can allow them to better understand and retain key concepts introduced in class. This is an solid approach to introducing the basics of marine science and conservation, and – at present – no other courses of this kind exist at Duke, or elsewhere on Coursera. In fact, as I write this there are no marine science courses on Coursera at all!

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Oceans @ Duke

Duke is amazingly strong and diverse in the area of ocean sciences. In the Nicholas School alone, Duke researchers work across the gamut of marine ecosystems – from deep sea environments to marine microbial communities. Their field studies range from polar regions to tropical ecosystems and includes both the natural and social sciences. A Duke MOOC that introduces a large audience to basic marine science and conservation issues will raise global awareness of Duke’s strength in ocean sciences and further establish the Nicholas School as a nexus for marine science and conservation education and solutions.

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Open to all!

Clearly the MOOC approach is one of inclusivity. The icing on the top of this is that the Marine Megafauna MOOC will be specifically designed to make use of open-access science as background material for each lecture. The readings used for the class (essentially the textbook for the course) are all published in the open access journal PLOS ONE (or in similar journals) that are freely accessible online. The further advantage of using PLOS ONE articles is that they are typically written for a more general audience, providing for greater accessibility to the target audience for this course. As in the standard Marine Megafauna class, we will make extensive use of high quality still imagery, video and audio. Freely available geospatial data from online repositories (e.g. Google Earth KMLs) will also be employed to be viewed in online mapping programs. The course makes extensive use of compelling open access multimedia resources (video/audio/animations) that are perfectly suited for online delivery.