Coursera’s first marine science MOOC: Marine Megafauna | An Introduction to Marine Science and Conservation

In her preface to the second edition of “The Sea Around Us”, Rachel Carson succinctly captured the importance of the ocean when it comes to life on earth, including humans. Life started in the ocean, and we disrupt ocean processes at our peril.

[quote author=’Rachel Carson’] “It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose, should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist: the threat is rather to life itself.[/quote]

Despite the incredible importance of the ocean to all life on earth, most people know very little about ocean organisms and how ocean ecosystems function. That’s a big problem for those in the business of shaping human behavior for a more sustainable planet.

Fortunately, there is an every-growing array of tools to help spread knowledge about the ocean, and MOOCs have been under-utilized to date. In fact, as I write this, the only Coursera course with a real marine science focus is our upcoming Marine Megafauna | An Introduction to Marine Science and Conservation.

I was greatly excited when Duke announced their support for the development of a marine science MOOC based on my traditional undergraduate Marine Megafauna class taught every spring semester. This was a golden opportunity to reach out to an even large number of people and educate them about key issues related to ocean science, marine resource conservation and general ocean health.

To do this, the Coursera Marine Megafauna MOOC is introducing students to the biology, ecology and conservation of marine systems using compelling examples focused on charismatic large ocean creatures (e.g. whales, sea turtles, sharks etc.) as the key pedagogical hook. Imagine studying basic foraging behavior by visualizing the movements of humpback whales as they leave the surface to hunt for prey, or learning about penguin reproduction by watching the feeding chase of Gentoo penguins as adults return to their nests. Sounds intriguing and fun, right? Several other examples are included in the course ‘infographic’ below to further pique your interest. Clearly, these examples attract and maintain the attention of people across age groups, and can allow them to better understand and retain key concepts introduced in class.

I’m also excited that the Marine Megafauna MOOC is specifically designed to make use of open-access science as background material for course lectures. The readings used for the class (essentially the textbook for the course) are all published in the open access journal PLOS ONE, freely accessible online to everyone. This approach provides enrolled students the opportunity to learn how to read peer-reviewed journal articles and connects them directly with the science that matters.

So, if you are passionate about the ocean, and want to learn more about ocean organisms and ecosystems, join us for Marine Megafauna | An Introduction to Marine Science and Conservation – it starts February 3rd