A new open online course from the University of Alberta aims to give students a foundation for understanding one of the biggest challenges the world has ever faced.
“Energy issues are central to everything in the world today,” said Brad Hayes, instructor of the 21st Century Transformation course: How Do We Make It Work?
Hayes has spent much of his career doing outreach and education on energy issues, and he felt there would be widespread public interest in the energy transition course. He connected with Anne Naeth, director of U of A’s Energy Systems signature area, and the two evaluated energy-related educational offerings before identifying a gap in the market.
“What we saw was missing something very broad in the power level of university students, but also the public, they can begin to understand the story from the beginning to the end,” says Hayes, an assistant professor in the Department of Earth and. Atmospheric scientists and outreach director for the Canadian Society for Renewable Energy (CSEE). IU of A and CSEE joined forces to create the course, with Hayes in charge.
The full spectrum of energy topics
The six-week course covers energy transitions from the past to the present, energy sources and production, energy conservation, energy transition FAQs, and key topics in energy transition, including the policies and methods needed to support it.
“One of the reasons Coursera (the online learning platform that hosts this course) jumped all over this article is that they haven’t seen any other course that provides this kind of coverage of all aspects of energy,” he said. Hayes.
The course began this month and already has more than 300 students enrolled, according to Gavin Bradley, the science MOOC coordinator at the U of A.
Although Hayes leads the course, he has brought in a dozen guest lecturers to enrich the lessons. Rick Chalaturnyk, a professor in the Faculty of Engineering, shares his expertise in carbon capture and storage. Monica Gattinger, chair of the University of Ottawa’s Positive Energy program, is a policy expert who sheds light on that part of the energy debate.
“Energy problems require an energy system,” says Hayes. “Yes we need policies on emissions and we need to make sure we reduce emissions, but there must be policies on creating energy.”
And while discussions of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions are woven throughout, Hayes notes that educators also provide a global perspective on another important side of change. Speakers from Ghana and India describe the challenges faced by people in regions of the world where there is insufficient energy support and show the steps taken to address that deficit.
“What we’re hoping to do with this MOOC is provide a place where people can go and understand, that’s why we use oil and gas, that’s why it’s good to do hydroelectricity or solar, how it all comes together,” Hayes said. .
“If you fill up a car with gas after taking this course, you probably think more about what that really means,” added Bradley.
According to Hayes, one of the biggest challenges in creating the six-week course was narrowing down all the possible information and deciding what to cover. However, tackling a big topic in a structured way is something that U of A excels at.
“Most of our MOOCs tend to be large, accessible, introductory science topics,” Bradley explains, citing examples like Mountain 101 and Dino 101. IU of A now has 29 MOOCs available through Coursera with more than 1.6 million students from 160. countries, he added.