Record-breaking online course at UiB

Around 8,000 students from around the world registered for the online course Causes of climate change. More online courses are in the works at the University of Bergen.

Kerim being filmed on Greenland
ONLINE OUTDOORS: "Greenland is like a Western Norway with frozen fjords," says Kerim Hestnes Nisancioglu. Along with Asgeir Sorteberg he has developed the popular University of Bergen online course on climate change which recently ended.
Frode Ims

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In August 2014, Professor Kerim Nisancioglu from the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research is giving a lecture on the west coast of Greenland. Behind him, the white silhouettes of drifting icebergs are cast against the grey horizon.

Not only the geography separates this from a normal lecture. In place of students, a film crew from the University of Bergen’s (UiB) Communication Division is capturing Nisancioglu’s engaging explanations on the causes of climate change. A year later – and after countless hours of work from climate researchers, editors and designers – around 8,000 students have signed up to the course Causes of climate change, UiB’s first massive open online course.

It can easily be called a success. No previous course at UiB has come close to having this many registered students. Strangers who recognise Nisancioglu from the online lectures have stopped him in the street to chat.


5,600 questions in three weeks

Students following the course were invited to discuss with researchers and each other online. To be able to answer the 5,600 questions that were submitted, Nisancioglu and his colleague Asgeir Sorteberg was joined by a postdoctoral researcher and three research fellows for the three weeks that the course was officially active.

"The students came from all around the world and had very diverse backgrounds. Their questions were very good. Every morning the five of us had a meeting to go through them, and at the end of every week we made a video to answer the most frequently asked questions," says Nisancioglu.

The professor is excited about the educational opportunities inherent in the combination of images, video, sound, animations, and graphics.

"Online courses bring out the essence in a way that simple classroom education does not.  There are great benefits to combining these two methods of teaching," he says.


New course will award credits

On 21 September 2016 the course will double down and reboot. The course duration will be extended from three to six weeks, but will still be accessible to a general audience with an understanding of physics and an interest in climate.

Complimentary course modules will delve deeper into select materials, and UiB researchers from other fields will contribute.

"Locally, we are going to combine online courses with group assignments, presentations and regular lectures, awarding credits for students who complete the course," Nisancioglu says.


Getting serious about global education

The University of Bergen has a goal of developing one or two massive open online courses each year. Registration opens for the next course, Occupational health in developing countries on 16 December 2015. This course especially targets African students, but also students who want to learn more about work environment and health risks in developing countries.

"We are taking seriously our responsibility to contribute to global education," says Vice-Rector for Education Oddrun Samdal.

She is very happy that UiB's first online course both exceeded the set target of 5,000 registered students, as well as the fact that more students than the online average completed the course.

"We take this as a strong signal that we have reached an interested target group, and that both our content and approach have worked well," says Samdal.


Greenland is still an issue

Researchers believe that the ice melting on Greenland has accelerated lately, and this clearly shows the effect that climate change is having on the Arctic region. This is one reason that Greenland will feature heavily in the next instalment of the Causes of climate change course as well.

Kerim Nisancioglu has visited Greenland several times as a researcher, and has started to think of it as a Western Norway with frozen fjords.

"You can spend many years making climate models, but you will not understand the forces of nature in the ice and the sea until you have been here," he says.

Completing the online course may still be your second best option.