April 2, 2014, by Helen Whitehead
Learner reactions to the MOOC: Sustainability, Society and You
Sarah Speight has been reflecting on the first run of Sustainability, Society and You (starting for its second time on 16 June). She writes: over 37,000 comments were posted by learners and tutors during the 8 weeks of Sustainability, Society and You. We had our contentious debates: for example over the contribution of the arts to sustainability; whether or not corporate social responsibility is just ‘green wash’, and is green chemistry problematic for sustainability because it makes unnecessary products more benign rather than encouraging their removal altogether.
We were working with a committed and engaged group, all seeking knowledge and inspiration to support them with their own sustainability agendas. For some, the MOOC format was challenging:
“I find this avenue of learning very new, but trying my best to learn quickly!”
“This will be my first online course and from the looks of it, it’s quite different the way I achieved my honours degree. I am looking forward to this new way of learning however it will require a bit of self-discipline.”
But peer support was there from the start as learners contributed their own ’Top Tips’ for effective learning in online courses:
“My one bit of advice is – Don’t get frustrated if you fall behind. Take it easy and try build up a few hours (instead of watching TV or movies – get in front of the computer and just go for it – a good burst of intelligent listening/reading with a notebook to keep track of things.”
“I think another tip which can help us learn effectively is discussing with online-classmates, and try to make friends with them. With others encouragement, you can motivate with each other.”
As the course drew to a close, we invited learners to share their hopes for the future and to give us their final reflections. While we might be daunted at the scale of the issues facing our planet, we tried to encourage people to take small, positive steps on an individual level. The response has been great. Here are just a few examples:
“If more and more people can make small changes to living sustainably, and increase their awareness of what they are doing to the environment, it will in turn lead to a better place for all of us, and hopefully slow down some of the detrimental effects that humans have on the planet.”
“My hopes are that we will become more equitable societies. But I now recognise that that requires action on my part. I have been doing some writing and this has given me the tools to adapt my writing and make it more pertinent o changing practices. I cannot sit on the fence when i know i have skills that I can use. I’m feeling enthusiastic!”
“I like to think I have been making efforts to live with sustainability and preservation of our planet more in mind. I know there are many ways I can improve this and want to explore them as much as I can and ‘walk the talk’ so others might chose to follow rather than tell them what they should be doing?”
“I have really enjoyed this course and I’ve recommended it to the sustainability group at work so hopefully they’ll join you in June. I feel that I had a very limited view of what sustainability meant and the course made my rethink my definition to include a lot more of the social issues than I had previously so thank you for that.”
For one of our UK learners, learning was disrupted by a burst water pipe that flooded her house. The incident wasn’t related to the severe weather experienced by parts of the UK this winter, but its impact was similar. Our learner came back into the course (and house) to note:
“I was upset that so much water escaped, after all my efforts to conserve water and live sustainably! “
The opportunity to learn alongside peers from all over the world was very much appreciated:
“Hearing from first hand about what is going on around the world has been invaluable.”
“The range of perspectives, nationalities and expertise was truly inspiring”
The appetite for interdisciplinary and cross-cultural learning seemed strong, with many committing to further MOOCs in the months ahead.
Acknowledgements: thanks to the learners whose comments are ‘recycled’ in this blog.
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