Pioneering online learners have praised a free course offered by the University of Leeds as part of its venture into MOOCs.
Fairness and Nature: When Worlds Collide is one of the first Massive Open Online Courses offered in partnership with FutureLearn a company set up by the Open University.
Focusing on why fairness needs to be part of natural resource management policy, it is led by globally-respected geographer Professor Jon Lovett and profiles to global participants research underway by Leeds academics in Nepal and Mexico.
The first run of the two-week mini-MOOC has ended, with enthusiastic feedback from participants and academics alike.
More than 5,300 people joined the course from more than 120 countries across the world, generating more than 10,000 comments and posts in discussion forums.
Professor Lovett, who holds Leeds Leadership Chair of Global Challenges, said: Im new to online education and the quantity and quality of debate among the participants was really excellent. It was a privilege being in the MOOC with everyone.
It felt like being in a room of friends the range of opinions was fascinating, and the discussion has been polite and informative.
Comments from participants included: I received my formal qualifications through distance learning but never experienced such active discussion around a topic as I have on this course. I think the format is fantastic and congratulations to Jon and his team for encouraging such engagement.
Discussions between course participants were facilitated by Professor Lovett, his research colleagues, a number of final year undergraduates studying a similar module in Geography and members of the Universitys digital learning team.
More than half of the learners who registered for the course accessed learning materials in the second week, indicating a high and sustained level of learner engagement.
More than half of those who responded to a post-course survey said they had no previous experience of the subject matter. A quarter had studied it at university. Nine out of ten respondents gave the course an overall rating of excellent or very good and said they would recommend it to others.
Fairness and Nature: When Worlds Collide was first of FutureLearns courses to finish during its beta (test) phase. It will run again from March 31.
The next course: Exploring Anatomy: the Human Abdomen is led by Anatomy Lecturer Dr James Pickering. It starts on February 10, 2014 and will run for three weeks, requiring about four hours input each week.
MOOCS are free for all, with potential students of all ages from across the globe able to choose a course that interests them and learn from the University of Leeds top academics benefiting from virtual access to world-leading researchers in their field and studying at a pace that suits them.
FutureLearn is working with renowned institutions including the British Council, the British Library and the British Museum, as well as other top universities across the world.
The University of Leeds is also working with the BBC to prepare a MOOC focussing on the legacies of the First World War.
Professor Neil Morris, Director of Digital Learning at the University of Leeds, said:
An increasing amount of evidence shows that appropriate use of educational technologies enhances student learning, both within the school and Higher Education sectors. Our Massive Open Online Courses are designed using well-established principles for online learning, and also offer learners the ability to gain some digital literacy skills before embarking on the course.
Feedback from our first MOOC has shown that learners have highly valued the clear navigation and learning objectives, and the study skills advice provided. The MOOC has also shown how research-led teaching can be made accessible to learners at all stages of their professional development.
FutureLearns MOOCs are specifically designed to be mobile phone and tablet friendly. For the first University of Leeds course, audio and text versions of subtitled video content was provided (together with lower resolution alternatives) for participants without access to sufficient internet bandwidth for example in remote areas of developing countries.
Professor Neil Morris, Professor Jon Lovett and Dr James Pickering are all available for interview. Please contact the Press Office on +44 (0)113 343 4031 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.