A New MOOC on Natural Disasters

Monday, 15 December 2014
John Stix, John R Gyakum, Karolane Caissy, Angela Guadagno, Frank Roop, Pierre-Andre Vungoc and Claire Walker, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada
During the summer of 2014 we taught a MOOC course on natural disasters under the auspices of McGillX and edX. The course was principally designed to provide students with an introduction to the science behind naturally hazardous phenomena and natural disasters. An important guiding element of the course was to link the solid earth (volcanoes, earthquakes, landslides, and avalanches) with the oceanic and atmospheric earth (hurricanes, tornadoes, El Nino). These Earth components were also coupled by a section on climate change and global warming near the end of the course. This integrated approach demonstrated to students the highly linked nature of the Earth System. The course comprised a variety of materials with which students could engage. For each topic, the professors provided lecture materials as 5-10 minute video blocks sequenced to form a complete lecture of about 90 minutes. Typically the lectures would progress from scientific principles through case studies to mitigation. For nearly every topic we also provided a practical demonstration (e.g., supercooled water driving ice storms, liquid fragmentation driving volcanic eruptions), in order to illustrate principles in a dynamic fashion. Students also worked independently on a wide variety of exercises, and there were two non-cumulative, multiple-choice exams, as well as a case study which students would themselves research and present to their peers in the course. Finally, the professors provided weekly screenside chats to answer students’ questions and to provide a more informal learning environment. This variety of approaches enhanced the course content. Two teaching assistants worked full-time during course delivery, ensuring that students received rapid feedback to their questions and issues. The initial course enrollment was approximately 10,000.