Diversity in Science at Work: Goth Profs in Mathematics, the Beauty of Crystals and MOOCs to Change the World

iversity welcomes diversity. Our MOOCs are as varied as our topics and lecturers. Most professors do not wear goth clothing and stovepipe hats, but as MOOC Fellowship winner, mathematician Prof. Spannagel proves, professors with piercings exist. At least in Germany.

At the MOOC Kick-Off Workshop, we saw that iversity courses welcome many schools of thought, appealing to different types of students. Though they focus on specific subjects, these courses integrate sources and exercises from different fields, rendering lessons interdisciplinary in nature. These unique MOOCs allow one to explore design, mineralogy, and math through diverse lenses, generating new ideas about and approaches to scholarship.

The courses also vary linguistically. Some of iversity’s MOOCs launching this fall will be available not only in English but also in Russian and Spanish. Courses will also be in German, the former lingua franca of science. German remains preferable for students in countries like Poland and Ukraine, and has recently grown popular for younger graduates in Spain, Italy, and Greece amongst others due to the financial crisis.

The following are three of iversity’s outstanding German language MOOCs, whose diverse natures appeal to people of many backgrounds and interests.

Fascination with Crystals and Symmetry

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Dr. Frank Hoffman combines ways of thinking in Faszination Kristalle und Symmetrie (Fascination with Crystals and Symmetry – this course will also be taught in English). He delves into crystallography and mineralogy, fields specific within chemistry—but his course is not narrow or only for the scientifically minded. Since Hoffman draws on philosophy, design, and morality, students confront ideas about beauty. Crystals are the avenue through which Hoffman teaches the structure and symmetry inherent in everyday life.

Mathematical Thinking

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iversity’s mathematics course is also unconventional. In Mathe-MOOC: Mathematisch denken (Math MOOC: Mathematical Thinking) participants study arithmetic or geometry, or both. Prof. Spannagel is a nonconventional teacher. He even features the muppet Count von Count from “Sesame Street” in humorous videos to show “how mathematicians think, so students can solve problems by themselves.” Spannagel employs the “calculations of daily life that make people wonder. This course teaches students to experiment with numbers, finding methods to prove theories. We will start with everyday situations to help students formalize their approaches to math. We will reach the formal mathematical practice, not begin with it,” he said.

Changemaker MOOC: Social Entrepreneurship

Prof. Christoph Corves teaches how to solve social problems by approaching injustice with businesslike strategy, affecting longlasting change. Applying business methods to social projects, students learn how these two disciplines intersect and how to excel in project management. The training this MOOC provides is adaptable to any student project – from environmental concerns to social injustice, from education to nutrition and health. Course participants from all over the world learn how to create sustainable organisations to address their communities’ needs, in areas that interest them most. The course takes a multifaceted approach to social justice that transcends NGO structure, and teaches students to properly manage, budget, and strategize to make meaningful social impacts.

An iversity education is diverse. Our MOOC courses span from minerals to design, from math to anatomy. Within each course there is greater variety. With interdisciplinary sourcing and unconventional teaching styles, professors foster creative thought and welcome all types of students to their classes.

by Anna Meixler

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