MOOCs as Agents for Global Change

31. August 2013 by iversity

India has a problem: to keep up with the influx of new students, the country would have to build 1,500 new universities over the next few years. Private schools, sprouting up like mushrooms to seize the opportunity and satisfy demand, will often offer sub-par but still expensive education. To many students outside of highly developed countries, access to higher education is limited or even impossible. MOOCs can enable transfer of knowledge to regions where it is needed and open up new opportunities for global engagement.

The agricultural sector still plays an important role in Eastern Europe, and Ukraine has traditionally been called the “breadbasket” of the region. Yet, agricultural education is not always state of the art. Prof. Dr. Ralf Schlauderer, instructor of “Internationales Agrarmanagement” (International Agricultural Management) says: “There is a lack of knowledge in the field of agriculture in Eastern Europe. With this MOOC, we are trying to change this.” Schlauderer teaches at the Weihenstephan-Triesdorf University of Applied Sciences, which has been collaborating with universities in Eastern Europe for over 20 years. This collaboration made him an expert in agricultural industries in countries such as Armenia and Ukraine. In his course, he and his team teaches students and professionals skills ranging from choosing the right machinery to calculating costs in highly dynamic markets, whose fluctuations are hard to predict. The course will be offered in German and Russian, though Schlauderer hopes to run it in more languages in the future. “The content of the course can be applied anywhere in the world. Language is just a small obstacle,” he says.

In the course “Changemaker MOOC: Social Entrepreneurship”, Prof. Christoph Corves will train students how to tackle social problems. His course teaches that such projects must be financially sustainable to create long-term improvements, independent from outside funding. The course has been taught for several years at the University of Kiel, but offering the course as a MOOC opens up completely new possibilties: “We found that diverse groups are the most succesful in our course and we hope to have an even more diverse group of students in our MOOC”, says Professor Corves. The course taught in Kiel has already had tangible outcomes: My Boo, a startup originating from the course, builds bicycles from organically sourced bamboo in Ghana, creating jobs for Ghanaian locals. In this course, students present pitches for projects, and may receive initial funding to jumpstart their change-making.

Dr. Bernhard Hirt aims to not only educate European medical students between their pre-clinic and clinic studies, but also inform those in developing countries about proper surgical procedures. “Most of the surgeries are simple, and are adaptable to any healthcare provider’s resources,” said Hirt. His MOOC “Anatomie Interaktiv” (Interactive Anatomy) shows live dissections and operations. Observing these procedures could revolutionize medical care in developing countries, as “all students will learn proper surgical techniques by watching experts.”

MOOCs will inevitably impact emerging countries, as millions of students now have access to free, high-quality courses. iversity strives to offer courses with content relevant not only to European and American audiences, but also to nations that lack knowledge in certain fields. The knowledge and skills such students will gain from MOOCs about land management, social entrepreneurship, and surgical treatment has the potential to transform communities and better lives unprecedentedly.

By Hans Stiegler and Anna Meixler

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