Monthly Archives: December 2014

276 – MOOC

A MOOC is a “Massive Open Online Course”. They are free to enrol in, and they are very popular, often attracting thousands of participants. I’ve prepared a MOOC on “Agriculture, Economics and Nature”, for which registrations are now open. 

About a year ago I was introduced to the CEO of Yara Pilbara, the Western Australian arm of a major international fertilizer company headquartered in Norway. He was keen to establish a partnership with the University of Western Australia and to contribute financially to a venture that would benefit the University and would be consistent with Yara’s values and interests.

After discussing some options, I agreed to lead the development and delivery of a MOOC on the economics of agriculture and the environment. Preparation of the course is now almost complete, and it will be offered for the first time starting on February 2, running for six weeks. I’m hoping that you’ll consider signing up to do the course, or perhaps recommending it to others. You can join the 1000 people from about 50 countries who have already registered.

Here are some more details so that you know what you’d be getting into if you did the course.

It doesn’t require any prior knowledge of agriculture or of economics, and is pitched at about the level of upper high school or first year university. I’m hoping that it will be of wide interest.

Each week has a different theme:

  1. Agricultural production and prices, and agriculture’s reliance on natural resources
  2. Resource and environmental challenges facing agriculture
  3. The economics of agricultural inputs
  4. The economics of land conservation
  5. The economics of agri-environmental projects
  6. Government policies in agriculture

There are 8-10 brief videos to watch each week, mostly 5 to 7 minutes long. There are two or three recommended readings each week, each of them brief and non-technical. There will be a brief online quiz each week so that you can check that you’ve understood the material, and a multiple choice exam at the end. Pass the exam and you’ll receive a certificate. The course is stand-alone and doesn’t give you credit for any other course at the University of Western Australia.

There will be opportunities to interact with other students from around the world in forums on the course web site. My assistant and I will also participate in these forums to help people with their problems and questions.

A very basic ability with maths is needed. You’ll need to be able to read and interpret a line graph, and there are a couple of optional spreadsheet exercises that you can choose to do.

I’m estimating that the work load for students will be about 2 hours per week, although you can obviously spend more time reading more deeply on each of the topics if you choose to.

For me, the aim in presenting the course is to raise awareness of the School of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UWA. Perhaps it will lead to students enrolling in our other courses.

Yara is involved to make a contribution to the community and to generate positive publicity and public relations. Yara assured me that they would not try to influence the content of the course, and they certainly have stuck to that.

For students, the potential benefits include learning interesting information about the economics of agriculture and the environment, assessing whether you might be interested in doing further study in this area, and interacting with others online as part of the course.

The financial support allowed us to pay for professional-quality production, design and editing for the videos that make up the core of the course. I’m confident this will improve the experience of students compared to some of the very cheaply produced MOOCs that are available.

For more information, or to register for the course, go to this page, or take a look at the promo video below.

If you watch the promo above, I hope you like the theme music. I recorded three different version of it in my studio (my backyard shed, actually), and they’ll be used in different weeks of the course.