Last winter, UW Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) became more than just a place of online learning and digital connection.
For the MOOC “Changing Weather and Climate in the Great Lakes Region,” University of Wisconsin-Madison partnered with WiLS (Wisconsin Library Services) to hold locally facilitated discussions with citizens around the state. These face-to-face discussions lent some local color and a more personal feel to the global discussions happening in the MOOC, for which more than 6,500 people signed up.
From Feb. 23–March 31, 200 Wisconsinites gathered weekly at 21 public libraries to learn more about what makes weather in the Great Lakes Region unique. From Brown County to Eau Claire and Minocqua, people of all ages discussed weather and how their communities are addressing climate change issues. See the map and full list of participating libraries.
According to faculty and staff who facilitated and attended the in-person discussions, people loved having the UW come to their libraries and praised the quality and content of the Great Lakes MOOC. One MOOC participant commented:
“Thanks for providing and sharing information on climate change and trends in the Great Lakes Region. The data sets were very interesting and easy to understand, as presented through videos, charts and maps. As an archeologist for more than 40 years, I’ve been studying climate change in Wisconsin as it relates to past human settlement and occupation since the end of the Ice Age. This was my first MOOC experience, and I enjoyed it immensely. Looking forward to other UW-Madison courses in the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea. ”
A range of opinions
Faculty and teaching assistants also learned a lot during these public outreach efforts.
“The best part of the facilitation experience was being able to discuss changing weather and climate with people of various backgrounds,” said Amanda Gumber, a master’s student in the UW-Madison Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (AOS) department and TA for the MOOC. “I’m used to being surrounded by other atmospheric scientists most days, so it was fun and interesting to hear the different opinions throughout the communities.”
Britta Gjermo, a fifth-year ROTC undergraduate in the AOS department, who is training to become an Air Force weather officer in Arizona, drove to Scandinavia, Wis., each Thursday to facilitate her local discussion group and had a similarly positive experience.
“In the past I’ve done outreach and education stuff, usually to younger kids, but not to a group of adults, and especially a group so interested in the Great Lakes weather and climate,” Gjermo said. “What surprised me the most about this group is how much they already knew about weather and climate! They all have different backgrounds and careers, yet all of us are very interested in the weather and how it can affect us. It made for some really interesting and in-depth conversations.”
MOOC instructor Margaret Mooney appreciated the chance to promote the Great Lakes Region and advance awareness of the work done by partners like the National Weather Service and municipal sewerage departments.
“The best part was the reach,” Mooney said. “The ability to present a professional, polished and comprehensive picture of recent changes in weather and climate, combined with strategies for slowing future climate change, to such a large audience made me feel like my efforts could really make a difference.”
For Mary Taylor, director of the Minocqua Public Library, the in-person discussions reinforced her perception of her north woods community.
“So many of our residents are interested and knowledgeable about our natural environment,” she said. “They are observant and mindful of their natural surroundings and ready to learn and understand more.”
For those who may have missed the MOOC, not to worry! Participants can still sign up until June 29, 2015, though they will not be eligible for a statement of accomplishment.