Yale’s School of Forestry & Environmental Science is expanding its foray into digital education with the introduction this fall of the school’s first Massive Open Online Courses.
The four-course series is titled “Journey of the Universe: A Story for Our Times,” and the first cohort will officially begin on Sept. 21. F&ES and Divinity School Lecturer Matthew Riley DIV ’08, who helped create the series, said the courses are among the school’s first steps toward a larger presence in online education. Online courses are an extremely effective way to reach a high number of people, he said, and professors are able to bring their expertise to nontraditional audiences.
Yale wants to make education accessible to everyone regardless of location or background, Riley said.
“These courses grew out of a bigger effort at online education at F&ES … and the student response has been enormous,” Riley said. “Combining these ideas that were present in the humanities and sciences into the digital format has been so rich and so productive that we and the administration decided to go ahead and bring this to a bigger audience.”
Enrollment in Journey of the Universe costs $79 per course.
Each portion of the series is designed and taught by John Grim and Mary Tucker, both senior lecturers and research scholars at F&ES and the Yale Divinity School. The MOOCs’ first cohort will officially begin on Sept. 21, but the courses will be available for the entire year. Upon completing all four six-week courses, students will earn a “specialization” certification from Coursera, the platform hosting the MOOCs, although the certification will not count for University credit.
Both Grim and Tucker emphasized how the course will uniquely integrate the sciences and humanities. For example, Grim explained that the fourth course, Living Cosmology, focuses on how cultures and people have impacted the Earth’s evolution.
“This project comes out of a whole sense that we need to bring the research, the tremendous contributions of science, to understand our world in its variety, in its complexity, in its ecological systems and so on,” Tucker said. “But we are also saying that the humanities have something to offer here, through history, philosophy and art.”
Tucker and Grim taught the classes in person at F&ES in fall 2015 before offering them online. The online course itself took only about a year to prepare, but the course materials took over a decade to create, Tucker said. One of the most time-consuming projects, she said, was writing, filming and editing the documentary “Journey of the Universe,” which served as the basis for both the courses at F&ES and now the MOOCs. The documentary, released in 2011, debuted on PBS and has won an Emmy Award.
The courses draw upon material from the documentary, a book that Tucker co-authored, as well as 20 interviews with scientists, historians, artists and environmentalists. In the third course, students will learn about religious historian Thomas Berry, and the final course is a capstone project designed by the students.
“[Tucker and I] are both historians of religion, and when we came to F&ES, one of the insights we encountered in the environmental community is that while environmentalists clearly understood the science behind projects, the larger cultural values have not been brought to bear,” Grim said. “Our role is to raise the perspectives that are addressed in the humanities.”
In addition to the new MOOCs, the F&ES also offers an Environmental Leadership and Training Initiative, through which students can earn a professional certificate completely online.