Groups drive energy discussions

July 21, 2015 | by Maija Inveiss

Friendly faces, delicious snacks, interesting conversation and varying perspectives filled a room as University of Wisconsin–Madison students and staff gathered in the Wisconsin Energy Institute. The group was assembled to discuss content from one of the university’s massive open online courses (MOOCs) in a sustainability discussion group.

MOOCs are free, not-for-credit online courses that are open to all learners. The Office of Sustainability organized campus discussion groups for UW–Madison faculty, staff and students participating in one or more of UW–Madison’s five 2015 sustainability-themed MOOCs to enhance engagement with the course material and create a community of learners centered around the courses.

In the most recent course, Energy and the Earth, geosciences professor Alan Carroll explored the impacts and implications of different energy systems.

In weekly peer-facilitated discussion sessions, campus community members used the weekly video lectures, interviews with experts, and reading assignments to drive conversation about energy consumption and renewable energy solutions.

The discussion groups started after Office of Sustainability communications director Jill Sakai took a MOOC herself. She joined a group to watch all the videos and felt it benefited her learning experience and kept her motivated to finish the course.

Anna Ostermeier, one of the group organizers, found the MOOC courses very accessible and the felt discussion groups supplemented the course with new perspectives.

“I personally really like to hear other people’s reaction to the material and what they are thinking about because I find that people have much different reactions and what they think about is a lot different from how I think about it,” Ostermeier said.

Many of the participants in the MOOC enjoyed the conversations on renewable energy and finding out new information from the other participants.

One of the Monday group participants, Jackie Hazelwood, liked the casualness of the discussion groups because, unlike in a formal presentation, everyone could build together on the ideas brought up in the MOOC.

The Office of Sustainability will offer more discussion groups for each of the remaining sustainability-themed MOOCs held in the fall: Forests and Humans: From Midwest to Madagascar beginning September 20 and Climate Change Policy and Public Health beginning November 9. Group enrollment will open in early September.