Public Libraries, U. Wisconsin–Madison Team Up on Climate Change MOOC.
The Library NEWS | The University of Wisconsin–Madison (UWM) is offering a new four-week massive open online course (MOOC) on Changing Weather and Climate in the Great Lakes Region. What’s different about this endeavor, besides the strong local interest angle, is that the university, in coordination with Wisconsin Library Services (WiLS), is partnering with 21 public libraries across the state. The collaborative venture will share scientific information about global warming via video, readings, an online discussion board, and quizzes, as well as in-person discussions at the libraries with scientists, staff, and graduate students from UWM, the National Weather Service, and the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.
The free course is taught by Steve Ackerman, professor of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and director of the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies, and Margaret Mooney, the Institute’s director of education and public outreach. Classes started on February 23 and will wrap up at the end of March. Each session covers a different season and explores the way the weather is changing as well as how to mitigate it, Ackerman said.
This “targeted open online course” was created as a way to educate the public about the impacts of climate change, Ackerman said, using weather data and other observations to show what is already happening in the Great Lakes region. He also hopes to start a public conversation about the issue of climate change.
“There’s a lot of talk about rising sea levels, but there’s also impacts on the Great Lakes, huge freshwater bodies…. We want to bring awareness of that…if we’re aware of these changes in community and family traditions, how will we be dealing with that? How will our children be dealing with that 70 years from now?
“For example, one of the things we point out as tradition in Wisconsin is we go ice fishing in the winter. The amount of time [that there is enough] ice is decreasing two weeks [per year]. What does that mean for family traditions? If the ice continues to shift, how many days will that be leaving you? Those are the conversations we will be having.”
Ackerman said he was excited about how course participants will talk inside their local libraries about the climate change impacts in their neighborhoods, and how that would affect their own traditions and heritage.
The online course will also cover other environmental issues related to climate change, such as the impact on the forestry and shipping industries, farming, gardening, and invasive species, as well as offering tips for disaster preparedness, such as dealing with snowstorms, heavy rains, and tornadoes, Ackerman said.
A total of 3,846 people enrolled in the course by the end of the first week, some from as far away as Brazil, South Africa, and China, according to Lika Balenovich, UWM Education Innovation communication coordinator. As of press time more than 6,000 people had enrolled, with some 200 attending in-person library talks during the second week.
University faculty and staff have enjoyed visiting the libraries and talking with patrons, Balenovich said. The course content will remain online for enrolled participants “for a time” so they can finish the readings and earn statements of accomplishment, she added.
Having the local discussions also provides “another layer of personalization to the MOOC” by increasing public understanding of climate change and creating opportunities for individuals and community groups to “take action,” Stef Morrill, director of WiLS, told LJ.
“By not only focusing on information about climate change, but by applying it to local concerns and providing inspiration and ideas for personal action, this MOOC will give residents in the state (and beyond) the opportunity to have a better understanding of this topic and how they can personally effect change,” Morrill said. “The discussion sections will reinforce this local opportunity of action, and we hope participants will become more involved with local groups that are partnering with the public libraries and will also attend future programming at the library around environmental topics.”
Hitting the local sweet spot
Kristina Gomez, events and programming librarian at the Milwaukee Public Library, said their library was excited about participating in the course. She noted the class fits well with the library’s “green” focus; the central library has a green roof with solar panels, which the public can tour from April to October, and a collection of books about environmentally-friendly living and scholarly materials on climate change and environmental sustainability.
Gomez said she loved the course’s focus on the Great Lakes. “In my own personal time, when I read about climate change overall, it seems far removed from my own life. I love how the instructors are talking about Milwaukee and Wisconsin. That’s what will primarily resonate with people and that’s what I’m interested in.”
The Milwaukee Public Library even held a kickoff event on February 21, just before the course started, where library staff encouraged people to sign up and local organizations such as the Islamic Environmental Group of Wisconsin and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District provided information to visitors on how to green their homes.
Terri Fleming, the Fond du Lac Public Library community information coordinator, said she was intrigued by the new MOOC because she had been looking for someone to talk about global warming at the library on a more local level.
The library partnered with Marian University last year to offer an American history course that drew a standing-room only crowd, and the course feedback forms showed there was a public demand for more college-level courses, Fleming said.
“It’s clear the programs that affect our daily lives and relate to people’s understanding of their lives are the ones that resonate and hit home,” Fleming said.
The Fond du Lac Library publicized the event on their electronic and paper calendar of events, handouts, e-newsletters, and a monthly radio show, Fleming said.
Fleming hopes the MOOC “taps into what people are interested in” and that “the public responds and participates.”
“I hope it works for everybody because online learning is the future and these opportunities are phenomenal,” she said. “It takes a little bit of effort on the students’ time, but the payback is huge.”
At the Dodgeville Public Library, a small rural library an hour away from Madison, Director Vickie Stangel said the climate change MOOC is the first online course being offered at their location and that it is wonderful to pair it with the in-person discussions in the library’s meeting room. The Dodgeville Public Library is also partnering with local groups Trout Unlimited, Grassroots Citizens of Wisconsin—Sustain Iowa County, the Uplands Garden Club, the University of Wisconsin Extension, and the Iowa County Master Gardeners, through online participation and public discussions.
Stangel called the course a “win-win” for the UWM, the library, and its patrons. “I’m so, so grateful the university and professors are putting in the time and effort to include us in the resources they have to spread across rural areas,” she said.
MOOCs are a new way the library can expand its educational offerings, Stangel said, and she plans on reviewing more online courses for other library patrons, such as middle school students and teenagers.