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Course Review: Tropical Coastal Ecosystems from the University of Queensland on edX

Gunhild Jonsson

Review by Gunhild Jonsson. Took the course? Write your own review hereRead all reviews.

I signed up for the first delivery of Tropical Coastal Ecosystems (UQX Tropic101X), an edX offering from the University of Queensland, in April 2014. Of the twenty or so MOOC’s I have completed this one is probably my all-time favourite! For those of you who missed it in 2014 it will be run again in September 2015 – sign up, this MOOC is highly recommended. It is also just plain fun with a lot of the lectures and videos filmed on UQ’s research station on Heron Island – some lectures are even delivered under water diving on the reef!

Intro Video: Tropical Coastal Ecosystems

When this MOOC came along I had completed courses on Climate Change (Coursera, University of Melbourne), Sustainability (Coursera, University of Illinois), Our Energetic Earth (EdX, University of Toronto) and Introduction to Ecosystems (FutureLearn, Open University) This MOOC is very much in line with my interest in climate change, ecosystems and sustainability. I was also attracted by the fact that it is an Australian offering with its emphasis on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR).

The Great Barrier Reef is highly topical in Australia at present with some very controversial mining and port developments seen as significant threats to the reef. A MOOC that covered the GBR – and coral reefs around the world – was a great opportunity to learn about the ecosystems and the issues and discover what all the fuss was about.

INSTRUCTORS

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg

The main instructor is Professor Ove Hoeg-Guldberg and I’ll quote directly from his bio in the Conversation

“Ove Hoegh-Guldberg (BScHons., Sydney; PhD., UCLA) is Director of the Global Change Institute and Professor of Marine Science at The University of Queensland, Brisbane, and Deputy Director of James Cook University’s Centre for Excellence in Coral Reef Studies. He was made an ARC Laureate Fellow in 2013.

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg’s research interests are focused on environmental change and marine ecosystems. He is one of the world’s most cited authors on climate change with more than 15,000 citations from more than 250 papers, books and patents. Ove was also the Coordinating Lead Author for the ‘Oceans’ chapter of the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”

It’s an impressive CV. I found his manner very engaging and his enthusiasm and passion for the subject shines through. Professor Hoeg-Guldberg is also a founder of the Catlin Seaview Survey.

The other members of the team are researchers, PhD students and marine scientists of various disciplines. It is a large team so I won’t list them all; this MOOC is truly a team effort with many gifted and enthusiastic participants. Most of the MOOC team work in the University’s Marine Spatial Ecology Lab, Coral Reef Ecosystems Lab or the Heron Island Research Station.

THE COURSE

The first two weeks cover the components of the tropical coastal ecosystems: coral reefs, mangroves and sea grasses with many of the lectures delivered in the environment they describe. 

Personally, I have no expertise in marine science (I worked in IT for many years) but since leaving full-time work a couple years ago I have set myself the goal to learn as much as possible about the burning ecological issues in the world today. Ultimately I hope to inspire others to inform themselves and add my bit to lift the debate on the subject.

This is a course for anyone, like many MOOC’s no special background is needed. I found the course materials and information very accessible. The first two weeks cover the components of the tropical coastal ecosystems: coral reefs, mangroves and sea grasses with many of the lectures delivered in the environment they describe.

The next three weeks are discussions about ecosystem processes (fascinating stuff!), ecosystem services and threats and ecosystems management. I found the week on ecosystem processing particularly interesting, learning about nutrient cycles, calcification and connectivity between the ecosystem components.

I found that my ability to recognize the different coral types improved a lot  

Week six was all about research methods, to set us up for the virtual ecology project in weeks seven and eight. I really loved the project! If you are going to do the project you need to allow a bit of time to work through all the combinations – but that’s why it is over two weeks. Spread it out over the two weeks and you will get through it. It looks like a lot but I found that my ability to recognize the different coral types improved a lot as I went along and it got easier.

EXPECTATIONS

There is a quiz each week in the first six weeks, I found them to be medium hard. You get only one go at the quizzes and three goes at the each practical exercise of the project so a bit of effort and rigor is required. I completed this course with a certificate of completion (free) and a score of 88%.

The most challenging part was the practical exercise identifying different organisms on the reef  

The course is not difficult if you do the work. The most challenging part was the practical exercise identifying different organisms on the reef and I found that I got quite good at it as I went along. The project was well worth it, and not too hard for someone like me who is new to the subject.

The course syllabus states that you need to spend about three to four hours per week on the course and that is about right. If you are a slow worker or can only spend short periods of time on it you might want set aside some extra time for the project but I found I didn’t need it.

I loved -this course – can’t recommend it too highly!

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After retiring from her career in IT Gunhild set about learning about the world as it is today and topics that interest her deeply such as climate change, ecosystems and sustainability. She still does some casual work writing software user guides but wants to spend more time on learning and encouraging others to learn. 

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    Comments 1

    1. Avatar

      Kier Mitchel E. Pitogo

      By reading your review, I am more eager to finish the course! Thanks for this.

      Reply

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