Engaging learners in Antarctica

Analysis of the impact for learners of an online course about Antarctica shows students had their preconceptions challenged and developed a new sense of protection towards the continent.

Analysis has shown the impact on students of taking the ICE101x MOOC.

Billed as a ‘virtual field trip’ to Antarctica, the course was run in April 2017 through the global edX platform and attracted 5,735 learners from 128 countries. Three of the Victoria University of Wellington academics involved, Associate Professor Rebecca Priestley, Dr Cliff Atkins and Dr Rhian Salmon, have co-authored a paper on the impact of the course, which has been published in Polar Record.

The feedback that informed the paper also came from students who had completed earlier iterations of the course. A pilot Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) was offered in 2015, and a for-credit version of the course was offered to Victoria University of Wellington students in 2016, before becoming a MOOC on the edX platform in 2017. Students were encouraged to complete quizzes and blogs and participate in online forums.

The evaluation took a mixed methods approach, including data from optional feedback questions, a pre-course demographic survey, content from blogs and discussion forums, and an analysis of assessment completion.

All three iterations of the course included video lectures as the primary form of course delivery, mainly material filmed in Antarctica. Learners reported enjoying “visiting” specific locations, such as the historic huts and distinctive geological sites through the videos.

Climate change was a dominant topic of discussion throughout the course, and two learners said taking the MOOC had changed their mind about the global issue.

“Up until a few years ago, I would class myself as being more of a man-made climate change sceptic, than a follower. The key thing that this course has provided, is that it has left me in no doubt that man-made climate change is real and needs to be addressed; it is not what I expected to get from the course,” one learner commented.

Many learners reported developing a new awareness of, and relationship with, Antarctica. Some mentioned explicit ways in which they would continue to take an interest, such as becoming Antarctic ambassadors.

Associate Professor Priestley, who returned to Antarctica in January 2018 with Dr Atkins to film new material for the course, says the impact the course clearly had on many students was pleasing.

“We can’t take our students with us to Antarctica, but it’s great to have them tell us they feel like they’ve been there. It’s been a joy to share our own Antarctic adventures with so many students from around the world.”

Find out more about the edX MOOC, Antarctica: From geology to human history

You can also find out more about a for-credit version of this course.