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When worlds collide in an online environment

Professor Jon Lovett, Chair of Global Challenges at the University of Leeds, talks about the course starting on October 21st on FutureLearn.com and what learners can expect to study during the 2 weeks.

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We have the power to change the way we think about environmental issues by reaching out to all corners of the globe. We can do this by giving people access to high quality education and so I am proud to be leading the first FutureLearn MOOC from the University of Leeds. I am particularly keen for the MOOC to reach audiences that don’t have access to the learning experience we provide here at Leeds – such as those in Nepal, which features prominently as one of our case studies.

Our ethos at Leeds brings our world-leading research into the heart of our teaching, and we have stayed true to this principle with our course Fairness and Nature: When Worlds Collide, which begins on 21 October. I hope to make my area of research more accessible and to show how it can be applied in real situations.

Maintaining the Earth’s natural environment is important to us all. Not only is it our common heritage, it also sustains our lives and livelihoods. Making decisions about natural resources is difficult, and as we reach the boundaries of our planet’s resources, they have to be made with justice and fairness.

Our approach is to take key principles and combine them with research findings and experience from the field, then apply it to case studies of real world problems. For example, we apply the principles of justice to the question of whether or not we should save resources for future generations, and look at how something called the precautionary principle applies to genetically modified organisms.

The principles are presented in short videos of a few minutes long. Transcripts and podcasts are also available, both as supporting resources and in case you haven’t got a strong internet connection. My hope is that by learning with the course, people will be able to use the principles to help make those decisions in their own lives, and be able to engage with some of the big environmental and economic issues in our world today.

I’ve been fortunate to be joined by friends and colleagues who bring their rich experience to the MOOC. In the first week we have a debate to discuss land and water management in Nepal with Nepalese academics who have direct experience of the issues, in particular to explore the problems faced by the landless class. The course also features the award winning Mexican film Gira la Tierra by Manfred Meiners, and is supported by both classic academic papers and the results of our own research.

This ‘mini-MOOC’ is brief and succinct at only two weeks long, but if the participants take the messages on board, then environmental change will result.

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