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School of Environment and Natural Resources


Enhancing Access to Environmental Science

Nov. 20, 2017
The first course in the online Environmental Science series, Earth's Environment: Soil, Water, and Air introduces students to environmental science, environmental literacy and the scientific process.

Students anywhere anytime with access to the Internet can enroll in a series of free online Introduction to Environmental Science courses at The Ohio State University.

Three new Ohio State Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are now available for anyone with an interest in learning more about the earth’s environment and sustainability. The three courses are part of the Introduction to Environmental Science series offered by Canvas.

A team led by Brian Lower, associate professor in the School of Environment and Natural Resources (SENR), serve as instructors of the open online courses. SENR is in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

The new series is available to students across the globe, at no charge through the Canvas Network. Canvas’ mission is to promote openness and innovation in education and assimilates courses from various colleges, universities, and organizations to create open access educational experiences.

“These courses have the potential to reach a variety of learners and we hope that the material helps students reach their educational or career goals,” says Lower.

Energy and Earth: Fossil Fuels, Alternative, and Renewable Energy is the second course in the Introduction to Environmental Science open course series. This course explores the production and use of energy by humans and its impact on the environment, human health and Earth’s ecosystems.

Designers from Ohio State’s Office of Distance Education and eLearning (ODEE). ODEE helped to establish the new online series. ODEE has collaborated with SENR over the past three years to develop several online course offerings for Ohio State undergraduate students including Introduction to Rural Sociology (RS 1500), Introduction to Environmental Science (ENR 2100), Introduction to Forestry, Fisheries and Wildlife (ENR 3300) and Sustainability Metrics (ENR 3900).

Enrolling to learn

Anyone from across the globe can easily enroll in the series once they create a account, said Ella Weaver, an instructor of the course and an instructional aids associate who works to support SENR’s eLearning initiatives.

“By enrolling students are able to connect to open content in an online platform at their leisure,” Weaver said. “Each course offered is free and self-paced, so students have access to all the course material and resources on a continuous basis and don’t have to worry about cost or time constraints.”

Offering the course content as a series allows greater flexibility for the diverse needs of students interested in learning more about environmental science topics covered. Students can opt to enroll in the full series or simply enroll in an individual course in the series that aligns more with their interests or goals.

“We recommend spending three hours per week if students are going to be active participants in the course,” Weaver said. “Participants may also just access the chapters they are interested in and “pop in and out” of the course at their leisure.”

 Life on Earth: Biomes, Climates, Ecology, and Evolution is the third course in the Introduction to Environmental Science open course series. This course explores the vast diversity of life on Earth.

Designed to expand access

In keeping with Ohio State’s tradition of developing innovative approaches to teaching and learning, the instructors strive to provide both engaging and inclusive educational materials to attract a diverse audience of students.

“Our courses were designed to align with Ohio State’s 2020Vision to expand student access, encourage community engagement, promote affordability and reach a diverse international audience,” Lower said.

“Several hundred students have enrolled in the course during the first month and we expect this number to grow to several thousands of enrolled students in 2018.” 

Through a welcome survey built into the courses, the instructors are able to learn more about those that have enrolled.

“Of those that completed the welcome survey, 65 percent are located outside of North America, 43 percent express a language other than English to be their primary spoken language, and for 23 percent of those enrolled this is their first online course.”

The three courses are also offered as part of the Global One Health Initiative Canvas Network series. Global One Health connects Ohio State to countries around the world in a coordinated, multidisciplinary approach to improve health, build capacity, and provide learning opportunities for students across the globe.


Brian Lower,

Ella Weaver,


Molly Bean,