Professor Smets is the inaugural winner of the edX Prize, an annual award to celebrate the contributions and innovations of MOOC teachers in the edX community. We were honored to present the award to Professor Smets at the edX Global Forum, which was graciously hosted by edX partner Sorbonne University in Paris this year.
The edX Prize recognizes a teacher who has demonstrated a commitment to the open and online education community and who has taught high-quality courses that continue to inspire and encourage edX learners everywhere. Professor Smets’ course, Solar Energy, is rigorous and challenging, but designed for learners at all levels. Through this course, Professor Smets has reached almost 150,000 learners globally and is helping to pave the way to a more sustainable world.
Through the Solar Energy course, Professor Smets has established a network of worldwide learners and enabled them to collaborate, creating solutions that have had a direct societal impact in their local communities. By using innovative online teaching tools, like custom animation, promoting peer interaction and facilitating discussions, Professor Smets guides learners through the process of creating a photovoltaic system. The systems simulate the use of renewable energy, and show how it can have an immediate impact in improving the lives of those living in developing countries and how it can make an overall contribution to a more sustainable world.
Professor Smets has fostered a true learning community where learners share their unique experiences with each other, gaining meaningful knowledge and opening their eyes to real-life applications across every corner of the earth. Active learners in his course uploaded information on the hours of sun and the reliability of the electricity-network in their areas to create a valuable map for the feasibility of solar energy, which is being used by researchers and installation professionals in the field today. The course has created opportunities for learners across the globe to engage in conversations and gain access to information that would otherwise not be available to them in their own communities. When we talk about how we are ‘always learning,’ what better example than this? A learner driven research project that consistently gives back to communities around the world.
This sense of community does not exist only online – Professor Smets invited four edX learners from across the world to join him in the Delft lab to build the systems they designed online. After spending time working with Professor Smets in The Netherlands, these learners – from Algeria, Nepal, Ecuador and Myanmar – returned home equipped with the tools they needed to make a difference in their own local communities.
The popularity and global impact of Professor Smets’ Solar Energy course has paved the way for even more opportunities for global collaboration. The course has been translated into Arabic and is offered on Edraak, an Open edX based MOOC platform created by the Queen Rania Foundation for Education and Development in Jordan. In addition, Professor Smets also extended an invitation to learners taking the course on Edraak to join him in the Delft lab to work together. In June 2016, a Chinese version of the Solar Energy course was launched on the XuetangX China platform as well.
In addition to this impressive global reach, the Solar Energy course has also helped to improve the residential experience at Delft. Professor Smets offers a ‘flipped classroom’ for students enrolled in the on-campus course, using the online content to amplify classroom learning. This blended learning application has already shown positive impact on student performance.
To underscore his dedication to ensuring that the content in his course is accessible to all learners, everywhere, Professor Smets offered the first draft of his book on Solar Energy for free. The book is now used as the textbook for the course, free of charge – a benefit to all learners, both online and on campus. It is incredible to see how Professor Smets’ work shares the same tenets as the edX mission, demonstrating how MOOCs can act as the great democratizer and setting an example for a future in which economics, social status, gender or geography will not determine a student’s access to education or opportunity for success.
Please join me in congratulating Professor Arno Smets. His ongoing commitment to empowering learners everywhere to improve not only their own lives, but also the lives of their communities across the globe is inspiring.
To learn more about the edX Prize, please visit the blog post we shared announcing the finalists in July. We congratulate all of our fantastic finalists and look forward to sharing news about next year’s edX Prize.