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My first edX course Blue is the New Green launched last week, and I wanted to try some different and exciting things to engage this global learning community as we investigated the global water crisis.

I decided to leave the traditional lecture behind and instead use documentary-style filming techniques. The compelling videos explore inspiring, real-life examples of innovations from architects, engineers, planners, ecologists, and artists. The featured innovators are based in Vancouver–one of the world’s leading cities for blue-green design, and home to both the “greenest” neighborhood in the world (at the time of construction) and one of the greenest university buildings in the world: the University of British Columbia’s Center for Interactive Research on Sustainability.

The course seeks to inspire students by bringing them on a series of virtual “field trips” to these and other locales across Vancouver. Together, we travel from the campus through the city to the urban watershed, with students never having to leave the comfort of their homes. During these trips, we visit green buildings; explore North America’s largest wastewater-to-energy plant; learn from architects designing urban waterscapes as ‘landscape infrastructure’ along Vancouver’s revitalized waterfront in what was, when it was built, the largest LEED-Platinum certified neighborhood in the world; travel along one of North America’s largest revitalized urban streams, which has become a hub for community engagement and traditional food production; and explore the creation of a ‘watershed mind’ with an award-winning poet and artist.

Creating this MOOC has reinforced my passion for online learning and public debate. Not only am I interacting with students from across the globe in Blue is the New Green, the online course is also transforming my on-campus class at the University of British Columbia. There, my students are participating in a “flipped classroom,” in which they watch lectures prior to class (at UBC, this might mean listening to a lecture while going for a run on the beach!). Students then spend class time solving problems, creating projects, and engaging in dialogue and active learning—which research shows leads to enhanced creativity, student satisfaction, and learning outcomes. And, the learning experience won’t end when the MOOC concludes in six weeks.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with award-winning filmmakers Hallenbeck Consultants and Shortt & Epic to create the course videos. The lead filmmaker is UBC geography graduate student Jessica Hallenbeck. Together, we have co-produced the videos, working collaboratively as an example of “decentered” pedagogy, in which educators work as a team. This opportunity has helped me become a “guide on the side” rather than a “sage on the stage,” allowing all members of our course team to express their talents and contributions—enhancing the course content overall and the student experience.

My experience as Director of UBC’s Program on Water Governance, which has a mandate of sharing cutting-edge research with public audiences, has made me realize how eager the public is for sound, accessible, timely advice from researchers. The barriers for researchers to engage with the public remain substantial. However, I’m hopeful that over time MOOCs may change this—allowing researchers with a commitment to public engagement to be recognized, and to engage with learners from around the world.

Join us on our learning adventure. Sign up today for Blue is the New Green and explore innovative “blue-green” solutions to today’s water crisis.

Guest Post: Karen Bakker, UBCx Professor

Photo of Karen BakkerDr. Karen Bakker is a Rhodes Scholar with a PhD from Oxford and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada; she was named a “Top 40 under 40” in 2011. She has been researching water issues for the past 20 years, and is the author of more than 100 academic publications, which have appeared in top journals such as Science andGlobal Environmental Change. Her interdisciplinary research examines the causes of—and innovative solutions to— some of our most pressing water problems

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