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The Science of Beer: Wageningen students create their first online course

“Why don’t we develop our own MOOC?”. A year ago we could only smile about the idea. And maybe we even underestimated what is necessary in developing a Massive Open Online Course: motivated people, time and – last but certainly not least – a great deal of perseverance! Now, a year later, an ambitious thought turned into reality. It’s only a few weeks before our MOOC ‘The Science of Beer’ will begin!

Our Inspiration

In this MOOC we take learners on a learner journey to discover the supply chain of beer. This not only includes the production of beer, but also the raw materials, marketing and health effects of beer consumption. What’s so unique about this MOOC? It has been entirely developed by students! It all started when we, four honours students at the University of Wageningen, were investigating the ‘ideal university’ for our Honours Project. One of the conclusions was that the university should impart more knowledge to the general public. And, we decided a MOOC would be the best way to do this!

We were very fortunate to find out that the university, who celebrates its 100 th birthday this year, was willing to support us in the development of a MOOC: it would be part of its centennial. We decided to attract fellow bachelors and masters students in the development. A group of fourteen enthusiastic students were selected to be part of this unique experience. Usually lecturers of the university are the thread in the MOOCs, but now the students decide on the content, write the scripts and record the videos.

Creating the course

The development of the MOOC was an intense experience. As a learner in a MOOC you don’t realize how much work there is behind it. We learned that good planning is crucial: how else do you follow your regular courses, write your thesis and develop a MOOC at the same time? But what we got in return is all worth it. It’s a pleasure to see yourself and the other students getting more self- confident in front of the camera. Whereas we were somewhat shy and uncomfortable during the first studio trainings, now recording in the greenroom studio is just fun! Besides the coordinating and recording, the visits to several famous breweries, the brewing of our own beer and – of course – the beer tastings (for scientific purposes) made this project an unforgettable experience.

What you’ll learn

Beer is a very common, every day product known in many cultures all over the world. It is liked by many people. However, when you think of it, it is not so simple a product at all. It appears to be a product with a lot of science and technology in it. In this course you’ll discover that many scientific disciplines are actually involved.

Think about it: the raw materials for beer, like barley and hops, are agricultural products, so breeding and agronomy are the necessary disciplines here. Then, raw materials need to be transported to breweries, and, later on, products from the brewery need to be delivered to retail and consumers, and for this purpose you’ll gain knowledge of logistics, another scientific discipline. Next, the raw materials are processed, malt is produced, enzymes become active, chemical reactions take place, yeasts are going to produce alcohol and flavour compounds, proteins are needed for foaming, and much more. This requires knowledge about chemistry, microbiology, physics, process engineering, packaging, quality management. After the brewing process, you’re not done yet: now you need to think about marketing and consumer behaviour, again important scientific disciplines. Of course, you should also be interested in knowing how beer consumption may affect your health, so nutrition and health sciences are important too.

After you have followed this course, you will know all about the science behind beer and drinking a simple pint of beer will never be the same!

Have you become curious? The course is open for enrollment!

Links to The Science of Beer

We hope you will experience just as much fun in learning, as we had in developing this course!