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Energy Expert Michael Webber Launches Online Course 'Energy 101'

This September, world-renowned Cockrell School of Engineering energy expert and mechanical engineering professor Michael Webber will begin teaching a crash course in energy, its technology and its affects on society to thousands of students all over the globe.

Webber’s “Energy 101: Energy Technology and Policy” is an online course designed to teach “energy fluency” to large numbers of interested students for free. Anyone with Internet access can sign up to learn about energy issues from Webber’s course, which starts Sept. 15.

The course is one of nine massive open online courses (MOOCs) that The University of Texas at Austin will offer in 2013-14 on the edX platform. Four courses, including “Energy 101,” will launch this fall; five will be available in the spring.

The 11-week course offers students 30 short video module lessons, as well as interactive study exercises and self-guided quizzes. Although there are no official grades for “Energy 101” and the course won’t show up on a transcript, Webber said he expects students who sign up to tune in for each module and do the exercises in order to fully retain the information. Students who complete and pass all assignments and exams will receive a certificate of mastery in the course, but the course can also be audited for students who want to watch the video lessons without doing the assignments.

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“My goal is to make students fluent in energy so that they will be able to critically interpret energy information – for example, in news reports – or be better prepared for a job in the energy industry,” Webber said.

Michael Keating, a financial advisor in New York City, is one of the students currently enrolled in the course. Keating said he first became interested in energy when he saw Webber speak in front of the UN three years ago on energy issues in Texas.

“While my clients expect me to stay on top of my own industry, I can be even more helpful to them if I have awareness of other important industries – like energy, for example,” Keating said. “I signed up [for “Energy 101”] because I have enormous respect for Dr. Webber. I hope to continue to learn from his expertise.”

More than 40,000 students from all over the world have already signed up for the course, but this isn’t the first time Webber has had success teaching energy basics to a widespread audience. He also created and hosts the PBS educational special “Energy at the Movies,” which illustrates the history of energy use through films.

Webber is also director of the Webber Energy Group research team. He said he hopes to become a better instructor by becoming accustomed to new platforms for classes like “Energy 101” in the event that technologies, such as MOOCs, replace textbooks as classroom supplements.

“As time goes on, I expect that MOOCs will become potential competitors for traditional textbooks, which means they might be adopted as teaching materials for courses worldwide,” Webber said.

Juan Garcia, producer for both “Energy 101” and “Energy at the Movies,” said Webber and the team that worked on the course modules aimed to improve on the format of other MOOCs by incorporating a “bookended” module style. This means that each course video is split into three parts: an introduction where Webber speaks to the camera and explains the upcoming lesson, an instructional portion featuring Webber teaching the course to a live audience, and a conclusion with Webber speaking to the camera again.

These “bookends” were components that Garcia said he didn’t often see from other online courses, but said having the intros and outtros can allow students to be properly introduced to the information and then let it sink in afterward.

Garcia said this summer’s schedule for filming the 30 modules was very short, with all sections of the course being filmed in just a matter of days.

“It has been a lot of fun – and a lot of work – to plan, develop, script, film and produce the course,” Webber said. “Thankfully, I have an excellent team of at least four professionals and four students who are working on the project. They have raised the quality of the course dramatically.”

The course runs Sept. 15 until the week before Thanksgiving, but Webber said it might be offered again in the future. Interested individuals can still register for the course for a period of time after the official start date. Visit the course website to sign up and learn more.

 

Webber is the Josey Centennial Fellow in Energy Resources.