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ELD-MOOC: Because Land is Worth Something!

The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH is launching a massive open online course (MOOC) in cooperation with the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH) as part of The Economics of Land Degradation (ELD) Initiative.

This internet-based course open to everyone will present and develop sound information and provide a thorough introduction to scientific methods involved, and discuss the issues in relation to climate change and sustainability. Notable scientists from the initiative's partner organisations will accompany the MOOC as tutors.

The Alumniportal Deutschland interviewed project manager Mark Schauer of the ELD Initiative along with Volker Lichtenthäler, senior consultant in the GIZ devision ‘Global knowledge Sharing and Learning’.

Mr Schauer, what does ELD actually stand for, and what is the project all about?

Mark Schauer: To lose land means also to lose the future. Loss of land translates into loss of the fundamental basis for adequate production of food, for clean drinking water and, ultimately, for sustainable economic development. It is therefore vital to stop the advancing degradation of soil and land worldwide and to raise awareness of this urgent problem. The Economics of Land Degradation Initiative takes an economic perspective at soil and land degradation, since the economic benefits that land offers are accompanied by tangible economic costs of land degradation. These economic indicators must be factored into policy and economic decision-making, and the decision-makers made fully aware of these factors. At the local level as well, concrete arguments are needed to conserve land and thus also to protect the services linked to the land.

What actually is a MOOC?

Volker Lichtenthäler: MOOC stands for 'massive open online course'. This is a new, innovative form of online educational course that can theoretically include an unlimited number of participants. Originally based solely on online lectures and reading materials, and primarily implemented in the United States, MOOCs today are also increasingly pursuing participative approaches in which co-creation of course content plays a central role. In other words, the participants themselves are expected to play a pro-active part.

‘It simultaneously serves as an e-learning and online campaign’

How do ELD and MOOCs fit in together?

Mark Schauer: Our MOOC is intended to begin precisely at the interface we've described above between methods, knowledge and their further development and the awareness of land degradation. The MOOC approach is well suited to the broadly ramified network structure of the ELD Initiative, and is intended to support the Initiative both methodologically as well as strategically. It simultaneously serves as an e-learning and online campaign.

Volker Lichtenthäler: With this new learning format, we are linking 12 years of experience with e-learning in development work to the system world of Global Campus 21. At the same time, our outreach will extend to a theoretically unlimited number of participants. Those joining our ELD-MOOC can learn about the instruments and methods for determining the costs of land degradation in relation to all three pillars of the sustainability triangle. Information and idea sharing in highly heterogeneous working groups serves to support the transfer of practical skills, while the level of awareness of these instruments is simultaneously enhanced. Both of these aspects are important concerns of the ELD Initiative.

Is a MOOC still a form of e-learning, or is it more a platform for getting to know like-minded people ?

Mark Schauer: We are indeed interested in reaching people interested in learning about and using these methods. Another goal is certainly to establish and build a global, broadly diverse community of practice also capable of exercising political influence.

Volker Lichtenthäler: This is precisely what applies to the pedagogical and methodological concept. While we are developing a large scope of e-learning curriculum and scripts for this course, the information sharing among participants and the inclusion of sources and media from the web, social media and Web 2.0 are equally important. The formation of an open, web-supported learning community, as self-regulated as possible, is just as important as acquiring knowledge of ELD and skills for collecting and recording data, or applying such knowledge and skills in practice.

And how did this idea come about?

Mark Schauer: We had thought about developing an e-learning course on this subject. In consultation with Volker Lichtenthäler, the question arose as to whether we shouldn't think much bigger and go a lot further?

From your viewpoint, who is the ELD-MOOC trying to reach?

Mark Schauer: MOOCs are by nature events that are openly accessible worldwide to anyone interested. The course information will also be freely available on the web under a creative commons license. The essential goal on the one hand is to put pertinent scientific knowledge and skills into practice and thereby enable the general public to protect their soil and land. Of course, decision-makers in the political arena, the private sector, universities and public administration likewise play a major role.

And how are the partners being integrated in these efforts?

Mark Schauer: The members and partners of the ELD Initiative are disseminating information on the MOOC throughout their networks, while we have succeeded in recruiting a total of eight experts on this topic from a wide range of organisations and institutions in the political, academic and scientific communities to act as tutors.

What is the specific schedule of the ELD-MOOC - how will it run?

Volker Lichtenthäler: The MOOC will start on 3 March 2014 and run for eleven weeks until 17 May. There will be an introductory week with an exciting interactive assignment on the topic of 'The values of land', and then it takes off from there: Every week will focus on a key, central question, such as 'How is the value of ecosystem services measured?', and beginning in the eighth week the various methods will be coached and practised together. Assignments and discussions will be handled together in teams, and participants are expected to work hard. In addition, there will of course be other, open teams to discuss issues and develop ideas.

About our interviewees

Volker Lichtenthäler joined the GIZ's Global Campus 21 E-Academy in 2008. He works now as a senior consultant in the devision ‘Global knowledge Sharing and Learning’.

Mark Schauer is the Coordinator for the initiative ‘Economics of Land Degradation’ at GIZ, responsible for the overall coordination of the ELD Initiative.

Will participants also receive some sort of certificate?

Volker Lichtenthäler: There are badges which will be awarded to the individual participants depending on their degree of activity, and a certificate of participation from the United Nations University for those who actively participate from start to finish.

Is it possible to register already? Or can one simply join in at will?

Mark Schauer: Yes, course registration is now open and available at mooc.eld-initiative.org. While it is certainly our wish that participants register prior to the start of the course and then take part over the entire course, registration will remain open so that, as the course unfolds with its interesting, dynamic workflow, anyone interested in coming aboard can join at any time.

And what will the ELD-MOOC achieve?

Volker Lichtenthäler: This MOOC will establish Global Campus 21, together with all the systems and experts it encompasses, as a new important platform for the use of MOOCs in international capacity development and in projects for sustainable development cooperation.

Mark Schauer: The MOOC will effectively serve to disseminate the information and goals of the ELD Initiative and to create an interface between decision-makers, science and academia. This internal GIZ cooperation will thereby contribute to the success of the Initiative.

February 2014

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