Fanshawe introduces its first free online course

Header image for Interrobang article CREDIT: NEW YORK TIMES

This May, individuals from across the world will have the opportunity to take part in Fanshawe's first free open online course on sustainability. Participants will take online field trips, perform hands-on tasks, offer their opinions in online discussions and ultimately be eligible to receive a letter of completion from the College.

Fanshawe has been working with educational software provider Desire2Learn, which operates FanshaweOnline, to launch this six-week program on May 13. These worldwide online learning events, called Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), are the newest innovation in distance education.

Fanshawe chose the topic of applied sustainability because the College considers itself a leader in incorporating sustainability into much of its curriculum, as well as its daily operations.

Wendy Wilson, eLearning development coordinator at Fanshawe, said that the course is being well-received all over the world. “We've already got someone from Finland and someone from New Zealand who are pre-registered, so it's pretty wide.”

Instead of watching a professor deliver a taped lecture, Fanshawe MOOC students will take online field trips exploring real-life examples of sustainable buildings and neighbourhoods, gardens and city infrastructure. Tours planned so far include local building projects, institutional waste audits and walkability studies.

In designing the new course, Wilson was hoping to be nontraditional, offering as much practical and hands-on learning as possible.

“We've got someone who's the face of the course, he's not the expert but the instructor. He's discovering the information and talking to people. For example, last week we did a walk-through of a London Home Builders' Association green home ... I videotaped that and edited it and that'll be in the MOOC, so it'll be a lot of that kind of thing.”

Wilson added that programs like these tend to have high drop-out rates, so she's hoping the content will keep students engaged until the end.

Building Technology student Jason King, Vice-President Internal with the Fanshawe Student Union, is looking forward to participating in the course. “There's a lot of variety (in the course). It's the opportunity to do things that you may not be able to do physically, you can do virtually.”

He's not only excited for the new learning format, but also the content, “It's about sustainability and building, and that's two things I'm interested in and passionate about. Hopefully there will be some key nuggets of information that'll help me be a better citizen and be better in my career.”

This particular MOOC will satisfy several learning types and offer varying levels of completion ranging from Fundamental to Platinum.

“What happens with the basic is you watch some videos, you do some readings you can go into the ‘cafeteria area' and discuss things and then you just do a quiz,” explained Wilson.

Throughout the Platinum level, students complete one large project with several assignments. Even at the highest level of achievement, Wilson estimates it would only require four to six hours of work per week.

“There's one level, the Gold level, where you do a task every week like a waste audit in your home, for example, where you dump out your garbage on your garage floor and take pictures of it,” said Wilson.

Silver is yet another option that offers more intensive online discussions.

King said he thinks that anyone could benefit from the course, regardless of what program they are in. “They can get an understanding of what goes into building a sustainable environment, so when they look at a building they can appreciate it on a different level.”

Sustainability is something King said affects everyone's lives. “The key word is ‘applied' — even though you may not be able to look on the grand scheme of buildings, you can definitely look on the smaller scale of things and how it affects you in your home and make differences there.”

The course starts on May 16 and runs for six weeks.

For more information, visit or email You can also follow Wilson on Twitter @profwendy.