LEC lead the way with second MOOC

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Lancaster University’s Environment Centre (LEC) is hosting Lancaster’s second Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on the topic of Food Security to begin on the Monday, Week 3, Summer term. The course, to be led by Professor Bill Davis, will last eight weeks and is aiming to raise awareness for food security and the implications that food waste has on the wider global population as well as at home in the UK.
Speaking to Professor Davis, SCAN learnt that food security is an issue that encompasses a whole plethora of interrelated factors that go way beyond agricultural production. Some of the issues include the logistical challenges that distributors face, as well as educational, cultural and religious factors that determine choices made by the end consumer. The latest MOOC will look at how we can deal with these problems and aims to focus “both on UK agriculture and on food supply chains in other parts of the world; [examining] how food has shaped our environmental and social landscapes.”
Featuring in the MOOC’s trailer video, Professor Tim Benton described how our attitudes towards food security and waste will “impact the population, civil society and the way in which we choose food impacts on our health.”

Davis told SCAN in an interview that raising awareness is one of the main reasons for publishing the MOOC. “My main motivation for doing this is to try to raise the profile of the whole issue…I’d be keen that more young people think, ‘oh I’d be interested in having a career in that area’…I’m not just talking about crop science, there are lots of other disciplines that make a contribution and if we can get more people involved then we can make a more lasting difference.”

Davis went on to elaborate on the agricultural issues that Food Security faced – “producing food needs a certain amount of resources: water, fertiliser, seeds, they cost money and parts of world poverty are so severe that buying fertiliser and seeds is not an option – the soil is impoverished and the climate is so severe.”
As well as the production of food, Davis briefly spoke of other contributory reasons to problems concerning food security, telling SCAN that “in many parts of the world food is stored and stored inappropriately and is left to rot. – Not a proper transport infrastructure… not enough refrigeration… [And] seemingly trivial issues like the fact that there aren’t markets for people to access food.”
Whilst the production and delivery of fresh food is always going be preferred, recent advances in the creation of synthetic foods such as Soylent, can provide your body with all the essential nutritional components without putting the huge strain on resources and infrastructure that typical food production and distribution does.When asked about products like Soylent, he responded “the more that you process food, the more expensive it gets. [Our] primary aim is to provide more people with enough fresh food.” Whilst the professor is right, products like Soylent could become cheaper in the future with the improvement of the manufacturing process and may possibly become a viable food substitute in the future.
As well as concerning Food Security abroad, the latest MOOC will also look at the effects of food shortages within our own borders. The issue of Food Security is becoming more and more prevalent in our own media, with recent reports from the house of House of Lords where members of the house have called on large supermarket chains to end their buy-one-get-one-free offers in an effort to end the “morally repugnant” waste of millions of tons of food.
According to the official statistics gleaned from the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) 2,472 tonnes of food are wasted every minute worldwide with approximately 15 million tonnes of food being thrown away each year by the UK alone. Davis told SCAN that these sort of issues were addressed in the MOOC and he called for greater education into the “use and sell-by dates” of foods to make sure that people were not throwing out food that is still edible.
Speaking to VP (Education) Joe O’Neill, SCAN asked whether MOOCs was the start of an educational revolution that food security so desperately needs in its own field: “I think MOOCs in general are something of an uncertainty for higher education and would urge proper thought about the direction the university wishes to take, but I am glad that Lancaster is engaged in steering where MOOCs go – and that LUSU and students are kept part of that conversation.”

With Lancaster’s pioneering of ‘streamed lectures’ and its ever expanding University population, which has already pushed the campus facilities to breaking point, the advent of more internet and distance based learning may in the future creep onto mainstream syllabuses. O’Neill went on to comment: “The last MOOC Lancaster ran was relatively successful in terms of uptake – roughly 10,000 – and received positive comments from those on the course. I look forward with interest to see how the next MOOC we launch does.”

For more information about signing up to the course or for more information on MOOCs please visit the Future Learn website.

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