Thomas Hobiger is the coordinator of "Sensing Planet Earth".

Photo: Anna-Lena Lundqvist

From core to outer space

Rising sea levels, growing deserts and variations in the atmosphere. Earth observations and measurement are crucial tools for understanding climate change. In Chalmers’ upcoming MOOCs Sensing Planet Earth we will learn about the tools and methods for measuring the world we live in. Thomas Hobiger is the coordinator of the MOOCs starting in early spring 2016.
The next of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) from Chalmers will be given in February and March of 2016. The subject of “Sensing Planet Earth” is how we measure the world around us: sea levels, earthquakes, changes in the atmosphere, etcetera. Several experts from Chalmers’ Department of Earth and Space Sciences will partake as instructors in the courses.
 
Thomas Hobiger is the coordinator for “Sensing Planet Earth”. As an Associate Professor in Geodesy and Geodynamics he divides his time between Campus Chalmers Johanneberg in Gothenburg and the Onsala Space Observatory. Originally from Austria, he spent eight years as a researcher in Japan before arriving at Chalmers in 2014. One thing that intrigues him about the MOOC format, he says, is its global perspective.
“In Earth science you simply have to be international. The Earth ignores borders. To be able to measure the different aspects of the planet we need people from around the world, with a wide variety of skills,” says Thomas Hobiger.

Different areas of Earth sciences

“Sensing Planet Earth” will run for a total of eight weeks, divided into two standalone four-week courses with a three-week break dividing them. Every week of the courses will be dedicated to the study of a specific area of Earth sciences, and include an introduction by an expert from that particular field. The courses will cover, to name a few areas, the geosphere, the biosphere and the atmosphere, to finally come to an end by drawing some conclusions about global change, climate and disaster monitoring. Participants should devote an estimated six hours per week to their studies to be able to complete the courses.
“We will include a couple of home assignments where participants are encouraged to collect their own data. They could be asked, for example, to make weather observations or record changes in temperature, and then compare their findings with each other,” says Thomas Hobiger.
 
By offering a course that covers the basics of the tools and methods commonly used in Earth Sciences to measure the planet, and how the data collected is interpreted, Thomas Hobiger hopes to garner interest in fields that are vital to the research of climate change and its effects. Apart from people in general with an interest in Earth Science, he says the MOOCs will be aimed at high school students and teachers.
“Students aged between 16 and 18 should have sufficient basic knowledge of mathematics and physics to be able to keep up with the MOOCs. We want more young people to discover Earth Sciences, to make them aware of the techniques we use and how they themselves sense and measure the world around them.”

Inspire teachers and influence decision makers

As for the teachers, Thomas Hobiger says that the MOOCs can offer them new ideas and input to bring into the classroom. The teachers can either let their students take the course as a part of a science-oriented curriculum, or pick parts to use in their own lectures.
 
A third important target group that Thomas Hobiger brings up is decision makers, who in their positions are dependent on the use of earth observation data.
“Within areas such as disaster monitoring and urban planning a plethora of data gathered from measuring and observing the earth is used all the time. People working in that sector, making important decisions that affect the environment, need some basic understanding of how this type of data is gathered and how to interpret it.”
 
Text: Carolina Svensson
Photo: Anna-Lena Lundqvist

Published: Mon 23 Nov 2015. Modified: Thu 21 Jan 2016