It is a matter of going from tens of students in the classroom to hopefully tens of thousands of unknown course participants at the other end of the Internet connection. This is the step that Chalmers teacher and researcher Jie Sun is about to take. In spring 2015, his mooc Introduction to Graphene Science and Technology will be launched as Chalmers' first mooc on the edx platform.
"The difference is huge. In the classroom, I can see the students' reactions and adjust instruction thereafter. Online, though, I will not know who the students are, and I will not be able to see them, which means preparation has to be much more careful," says Jie Sun.
Jie Sun is an associate professor at the Department of Microtechnology and Nanoscience. He performs research on graphene. Graphene is unquestionably a major subject at Chalmers. There are prominent graphene research teams, and EU's biggest research initiative ever – Graphene Flagship – is based at Chalmers. Jie Sun, however, recognised a need for education on graphene and initiated a course for masters students on campus as well as the open online course.
"I am honoured to be able to do this," says Jie Sun. August Yurgens, his research team leader, has assisted him during the entire process.
Jie Sun has personal experience of listening to lectures online, especially within fields where he is less well-versed.
"The lectures frequently have a popular science character, and help me quickly grasp the basic concepts."
Now he is looking forward to helping others in the same way. He is fond of teaching and enjoys explaining his research in an easily comprehensible manner. And he frequently hears that he is good at it. He is looking forward to developing as a teacher with the mooc.
"You really have to think about how to capture the participants' attention and make sure that they understand."
Jie Sun originates from China. He came to Sweden via a collaboration initiative with Lund University while he was a doctoral student. He has been here ever since, and now lives close to Chalmers with his wife and six year old son. He spends most of his time away from work with his family – for example playing football or going swimming with his son.
Jie Sun appreciates the level of equality and trust in the Swedish society, but naturally misses his family in China at times. Professionally he has stayed in contact with China by cooperating with Chinese universities.
"This has greatly benefited me. China is far ahead of Europe in terms of graphene's industrialisation. It is already possible there to purchase mobile devices with graphene screens," says Jie Sun.
Graphene is suitable for use in touch screens since it is both transparent and conducts electricity. This is an unusual combination. As opposed to other touch screen materials, graphene is also a sustainable material – it consists solely of carbon, an abundant material all over the world.
Jie Sun is fascinated by graphene primarily due to its many potential applications.
"Of all the nanomaterials, graphene is the most promising in my opinion. It has only existed for ten years, and there are already products in the market that utilise graphene."
Jie Sun hopes to give the participants of the open online course basic knowledge of graphene. At the end of the course, an engineer should be able to determine if graphene is suitable for the company's products, and a student should be able to decide if the subject is of interest for continued studies. Jie Sun's personal hope is that the course will attract talented students to his research team.
Text: Ingela Roos
Photo: Oscar Mattsson