Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)

Understanding Biodiversity

Biodiversity is the topic of a new Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) by the Institute for Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies. It starts on February 27.

Adrian Ritter

Exploring Earth's diversity: A new MOOC at UZH is all about biodiversity. Learn more about the online course in the video trailer.

Over 20 UZH researchers from a variety of disciplines are teaching the latest MOOC produced by the University of Zurich. In a series of short videos, they discuss their research on the diversity of life on Earth in the Massive Open Online Course «Biodiversity and Global Change: Science & Action». Participating researchers are from the Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, the Department of Systematic and Evolutionary Biology, and the Department of Geography at UZH.

From Comprehension to Action

This free course in English is intended for an international audience – scientists, students, and the general public. During eight weeks, the MOOC offers an introduction to the most important questions regarding the diversity of the species on our planet: What is biodiversity and how did it evolve? What value and importance does species diversity have for ecosystems and human beings? What threats is biodiversity facing and what can we do for its protection? One aim of the MOOC is to provide the participants with the knowledge and inspiration to become Biodiversity Ambassadors – people who speak up for biodiversity and help to protect it.

The MOOC begins on February 27 and lasts eight weeks. In addition to the videos, it includes quizzes and assignments, as well as a discussion forum. The main instructors and creators of the course are Professeor Owen Petchey and academic associate Susanne Schulmeister.

It is no coincidence that the university was able to include so many biodiversity scientists from its own ranks in the MOOC: biodiversity is one of its research priorities (see box). In the URPP Global Change and Biodiversity, scientists research the effects that global change has on the diversity of species. By taking part in the MOOC, the public can benefit directly from the research being done at UZH.

The MOOC «Biodiversity and Global Change: Science & Action» will be offered again with start on Mai 1, Mai 29, June 26, July 24 and August 21.

UZH as a Global Center for Biodiversity Research

Since the start of 2017, the University of Zurich has housed the coordination office of bioDISCOVERY, making UZH the leading higher education institution in biodiversity research. bioDISCOVER is a platform designed to support and coordinate research projects around the world that are aimed at monitoring, understanding, and predicting changes in biodiversity. UZH was selected to house the office after a series of negotiations with Future Earth, an international research platform that is active in its efforts to preserve the world’s natural resources and develops the scientific basis to implement the UN conventions on climate change and on biological diversity. That the University was given the coordination office is mainly thanks to the University Research Priority Program (URPP) Global Change and Biodiversity, where Owen Petchy (see main text) is one of the co-directors.


The University of Zurich has launched a pilot project to promote the creation of new MOOCs. Currently, UZH has fours MOOCs on the internet platform Coursera. One MOOC is in German, the other three are in English:

-Das liebe Geld – Finance im Alltag (Department of Banking and Finance)

-An Intuitive Introduction to Probability (Department of Business Administration)

-Biodiversity and Global Change: Science & Action (Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies)

-Teaching Science at University (Institute of Education)

In November 2016, the Executive Board of the University also approved four additional MOOCs: Myocardial Infarction, Geburtshilfe beim Rind, Water in Switzerland, and Asian Environmental Humanities: Entangled Landscapes.

Adrian Ritter, editor UZH News.