Nico van der Veen and three other honours students created a MOOC on beer. It was a lot of work, but it was fun and educational. Thousands of registrations already came in. The course was launched online yesterday evening.
Rector magnificus Arthur Mol and the honours students launched the MOOC on beer yesterday, during the opening of the Month of Education. © Guy Ackermans
Nico van der Veen has to think on his answer. ‘I’m not sure whether I now appreciate beer more than before, but it’s fun to know all about the production processes of beer, what it’s made of, and its history.’
Nico van der Veen, Sander Breevaart, Esther Kunst and Florence Scherer investigated the ideal university as part of their Honours Investigation Project. Discussions with people such as Job Cohen and Bas Haring revealed that the university should increase the knowledge it shares with the public. And the best way to do that is through an online platform. After a brainstorming session, the decision to create a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on beer was easily made. Beer is not just a popular drink that is the subject of many conversations, it is also hip: after all, doesn’t every city have its own beer brand? And beer also touches many of the programmes taught in Wageningen; from Biochemistry to Consumer Studies.
Create a MOOC? That would be unwise, a lecturer told the students. The fact that the MOOC has been completed after all says something about the perseverance of the four students. And their belief in their own abilities. ‘One shouldn’t simply say that something is impossible’, says Van der Veer, ‘or that something is too big. That is certainly one of the things I’ve learned.’ Although he does admit it was a challenging project and a lot of work. ‘Creating a MOOC is not something you do with four people, you need many more. We placed an ad for a vacancy, to which we received many responses. After the interviews, we continued with fourteen fellow students’, Van der Veen elaborates.
That is when the real work started. ‘As a student, you write papers and essays, but writing a script is something entirely different. It needs to be common spoken language, fun to listen to and still scientifically correct.’ There was also a studio training, during which the scripts and ‘look and feel’ of the story were tested on camera. ‘Seeing yourself on screen takes some getting used to. You keep looking at it with a critical view. But after some time, I was able to assess myself more objectively, as if I were watching someone else.’
The thread of the MOOC is a quest for the essence of beer. The videos that make up the MOOC are each under five minutes. Van der Veen: ‘There are four modules, and we start each module in the pub, where the four of us wonder about beer. What is beer, which ingredients do you need, what does the production process look like, how do you market a new beer, and what are the health risks is you drink (too much) beer.’ Then, one of the other students acts as lecturer and delves into the question that was asked in the pub.
The entire process, from the idea to the production of the MOOC, was nearly spotless. ‘What we did run into was that we were all so busy with other things besides the MOOC. I did a minor in Groningen and followed a few additional courses, and two of us were abroad for some time. That didn’t facilitate the coordination of the process’, explains Van der Veen, who learned more in the past year than just the ins and outs of beer. ‘We were in charge of everything; we determined the contents, led meetings and guided students in areas in which we barely had any experience ourselves. My self-confidence has certainly improved. The four of us basically led a small company.’
You can enrol in the MOOC here.