In an expansion of the university’s “massive open online courses,” the University of Wisconsin will launch six environmentally themed MOOCs next spring.

After offering four MOOCs last school year, University of Wisconsin enters the second phase of the online course program with six different listed classes, according to Lika Balenovich, a spokesperson for UW’s Educational Innovation Department that oversees the MOOCs. 

The second phase will begin on January 25.

Mark Johnson, the department’s director, said the MOOCs are aimed at a wide variety of people looking to learn and are not limited to current UW students.

Johnson said officials are hoping to reach more currently enrolled UW students during the second phase of the MOOC program, adding that the new MOOCs will be shorter in duration than the pilot courses, and will only run for four weeks each.

Jeffrey Russell, dean of the UW Division of Continuing Studies, was responsible for handling the day-to-day aspects of the first phase of MOOCs.

The six new MOOCs will have an environmental theme, Russell said. The new courses are currently listed as “Understanding Aldo Leopold’s Legacy;” “Changing Weather and Climate in the Great Lakes Region;” “Energy and the Earth;” “Forests and Humans;” “Virtual Shakespeare;” and “Climate Change and Public Health” by the Educational Innovation Department.

The Shakespeare course will “incorporate environmental readings” of four plays, according to a UW statement.

UW’s pilot program of four MOOCs last school year began after discussions with  with outgoing UW Provost Paul De Luca to see whether UW could join the growing number of universities offering MOOCs, according to Balenovich.

“We were new to the space, and wanted to learn more about how MOOCs worked and what the potential benefits were,” Balenovich said.

That first round of  MOOCs, dubbed “Phase I,” ended in May, Balenovich said. The four MOOCs saw 135,600 people register from all 50 states and approximately 140 countries, according to a UW statement. 

The “Video Games and Learning” MOOC had roughly 40,000 people register, Balenovich said, noting that “Phase I went well and attracted a large number of participants.”

However, only 5 percent of students “went all the way through and finished their respective courses,” Johnson said.

While the “Markets with Friction” business course attracted many current UW students, the “Video Games and Learning” And “Globalizing Higher Education” courses attracted a global audience of career professionals, Johnson said. The “Human Evolution” course had appeal from the general public, he added.

The students who finish the course may be willing to pay a small, $20 to $25 fee in order to take a test or receive a certificate once they complete the MOOC, he said.

Johnson said the MOOCs will not attempt to replace existing courses, but rather become complements to them. Their main purposes will be learning for the sake of interest and to develop professional skills and knowledge, he said.

“The value of the courses will be spreading the brand of UW around the world, and exposing the research and faculty here to a much wider audience,” Johnson said.