New CSUR Course Focusing On Energy Transition To Tap Into MOOC Movement

“Energy transition” is increasingly a contested term.

What it means to an oil and gas worker can potentially be meaningless to a renewables worker; what energy transition means to an energy-secure urban Canadian city can be mean nothing to an energy-impoverished remote Arctic community.

And yet, getting “energy transition” right is critical to the way the world navigates collaboratively toward a sustainable future.

Part of the challenge comes from the fact “energy transition” has a lot of moving parts; it involves a system of systems, each seeking alignment and accord with each other. And each of those systems has its own complexities and nuanced meanings. Understanding their interconnectivities and interdependencies is daunting to even seasoned energy players, to say nothing of average citizens.

That’s why the notion of ETL (energy transition literacy) is so critical — and the Canadian Society for Unconventional Resources (CSUR) believes part of the answer is literacy at scale.

CSUR is tapping into the MOOC movement: the use of massive open online courses to make energy transition literacy accessible at a magnitude sufficient to create a collaborative critical mass. MOOCs have become critical convening and teaching platforms that can often reach hundreds of thousands of learners concurrently.

CSUR has designed its course, 21st Century Energy Transition – How Do We Make it Work?, with the idea of bringing learners together via a curriculum that honours and validates the diverse dimensions of energy transition — but “convenes” them in a way that will help people “connect the energy dots,” explained Dr. Brad Hayes, the CSUR board director spearheading the MOOC’s creation.

“It’s important that we recognize the complexity underlying what seems like a very simple idea but is anything but,” he noted. “By asking how we can make it work, we come at the challenges from an opportunity perspective that accounts for the diverse range of interests on the energy transitions landscape.”

From the course description: Affordable, abundant and reliable energy is fundamental to human well-being and prosperity. For the past 150 years, more and more people have gained access to energy, primarily in the form of fossil fuels — coal, petroleum and natural gas. But now, even while half of humanity cannot access adequate energy supplies, we are beginning a profound transition to more diverse energy sources. Climate change, environmental sustainability, and energy poverty are all important — and sometimes conflicting — drivers as we strive to supply more energy to more people with fewer negative impacts on Earth’s environments. Join us to learn about the many energy sources available, and where technology is providing exciting new solutions to energy and environmental challenges. Find out what roles energy storage must play to support the transition, and discuss how we can optimize transition processes. Examine competing viewpoints (“realities”) to enable energy transition, focusing on the practical challenges in bringing about change on a global basis. And to conclude, we will bring all these issues together to examine how the energy transition process is progressing and what we must do to create pathways to achieve our goals.

The MOOC, which has 29 modules, is intended to appeal to a broad base of learners, noted Hayes. Module content will range from energy sources and production dynamics to socio-economic and political considerations — all rooted in a global context. The modules will be taught by a balanced blend of academics and practitioners active in various energy sectors.

“We want people who want a realistic set of insights into the complexities of energy supply; the course content will be presented at a junior undergraduate level and there will be many opportunities to drill down more deeply into particular areas of interest,” explained Hayes.

CSUR itself is undergoing its own transition. Created in the early days of coalbed methane development, CSUR has consistently looked out over the energy landscape to anticipate change and move with it on behalf of its members, noted president Dan Allan. CSUR’s board and management began the organization’s own “energy evolution” efforts in 2019, which culminated in 2020 with a new strategic direction intended to ensure CSUR remains relevant.

Its latest effort with the MOOC is to ensure it remains a leader of recognizing and responding constructively to change and builds on a range of other outreach efforts, he added.

“In many ways, the MOOC initiative is a direct result of those other outreach initiatives.... We learned from those interactions where the knowledge and literacy gaps are … and with the MOOC, were trying to fill those spaces.”

CSUR is currently more than halfway through its campaign to raise funds to support the MOOC’s development; financial backers are not sponsors in the classic sense, but rather “investors” who see returns that derive from literacy collaboration efforts, noted Hayes.

The MOOC is targeted to launch in early 2022.

“We’re hoping that we see the same diversity in our supporting funders as there is in the energy transition world; that will go a long way toward creating a collaborative space in which participants learn to collaborate across multiple perspectives,” he added.

For CSUR board co-chair Caralyn Bennett, the MOOC project is the opportunity to connect Canadians with their place in driving a successful transition.

“In the vein of the highly successful University of Alberta Indigenous Canada course and true to our roots as a non-partisan educator, CSUR aims to attract a broad audience coast to coast,” noted Bennett. “Our goal is to help them learn about the complexities of our energy systems, grasp the opportunities and challenges associated with a wide variety of energy sources and support society’s need to chart tangible pathways toward a sustainable future.”

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