Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Online mental health courses boom

Free, online courses offered by the University of Canterbury are proving popular, with more than 19,000 enrolments so far for a paper exploring mental health and nutrition.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) were launched by the University in October last year in response to growing demand for online learning from students in New Zealand and overseas.

Nearly a year later, there have been about 38,000 enrolments in MOOCs, including over 19,000 for a Mental Health and Nutrition course taught by University of Canterbury (UC) Clinical Psychology Professor Julia Rucklidge.

The short MOOCs, which UC offers across a range of subjects through global education provider edX, are open to students internationally as well as in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Course content is presented through video segments with discussion boards and e-learning activities. The emphasis is on learning rather than assessment and MOOCS are free, however students can choose to pay a fee if they want to do assessments and receive a certificate.

Professor Rucklidge says her eight-week course, which explores the important role of nutrition in mental health, has been popular because it’s relevant to a wide audience.

“The MOOC is a great tool for people to learn where they are in these times of social isolation and staying at home. It’s very accessible and people seem to find the topic really appealing.”

“With 20 per cent of the population experiencing a mental health problem in any given year and the fact that we all have to eat, the topic is going to reach far more people. People are starting to realise the importance of optimising their mental health, and nutrition is one of the solutions.”

Professor Rucklidge’s first MOOC began in March this year and the second run of the same course started last week. She says although many of her online students are in New Zealand, 142 countries are represented across the group.

There is a mixture of health professionals – including psychologists, GPs and dieticians – among her students, along with others who are taking the course out of personal interest, such as a mother with children on the autism spectrum who wants to know how best to feed them, Professor Rucklidge says. 

“It’s a lot of fun and a new skill for me. The videos are professionally produced and I’ve really enjoyed doing them. It’s a great way to share knowledge with a very large audience in an engaging way.”

UC Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic |Tumu Tuarua Akoranga Professor Catherine Moran says the University is offering MOOCs as part of its commitment to providing accessible and future-focused learning opportunities for students.

“Online courses are a flexible way to operate in the current environment when it’s difficult for people to travel, and even during the current lockdown. We’re offering courses in areas where UC is leading the way with high-quality teaching and research.

“The courses cater to people who are studying out of personal interest as well as those wanting professional development.”

Human-Robot Interaction is a new Professional Certificate starting this week, taught by UC Associate Professor Christoph Bartneck. Other planned MOOCs include a Micro-Masters in Organisational Psychology, Antarctic future: What does climate change mean for the Antarctic?, Teaching Computational Thinking, Field Studies: Earth and Environmental Science, and a Professional Certificate in Bayesian Statistics.

Enrolments are still open for Professor Rucklidge’s Mental Health and Nutrition

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