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Nobel Peace Prize Winner Teaches Students Around the Globe While Never Leaving State College

by on January 19, 2014 8:55 AM

Nobel Peace Prize recipient Richard Alley is in the process of instructing students on six different continents about energy uses and their impact on the world while never leaving State College.

Thanks to technology, Alley is leading a massive, open, online course (MOOC) from his office at Penn State. His course is reaching 28,000 students on every continent with the exception of Antarctica.

Alley, a professor of geosciences at Penn State, was one of the authors on the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose members shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore.

The course, which is free, is based on a PBS mini-series, hosted by Alley, and a companion book. For information on registration, click HERE.

Alley looks at how "the unintended consequences of energy use are affecting people around the world and changing the climate in ways that will make life much harder," and also explores options for developing sustainable energy systems.

"Eventually, we want them to have the solid information which is really available now in a technical form so that they can make decisions about where they want to go and what they want to do," Alley says.

Alley says it is important to find alternatives to fossil fuel energy. Still, he recognizes such decisions impact jobs, health and wellness as well as politics.

"They (decisions) really do have to be made and if people do have the background they really can make better decisions and will be better off," says Alley.

Ultimately, Alley says the MOOC will help shape future courses offered at Penn State's campuses.

"At some level this is reaching the pubic, it's a public service," Alley says. "What we learn here will transfer into helping our students better ... What I've helped put together here will come right back into the commonwealth and be helpful there."

Seth Blumsack, an assistant professor at Penn State's Department of Energy and Mineral Engineering, will teach some of the engineering lessons in the MOOC.

"He brings a huge amount of expertise," Alley says.

Short exercises, objective quizzes, and a comprehensive final examination will assess student progress. Students will also have opportunities to engage in a world-wide conversation that is taking place online concerning matters of climate change and clean energy.

Alley and Blumsack will also have the assistance of several instructional aides to meet students' needs.

Jennifer Miller is a reporter for She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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