Teaching animal welfare in a virtual world-wide classroom

MacKay, J. R. D., Langford, F., & Waran, N. (2016). Massive Open Online Courses as a Tool for Global Animal Welfare Education. Journal of Veterinary Medical Education, 43 (2), 1–15.

Due to an increase in the use of technology globally, new methods of teaching have emerged to reach broader student audiences. One recently developed method is the popular MOOC: ‘Massive Open Online Course’. The University of Edinburgh paired up with Coursera to produce a MOOC to teach animal behaviour and welfare at a worldwide level, and this study reviews its efficacy as an educational method.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are accessible via the internet and comprise of a series of lessons set over a fixed number of weeks. This particular MOOC, an entry-level ‘Animal Behavior and Welfare’ course of five weeks’ duration, was delivered across six continents, with 33,501 students signing up. The course was split into five sections: a general introduction, how to measure animal welfare, and the welfare of companion, production and captive wild animals. Each section comprised of pre-recorded video lectures, interactive presentations, ‘Google Hangout’ sessions, and a multiple-choice test. To assess the effectiveness of the course, pre- and post-course surveys of knowledge, attitudes, and experiences were supplied to the students. These were examined along with the students’ test results.

An effective tool, but one that requires a large investment

The ‘Animal Behavior and Welfare’ course had a higher-than-average retention rate for MOOCs, with 16.4% of students completing the course assessments and earning a Certificate of Achievement. This, along with an average test result of 89%, shows the course to be a general success. From the pre- and post-course surveys, a majority of students agreed that the course was at the right scientific level (57.2%) and was interesting (64.9%), as well as being able to demonstrate a more accurate understanding of animal welfare after course completion. When questioned whether the course was a valuable use of their time, 97.9% of respondents agreed that it was and 98.4% also agreed that it was enjoyable. 

This review aptly shows a place for online teaching in the subject of animal welfare, especially considering that a higher number of students could accurately judge good or bad animal welfare after studying the course to completion. A drawback of the MOOC was the vast amount of time required by the educators to prepare and run the course. However, as seven students completed the course for every one hour invested by an educator, the benefits were much larger than with a traditional in-person teaching style. This is not to say that MOOCs could completely replace traditional teaching, but they are a valuable tool to run alongside it.

World Animal Protection’s view 

World Animal Protection believes in supporting and promoting access to high quality educational material on the subject of animal welfare and the success of courses such as this demonstrate the demand across continents in this growing discipline.