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Not too long ago, UC San Diego Extension professor emeritus Charles Kennel, one of the world’s leading scientists, held a global version of office hours.

He sat at a computer in Cambridge, England, while students from as far away as Colombia and the Philippines chatted with him and one another about how their countries are addressing climate change. The students were among hundreds taking an extraordinary UC San Diego Extension online course.

“It’s a whole new world,” Kennel, who’s been teaching for almost 50 years, said. “They’re talking to each other under the auspices of the University of California at San Diego. That blew my mind. Our offerings to the world have a whole new level and scope.”

Kennel is among the first UC San Diego Extension professors to embrace MOOCs, which are allowing millions of people around the world to take college-level courses from wherever they happen to be. All they need is an Internet connection and a desire to learn.

UC San Diego Extension is at the forefront of this brave new education era. This year, it’s continuing to make waves by bringing together top scientists, like Kennel, to share their knowledge about climate change and the future of energy.

“We’re a continuing education organization, and most of our students are adult professionals who are looking to improve themselves professionally,” Shannon McDonald, UC San Diego Extension’s business development and marketing manager, said. “Tools like massive open online courses enable us to let people have a taste of what it takes to participate in an area of the economy that is growing significantly.”

As an added bonus, the MOOCs are free. This allows students to easily dip into fields of knowledge and decide if they’d like to learn more through additional coursework, McDonald said.

“Our Energy Future,” UC San Diego Extension’s newest MOOC, began in June. It provides an introduction to energy issues in the 21st century, including the sustainable production of food and fuels.

The free 10-week course is the brainchild of Stephen Mayfield, a biology professor who directs the California Center for Algae Biotechnology. It features short video lectures and interviews with 30 UC San Diego and Scripps Institution of Oceanography experts plus industry leaders from around the world.

Another free 10-week course, “Climate Change in Four Dimensions,” will start on July 1 through Coursera. Intended for advanced undergraduates and graduate students, the course evolved from a class taught by Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a professor of climate and atmospheric sciences at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Ramanathan, one of the world’s most respected scientists, will make presentations during the course along with Naomi Oreskes, a former UC San Diego science history professor now at Harvard University, and David Victor, a professor at the Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies.

Kennel took part in an earlier version of the climate change course. He praised the production values and organizational skills that turn video lectures into showcases for learning.

These courses do more than help students learn on an international level. They also spotlight San Diego’s role in clean tech and alternative energy thanks to companies like Sapphire Energy, Synthetic Genomics, and Verdezyne, just to name a few.

“We are always aiming to showcase areas in which our university and community excel,” McDonald said. “These courses increase the visibility of our region as a powerhouse in technical solutions to very difficult global problems. We’re proud to embrace this extraordinary way to educate San Diegans and the world.”

Note: These classes were offered Summer 2014 and have ended. However, if interested, you can sign-up for a notification on future online courses, here.

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