Reflections on the Blue Economy Massive Open Online Course Series

By Kelly Hoareau, Mia Strand, Holly Niner, Estee Vermeulen, Elisa Morgera, Bernadette Snow, and Kirsty McQuaid

This blogpost aims to share key messages and reflections arising from developing the Blue Economy Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) series, led by the University of Seychelles James Michel Blue Economy Research Institute in 2020 and 2021, in collaboration with the Commonwealth of Learning and the One Ocean Hub.

Synergies to support interdisciplinary collaboration and capacity development for the Blue Economy

The University of Seychelles James Michel Blue Economy Research Institute, in collaboration with the Commonwealth of Learning and the One Ocean Hub, developed a four-part Blue Economy MOOC series. The aim of the course was to explore various components of the blue economy, along with the interdisciplinary (and transdisciplinary) nature of it.

Fifteen Hub researchers (including four early-career researchers and eight female researchers) expanded this inter-disciplinary approach by contributing to the development of the series on the Blue Economy. The MOOC attracted over 1500 participants (~46 per cent of whom were women), from various continents. Around 98.81 per cent of post-course survey respondents indicated that they would recommend the MOOC to colleagues.

The course focused on how blue economies should respond to society’s needs while ensuring marine resources remain available for future generations. To ensure respect for the needs, knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, the course explored how a blue economy should integrate law, policy, economics, social and marine sciences to address the causes of unsustainable and non-inclusive blue economy initiatives. In addition, the course explored the reality of developing a blue economy that embodies the principles of sustainability in coastal nations that are complex and driven by multiple factors.

Key messages and added value of the Hub contributions to the MOOC

In this section, Hub researchers that were involved in the development of the MOOC series share their reflections on the key messages arising from the One Ocean Hub’s contributions.

I was very lucky to be able to contribute to sessions on integrated ocean management and knowledge co-production. These sessions explored different approaches to ocean governance that can meaningfully engage different sectors and stakeholders, and discussed the need to move beyond academia and disciplines to include relevant groups of society in the production of knowledge for more sustainable approaches to manage and understand complex social-ecological systems. One important aspect that was highlighted is that a transition towards a sustainable ocean governance requires a shift in culture. Rudolph et al. (2020) emphasise that we need to move away from values, frames and worldviews of marketisation, consumerism and (national) self-interest and growth, and rather move towards values, frames and worldviews of well-being, sustainability and the global commons.   

Mia Strand (Nelson Mandela University, South Africa)

On the theme of seabed mining, participants were introduced to background information on mineral resources of interest and governance frameworks for seabed mining. The theme also explored some of the key challenges of seabed mining as well as complex, cross-sectoral issues. Key reflections of this theme centered around the complexity of this emerging sector in the Blue Economy and sustainability contexts. While there are many potential benefits of seabed mining, there remain outstanding issues on many fronts, including the environment, regulatory frameworks, social systems, economy, and technological developments, as well as complex challenges in cross-sectoral management. Through Hub participation in developing this theme, expertise and understanding in the field brought nuanced insight to discussions around the key challenges of seabed mining moving forward.

Dr Kirsty McQuaid (University of Plymouth, UK)

This contribution considered context-specific complexity and introduced one of the One Ocean Hubs case study areas, Algoa Bay in South Africa. The presentation looked at complex issues from building climate resilience, interplay between economies and how marine spatial planning could support the sustainable management of seascapes at a local level. Estee Vermeulen (PhD candidate, Nelson Mandela University) further demonstrated a system dynamic tool for managing multiple sectors, for sustainability of the marine environment.

Dr Bernadette Snow (University of Strathclyde, UK) and Estee Vermeulen (Nelson Mandela University, SA)

The MOOC was a great opportunity to share the One Ocean Hub’s research on the relevance of human rights in the context of ocean governance, and their potential to contribute to inclusive and sustainable blue economy development. I enjoyed the challenge of providing an accessible explanation of international human rights and how they need to fit into the specifics of ocean management. In addition, I benefitted greatly from planning my session together with other Hub researchers presenting on culture and gender (Prof Boswell), as well as on our innovative arts-based research approaches to work with indigenous peoples and small-scale fisheries (Dr McGarry).

Prof Elisa Morgera (University of Strathclyde, UK)
  The One Ocean Hub’ modules of the MOOC series include:
  1. Designing, editing and development and linking in Hub colleagues and transdisciplinarity and sustainability. Kelly Hoareau played an essential role in carrying out these tasks. 
  2. Facilitating student engagement. Dr Holly Niner has facilitated the student engagement in the series.
  3. Intellectual and technical contributions for themes outlined below.
  4. The Blue Economy and the Law of the Sea by Associate Professor Daniela Diz (Heriot-Watt University, UK)
  5. Natural Capital and the Blue Economy by Dr Sian Rees (University of Plymouth, UK).
  6. Integrated Ocean Management by Mia Strand (Nelson Mandela University, South Africa).
  7. Integrated Ocean Management: South African Case Study by Dr Bernadette Snow (Nelson Mandela University, South Africa and University of Strathclyde, UK).
  8. Applying a systems analysis approach to support Integrated Ocean Management and Marine Spatial Planning in Algoa Bay, South Africa by Dr Estee Vermeulen (Nelson Mandela University, South Africa).
  9. Knowledge Co-Production by Mia Strand (Nelson Mandela University, South Africa).
  10. Human Rights and the Blue Economy by Professor Elisa Morgera ( University of Strathclyde, UK).
  11. Gender, Culture and the Blue Economy by Professor Rose Boswell  (Nelson Mandela University, South Africa).
  12. Division of Labour Case Study by Dr Dylan McGarry (Rhodes University, South Africa).
  13. Sustainable Fisheries by Dr Alexander Winkler (Rhodes University, South Africa)
  14. Deep Seabed Mining  (Part 1)  and (Part 2) by Dr Kirsty McQuaid ( University of Plymouth, UK)
  15. Offshore Renewable Energy by Professor Martin Attrill ( University of Plymouth, UK)
  16. Marine Biotechnology by Professor Kerry Howell ( University of Plymouth, UK)
  17. Case Study: Marine Biotechnology by Professor Mathew Upton (University of Plymouth, UK)
  18. Maritime Transport and Ports (Part 1) and (Part 2) by Associate Professor Pierre Jean Bordahandy ( University of South Pacific, Fiji).
A reflection on what Hub researchers learnt from developing the MOOC series

In this section, Hub researchers that were involved in the development of the MOOC series provide their self-reflection on how being part of the Hub enable the development of MOOC series in this section. Their reflections highlight the One Ocean Hub’s contributions in bringing in diverse expertise, engaging researchers who are at different stages of their career – established academics, early career researchers – and developing female researchers’ leadership in research areas that are traditionally male-dominated fields of study.

While working with various colleagues, it was interesting to see subject experts reprocessing their ideas and course delivery approaches to embrace a stronger transdisciplinary approach that they then packaged to share with the students. I really liked working with each person, watching the content evolve as content experts pushed themselves to explore the complex nature of the Blue Economy and relate this to a customised student experience.

Kelly Hoareau (the University of Seychelles, Seychelles)

What stood out for me the most was the variety of expertise, experiences and viewpoints of all the different presenters and the students themselves. Whilst engaging with the students on the importance of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary knowledge co-production for a more sustainable approach to blue economy activities, we could all learn from people’s individual experiences in their own context and sector. The course allowed for the coming together of different perspectives and viewpoints which further encouraged more collaboration across regions, sectors and disciplines. It was amazing to work with colleagues from across the Hub and I found the process to deepen my understanding of diverse approaches to integrated ocean management.

Mia Strand (Nelson Mandela University, South Africa)

It was pleasant to observe the number of attendees from different backgrounds and disciplines aligning their views towards the common goal of Integrated Ocean Management (IOM), beginning to build an inclusive blue economy that is supported by a healthy ocean in order to sustain current and future generations. Additionally, to witness the growing interest on the subject of IOM and the blue economy. Encouraging to receive constructive feedback and compliments on the research products that were presented.

Estee Vermeulen (Nelson Mandela University, South Africa)

Developing the MOOC theme was an extremely rewarding experience as it challenged me to expand my thinking around the topic of seabed mining and consider this theme from a more holistic perspective. It is common among Early Career Researchers to have a sharp focus on a particular area of expertise, and so this presented a real growth opportunity to explore and learn more widely about the topic and my approach to it. It was also challenging to distill messages around complex issues to non-specialists while keeping the content engaging and accessible. I found it a very enriching experience.

Dr Kirsty McQuaid (University of Plymouth, UK)

A vast range of students took part in the MOOC series, from all over the world and from many contexts. Students ranged from those that were studying, those that had a personal interest, those in government tasked with exploring the potential of blue economy, to those working within different industry sectors. The interactive sessions were particularly valuable, where students were brought together to reflect on some of the topics presented by Hub researchers in the preceding weeks of the course. These sessions allowed an in-depth exploration of the practical application of the knowledge and expertise presented. They were particularly useful in exploring the different dimensions of sustainability and how industries typically not classified as ‘sustainable’ fit into developing blue economies.

Dr Holly Niner (University of Plymouth, UK) 

In conclusion, the participation of Hub researchers, and in particular emerging researchers, in the development and presentation of the MOOC has fostered our goal to build both internal and external interdisciplinary capacity to ensure, a rights-based, inclusive and integrated approach to sustainable development of Blue Economies.