As part of the University of Manchester’s Research Beacons Initiative, a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) was designed to disseminate research and teaching excellence of the university in the area of Industrial Biotechnology. The aim was to provide high quality distance learning with global reach in an area relevant to the grand challenges facing the world today. The course was co-designed and coordinated by University of Manchester researcher Dr. Nicholas Weise, a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (SFHEA), in consultation with members of the CHEM21 consortium, particularly those in WP5. This allowed the sustainability principles emphasized by CHEM21 to be integrated into the teaching of Industrial Biotechnology throughout the course.
The course followed a standard eLearning format common to other initiatives from the university. Each module was designed to be a collection of recorded presentations, talking heads, references and extra reading material along with multiple choice tests. The first three modules introduce the learner to core principles of industrial biotechnology – namely Biocatalysis, Systems & Synthetic Biology, and Biochemical and Bioprocess Engineering. Of these, Module 1 was contributed to by CHEM21 associates Prof. Nicholas Turner and Dr. Nicholas Weise, featuring research examples from EU consortia (KYROBIO, P4FIFTY and CHEM21). These initial modules then lead into the application modules which introduce more specific areas with principles exemplified through case studies. For example, Module 4 – which is entirely on the pharmaceutical and industrial context of biocatalytic manufacture – was designed and delivered by Dr. Andy Wells from the CHEM21 consortium. The bite-sized, modular nature of the course allows learners to be flexible or dip in and out when choosing topics according to their background or time constraints they may have. As such, the course has been made to be a useful supplement for undergraduates (chemists, biologists, engineers), a welcome addition to postgraduate and postdoctoral training or part of the continuing professional development (CPD) of scientists, educators and others in industry.