Lights! Camera! Action! Big Data Mooc!

‘Big Data for the Environment’ – a massive open online course in the making

Posted: June 12, 2017

By Vicky Lucas and Jo Ansell

It’s been an action-packed few weeks in the IEA as filming took place for our massive open online course (Mooc). We’ve filmed both here in Reading and at the University of Oxford e-Research Centre, recording knowledge from a wide range experts. Our very own Jon Blower used the video wall to demonstrate IEA projects and Ed Hawkins explained his climate spiral of historic temperature data as well as the big data needs of climate simulations.

In Oxford we spoke to and David Wallom, of OeRC, who spoke about the importance of open data and its applications. We interviewed Tom August, a computational ecologist from Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, who highlighted the role of ‘small data’ in environmental science, for example, the first recording of the Asian hornet in the UK last year. We were even lucky enough to film exclusive footage of the blue aura of the Jasmin server room for our Mooc.

Now that the video footage is in the can we can move on to recording audio examples of big data sources and the analysis process a data scientist goes through. This will be added to animations with voice-overs from other IEA members. Finally we need to collate the text, put together the quizzes and discussion topics before the clinking of champagne glasses for the autumn launch.

What’s in the IEA Big Data for the Environment Mooc?

The Mooc will be a three week tour of big data, with the environment as both a source of that data and requiring big data analysis to find solutions.

Week one will focus on ‘big data’, from the use of cloud computing to the masses of satellite data and data storage.

The second week, ‘data to discovery’ will focus on finding data and the challenges of handling data, including open data, metadata and the role of the data scientist.

The third and final week will highlight that small data can also be vital, that size isn’t everything, so there will be examples of individual readings and their value as well as combining large and small datasets to find solutions and answers.

Who is the IEA Mooc for?

The Institute for Environmental Analytics pioneers commercial and applied research in environmental analytics. This course explores the breadth of interests and applications of IEA expertise, and communicating this to a wider audience; from the use of satellite, weather and climate data to visualizing urban health to diagnosing land use change.

The IEA has a number of business and research partners and the course allows us to showcase their work too, such as the vast scale of the Jasmin facility to the commercial applications of satellite data to the data behind the climate spiral that Ed Hawkins produced.

The course is aimed at anyone with an interest in how data is vital to environmental monitoring and analysis, to develop those themes with examples and to consider some big data issues along the way. The course will acknowledge that lots of environmental analysis needed ‘big data’ before the term existed and that small data can have vital value too.

Why should I be interested in open online courses?

These free courses provide quality content, most often sourced from universities or learned societies.  The lessons are well planned, with good visual production, lots of relevant information and are designed to be consumed in short chunks and even via a mobile phone, so accessibility is great.

The choice of content is astounding from dinosaurs to mindfulness to screenwriting to metabolomics and many languages from Korean to JavaScript.  Learners are encouraged to contribute to discussion boards and interact with their peers, with course tutors contributing to these boards during the live runs.

A successful University of Reading and Royal Meteorological Society course is ‘Come Rain or Shine’ starting again on 19 June.  Here is the full list of courses from the University of Reading, which are available on the FutureLearn platform, which is owned by the Open University.

The launch date for the IEA’s mooc on Big Data for the Environment is scheduled for autumn/winter 2017. Further details will be announced on this website.



WANT TO HELP? We will be looking for PhD students who are familiar with big data and / or environmental science to help with monitoring learner discussion boards on the Big Data for the Environment Mooc when it launches, in return for a small fee. For more information contact Training Manager Vicky Lucas on 

Jon Blower, IEA Big Data Mooc
Dr Jon Blower, Chief Technical Officer of the IEA, in front of the camera. PHOTO: JO ANSELL
Big Data for the Environment Mooc
The Big Data for the Environment Mooc will feature cartoon characters based on members of the IEA. ANIMATION: NIBIA WAHEED
David Wallom, IEA big data mooc
Professor David Wallom talks open data for the IEA Mooc. PHOTO: JO ANSELL