Duke University professor Lincoln Pratson launches second MOOC on energy industry fundamentals

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Thursday, Jul 13, 2017 - 6:07 pm

Duke University professor Lincoln Pratson has launched a second massive open online course (MOOC) addressing energy industry fundamentals, via the Coursera platform. 

How does Coursera work? For a nominal fee, individuals can take the course "for credit," completing assignments as they work toward a certificate verifying successful course completion. Typically, Pratson's MOOCs involve a six- to eight-hour commitment over a monthlong session. The courses are designed to take as little as two weeks, so learners can pretty much go at their own pace. Pratson's videos and some other course materials are accessible to non-paying users at any time.

The new course, Electric Industry Operations & Markets,  introduces students to the core activities that the industry executes to bring electricity to customers and addresses the markets that drive electric industry operations. 


Pratson's first MOOC, Oil & Gas Industry Operations & Markets, provides an overview of the production of oil and gas (from initial exploration to final transport) and examines the forces that drive the oil and gas markets, including the cost of wells, seasonal impacts on prices, and the role of oil reserves. 

Reviews posted at Coursera indicate that Pratson's oil and gas course has proven beneficial to university students and energy professionals alike. One recent Coursera student noted, "As a petroleum engineer, I can say that this course offers very good insight into the hydrocarbon value chain. Oil and gas is so vast and very intricately related with many business and technical aspects. Candidates looking to get a foothold will find this very useful."

Pratson, a widely cited expert on energy and energy systems, has published more than 65 peer-reviewed studies on a broad range of topics, including energy use and climate change; energy economics and production; renewable energy; and offshore oil and gas exploration. He was recently named the Gendell Family Professor of Energy and the Environment at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment, where he has been a faculty member since 1998. 

Q & A with Lincoln Pratson 

We asked Pratson to tell us more about the MOOCs he designed and teaches. 

1) What prompted you to create these online courses? 

The courses stemmed from a meeting I and other energy faculty at Duke had with Duke Provost Sally Kornbluth, former Vice Provost for Online Learning Lynn O’Brien and former EI Director Richard Newell. These University leaders were interested in the possibility of translating elements of the energy courses we teach here at Duke into massive open online courses (MOOCs) that could be accessed by the broader international public. I was inspired by the goal and the two courses are my contribution toward it.

2) Who could benefit most from the MOOCs? 

The courses are designed to be of benefit to individuals from a variety of backgrounds seeking to understand more about the two major energy industries for a range of reasons. This includes people wanting to work in the industries; others who already work in the industries but are seeking a broader perspective of how they function; decision makers whose business costs and/or policy decisions are affected by and/or affect the industries; students of economics, business, public policy, environmental science or one of many more disciplines that pertain to human activities; and people simply wanting to be more informed citizens.

3) Have you received any feedback on the first course? 

William Williamson, one of Duke’s Online Course Associates and someone who was a huge help to me in completing my second MOOC (Electric Industry Operations & Markets), recently shared with me that my first MOOC (Oil & Gas Industry Operations & Markets), which has been available for over a year now, has a 98% approval rating. I have my fingers crossed that my second MOOC does as well.

4) What’s the most challenging aspect of designing and teaching an online course? 

Coming up with many of the figures to go along with my video lectures. A lot of energy graphics are not available for public reuse, so I had to spend a lot of time tracking down figures that could be used in the MOOCs, or, as was often the case, drafting them up myself. 

5) How can the course materials be leveraged in face-to-face teaching at Duke?

The individual videos in the MOOCs are available to Duke faculty for use in their courses. For example, faculty teaching Earth Science could use the one on drilling for oil to help students understand how the drilling process works and what technology is involved, and faculty teaching about Energy Policy involving electric utilities could use one or more of the videos on electric markets to help students understand how and when different types of power plants are dispatched. Faculty can get access to the videos through Online Duke (https://online.duke.edu).