Making a MOOC about the science behind beer – this year’s winner of the MEDEA Awards

Belgium is a beer country, with over 300 breweries. In fact, Belgian beer culture is even listed as UNESCO world heritage. What many people probably don’t realize when enjoying their pint of beer, is the incredible amount of science that underlies making this beer! And this science is exactly what this year’s winner of the MEDEA Awards, the edX MOOC ‘Beer: the science of brewing’, is all about. Let’s find out why the group of prof. Kevin Verstrepen (VIB-KU Leuven, Belgium) decided to make this course!

Beer: the science of brewing – using a fun and popular topic to teach in-depth scientific knowledge

We wanted to introduce basic scientific concepts using a fun and perhaps a rather playful topic that is familiar to a broad audience.

Our team quickly realized that a MOOC about beer is a great way of reaching a lot of people and teaching them quite complex (bio)chemistry and engineering aspects while still keeping them engaged and motivated. By linking science to a fun topic (beer), we could truly create an in-depth, engaging scientific course with many real-world examples. This MOOC additionally serves as a preparatory course for the new postgraduate program in Malting and Brewing Sciences at KU Leuven.

Together with KU Leuven’s MOOC team, we used the innovative ABC (Arena Blended Connected) design, which we further tailored to the specific needs of our MOOC. We tried to combine different types of media (user-generated and professionally produced) to offer different types of learning experiences, as well as increase students’ engagement.

We designed our course with these goals in mind:

  • find a more engaging alternative for teaching science, as compared to the linear and quite dry approach of most science books;
  • strengthen our course by linking it to real-world industrial practices
  • bring in-depth science to learners with various backgrounds

From a personal beer profile to DIY experiments – How we engage our learners.

We developed diverse materials to engage our learners as much as possible. For example, our MOOC starts with a quiz to determine your personal beer profile. 

During this quiz, we ask students what they prefer in a beer, including specific flavors. We deliberately kept this quiz light and simple; but by asking about preferred flavors, we already introduce students to flavors; and they will see in subsequent modules exactly how these flavors are formed!

Students are also invited to perform small “Do It Yourself!” experiments illustrating the scientific concepts introduced in this MOOC.

These experiments represent a great opportunity for students to get hands-on experience with the introduced scientific concepts. We are very happy to see that these experiments are enthusiastically performed by our learners who share their pictures and discuss results with other students on the discussion forum.

Sneak peeks within internationally renowned breweries

Every module features one or more guest lectures by a range of (inter)national researchers, brewers and maltsters. In their videos, the expert speakers share their personal insights on a specific beer-related topic. These videos are the perfect way to not only allow students a sneak peek inside internationally renowned breweries; but also help to place the things learned in a real-world context and learn about current innovations and challenges.

This part was the most challenging, but definitely the most satisfying, as the true potential of MOOCs became evident: in this digital environment we could provide learners with a diversity of locations, topics, instructors and experiences from the comfort of their homes. Something that would never be possible in a traditional, campus-based approach!

Thirsty for more? A next run of our MOOC is starting on December 31st, you can enroll here.

Kevin Verstrepen, Stijn Spaepen, Stijn Mertens, Karin Voordeckers from the VIB-KU Leuven Center for Microbiology;  and the entire KU Leuven MOOC team.