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Linguistic accessibility for short online courses

Sheep farmer

A farmer from China once spent 16 years teaching himself law in order to sue a big chemical firm for polluting his land. He used a dictionary to help him understand legal jargon.  

In an ideal world, education would be accessible to people from all walks of life regardless of where they’re from, the language they speak, or their current level of education. Even though English is considered a universal language, it should not be assumed that it is superior to other languages, or that English fluency is a measure of intellect. 

Athe University of Edinburgh, we prioritised linguistic accessibility during the production of our massive open online course (MOOC) Nitrogen: A Global Challenge on edX. As the name suggests, students will learn about the global nitrogen challenge, how nitrogen has helped human civilisation to develop, and how its misuse now threatens us. Nitrogen is truly a double-edged sword  it has the potential to be both a force for good but and a heavy threat to the earth.  

Wdid not want this knowledge to be accessible to only English speakers. To truly make an impact, the course would have to reach practitioners whose daily work is directly affected by nitrogen, such as farmers around the world.


 The UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Global Challenge Research Fund (GCRF) South Asian Nitrogen Hub is working for a joined-up approach that fosters sustainable development for cleaner air and water, climate resilience, health and livelihoods. As part of the work of the Hub, one of the goals of the University of Edinburgh, is to create the translations of the Nitrogen MOOC to the national languages of all eight partner countries. It is in South Asia where the challenges of nitrogen pollution are some of the greatest in the world and where a better understanding of nitrogen risks and responses could help improve management of this element. 

The Nitrogen MOOC is currently available in seven languages (English, Hindi, Sinhalese, Urdu, Nepalese, Dari, and Hungarian) while three more translations (Bengali, Maldivian and Dzonhgka) are on the way. In future, we plan to translate the course to several other major world languages such as Spanish and Chinese to cover the four most spoken languages of the world (English, Hindi, Spanish and Chinese). 


Apples, Farmers Market, Business, Buy, Deal, Fruits


Tweet from Dr Andi Móring, one of the Nitrogen course’s instructors:


Quote from Dave Reay, University of Edinburgh PI of the GCRF UKRI South Asian Nitrogen Hub, and Course Instructor: 

The response to our MOOCs, and especially to the translations into the national languages of South Asia, has been incredible. Education and increased awareness is right at the core of tackling global challenges like nitrogen. With so many people around the world now being restricted to home working and study, these free online courses have proved a great way to enhance accessibility and build capacity for change. With more translations and new MOOCs in the pipeline covering everything from research methods to planetary health, the positive impact of this work really is going global.

The 5-week self-paced course is currently available for free and will take approximately 2-3 hours per week to complete. An optional verified certificate can be obtained for £38. 


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