WSU Combines History and Microbiology in First Massive Open Online Course

Professors Craig Oberg and Gene Sessions

OGDEN, Utah — Two Weber State University professors have combined history and microbiology in the university’s first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), “Microbes Rule the World: Effects of Disease on History.”
History professor Gene Sessions and microbiology professor Craig Oberg have teamed up to offer the course through the Canvas Network. The class, which went online Sept. 8, still is open for registration and takes five weeks to complete.

A MOOC is an online course, not for credit, available for anyone who wishes to register. Just as in a college course, students interact with instructors, have discussions, take exams and submit homework for review.
“Craig and I have been friends and colleagues for many, many years,” Sessions said. “We have had many long conversations about subjects that would tie our two disciplines together. We think that the combination of what we know and what we can quiz each other about will put a good course together, and people will be surprised to learn how powerful disease and microbes have been in the course of history.”

The course will demonstrate, through anecdotes and scientific explanation, the power of diseases and the way in which they have dramatically affected the course of history across topics including religion, war and migration.
Participants will have access to short video lectures with accompanying essays and exercises that will examine the startling influence of microbes in the course of human events.
“We have designed this course to have a number of different modules,” Oberg said. “We have tried to assemble each module to take a particular look at a part of history, not so much a segment of time but an experience of history, such as how religions grew or the impact of disease on war. It’s the history of the world from the microbes’ point of view.”
Sessions and Oberg have a combined seven decades of teaching experience. They have designed tiered learning materials that allow students to venture as deeply as they desire into the links between disease and history. Participants may also choose which topics interest them the most and devote their energies accordingly.

The course is self-paced. To be successful, students should plan to devote three to five hours a week to the course, which includes the video vignettes, participating in discussions, learning important terms and completing quizzes. All that is needed for the course is Internet access.
Andrea Jensen, director of WSU Online, said that there will be additional MOOCs offered by WSU, but on a limited basis.
“This was meant to be a pilot project, and it happened because we had two incredibly talented faculty members who wanted to do it,” she said.

To register for the free course, visit

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For high-resolution photos, visit the following links:

Marcus Jensen, Office of Markeing & Communications
801-626-7948 •
Andrea Jensen, director, WSU Online
801-626-6091 •