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Dr Julia Cooke on being an academic consultant on 'Earth From Space'.

Updated Tuesday, 9th April 2019

In these short videos Dr Julia Cooke discusses being an academic consultant on the groundbreaking OU/BBC series, Earth From Space.

Meet Dr Julia Cooke..


Julia: I'm Julia Cooke I'm a lecturer in ecology in the school of Environment Earth and Ecosystem Sciences.

As a researcher, I'm a plant functional ecologist, so that means I'm interested in how plants work and then the role that they play in an ecosystem.

I grew up on a little farm in rural Australia, so I've always been interested in the natural world, and I spent my childhood climbing trees and spending a lot of time up in the branches of eucalypt or something.

I think some people look out the window and see a wall of green; I've just always seen a lot more than that.

I've just always seen the whole range of different species competing and growing and surviving wherever their seeds land, so plants have always just captured my imagination.

Interviewer: How did that bring you to the OU then? What was it that got you to where you are?

Julia: I didn't intend to become an academic that wasn't the plan - I was always going to be a research scientist and then when I was a PhD student I fell in love with teaching.

I just really enjoyed teaching as well and so that that sent me in an academic direction

I think The Open University just offers such diverse ways of teaching and unusual ways of teaching so it was a very attractive place to work.

Hear about Dr Julia Cooke's experience as an OU academic consultant on the series...


Julia: I've been working on a programme called Earth from Space, and in the last few decades the number of satellites that we've put up in the sky has increased enormously and so this series showcases some of the most interesting and extraordinary things we can see from space and what we can learn from that.

Initially we met with the series and the episode producers, very early on, and at that stage we could make suggestions about perhaps other areas of research that were very new that they might not yet have heard of.  And then throughout the… most of filming then happened and we met the episode producers again and watched sort of ‘long cuts’ to see what footage they'd got and how they're putting it together and then we can try and help find ways to explain the things that they wanted to say.

Interviewer: In what way then was your expertise, and well the team's expertise, and feedback been incorporated into the programs and taken on board by the production team?

Julia: Because we’re researchers and active researchers, we're aware of what's happening in our particular field so we were able to highlight different studies that we knew about, either from Open University research or across the globe, and to link in current research with the storylines of the film.

I think the other way was that as teachers were used to finding ways to communicate complex ideas; really concise but clear ways of explaining things - either with a nice analogy or just ways that we've found through our teaching experience to explain something that usually is difficult.

One example related to me that comes to mind was there's a section about pollination and it's in the series you can see these huge fields of canola from space, this massive amount of yellow, and there's a storyline that goes behind it about the beekeepers who help pollinate this area.

And so, I was able to work with the production crew to make sure the data about the decline in pollinators was correct using some of the contacts that I have through my research.

When you've explained that to the people that we were working with and then you see that in the script, that's really nice.

Dr Julia Cooke's hope to inspire learning about our planet...


Julia: I think Earth from Space is all about looking at our planet, our planet now the changes that are happening and and what we're going to do about that.

The series literally looks at so many different aspects of life on Earth, and how the Earth was formed, and how it's changing over time - that feeds into all sorts of courses from ecology courses, environmental science courses, geology courses…

I think we're at a really critical time in the health of our planet and this gives us a new, both a new way of looking at this and a whole range of new tools to tackle the issues that are coming.

I think that makes me a better teacher because I can now see this broader perspective, as well as the more local scales, and I think it's a critical time to be doing that and preparing students, the sort of people who are going to be looking after our planet in future, to do that as well as they can.

Interviewer: With this series there's a fantastic poster that viewers are able to get hold of and learn more - tell me a bit more about that.

Julia: So all of the academics were involved in commenting on the scripts and things were also involved in designing the poster.

It was brilliant to sort of come up with what we thought were, sort of, key concepts from the series or ways that we could organise the same information from a different perspective to show how things fit together.

The sort of scale on the front was something that I was really keen to do because I think that sense of scale is hard for people to understand.

You know, we can only see so far and things that are so small, yet we're able to see things that are much, much smaller through technology.

And we're able to get this sort of global perspective from satellites, so to be able to show how we see things beyond what our own bodies can perceive was important to me to show.

I hope that adds to their experience because I think in in the series there's a limited time and there's so many amazing things that they can and do show, that it's nice to be able to then take a bit more time to read a bit more and understand how things work.

Interviewer: What's your thought on being able to have that access to programmes like this to use for teaching material?

Julia: It’s enormously valuable, because… so in science, for example, most of our modules are delivered online so there's website text and things and it's hard to read too much information, so being able to tell something through some video footage is so valuable.

People learn in different ways, so presenting information in as many ways as you can, so that it works for the huge diversity of students that we have, is important.

Just the quality of some of the BBC productions and the amount of time that they've spent getting just that shot is so extraordinary, that to be able to use those are fantastic.





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