World-first online course grants access to leading Australian artists

Wednesday, 28 September 2016


The University of Newcastle, Australia (UON) has partnered with edX, the leading online learning destination founded by Harvard and MIT, to provide a world-first illustration course from UON’s prestigious Natural History Illustration program.

Dr Andrew Howells and Dr Bernadette Drabsch

Enrolment Information

Taught by leading artists Dr Andrew Howells and Dr Bernadette Drabsch, the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) will offer participants anywhere in the world the opportunity to learn from world-class artists, online for free.

An internationally-renowned artist and passionate conservationist, Dr Howells has used the unique fusion of art and science that is Natural History Illustration to help endangered species such as the Asian elephant. Devoting his PhD to documenting the elephant’s form, his works have created a reference index for Body Condition Scoring (BCS), which helps scientists visually assess the health of the species.

“It was an amazing experience to have been involved in a cause that has potentially helped monitor an endangered species. That’s another great part of illustration is you just never know where it may lead you,” he said.

Dr Howells, whose signature graphite drawings of native fauna have been featured in leading publications such as Australian Geographic, said he was excited to share his experience and passion with budding illustrators across the globe.

“My love for drawing and passion for the natural world are something I feel extremely strongly about. The opportunity to teach people around the world through this Natural History Illustration course is a great chance to reach a new audience and potentially create a whole new wave of nature-lovers,” he said.

With a background in ancient history, a passion for detail and love of archeological illustration, co-presenter Dr Bernadette Drabsch also has extensive experience bringing objects to life.

A regular on archaeological digs in Jordan, Dr Drabsch’s qualifications in ancient history and natural history illustration give her a unique skillset which allow her to look at the world through different eyes and present an alternative approach to previous researchers in the field.

“Illustration has opened doors I never even knew existed in my career. Having the opportunity to research and analyse artefacts through drawing is exciting and it is always interesting to see things that others have missed. I’m so excited to share my skills with others who may be starting on a new path filled with the same endless possibilities,” she said.

Drawing Nature, Science and Culture: Natural History Illustration, which is now open for enrolments with online lessons commencing October 26, offers learners an opportunity to interpret the natural world with new insights and understanding through observation and illustration.

Vice-Chancellor, Professor Caroline McMillen, said UON was delighted to announce its partnership with edX as it signaled ambitious plans to develop a dynamic offering of digital learning from across its disciplines to learners worldwide.

“UON is now in the world’s top 250 universities and is a research-intensive institution with an exceptional record of achievement in research and education, as well as a strong commitment to equity of access to higher education,” Professor McMillen said.

“We are pleased to join with the world’s top universities and institutions on edX to provide high-quality education to learners everywhere. Our world-first MOOC in Natural History Illustration marks an exciting first step in a unique range of courses to be provided by UON.”

EdX CEO and MIT professor, Anant Agarwal, said edX was pleased to welcome UON to the edX global consortium of universities. Both edX and UON share a commitment to research and education excellence, with the mission to increase access to high-quality education for all students, everywhere.

“We are excited to welcome UON to edX and to introduce our global community of edX learners to a range of diverse and unique courses from UON’s world-class teachers and researchers,” he said.

UON currently has a number of additional courses under development, which are scheduled to start in Q1 2017.

Drawing Nature, Science and Culture: Natural History Illustration edX course enrolments are available now. The six-week course will start on 26 October, 2016.