Eager to understand why pandemics emerge and how best to tackle them? Keen to dive deep into the maths of disease spread? Want to know more about biorisk and the security implications of the Covid-19?

Experts explore these topics and many more in a medley of free virtual courses and lecturers offered online by the University of Bath. These resources will be made available throughout the pandemic.

Two Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) created by Bath academics and delivered through Future Learn are scheduled to launch over the next two weeks, and both have huge relevance in a world brought to its knees by the coronavirus. Learning on these courses takes place through short videos, audio files and articles. Learners are set tasks each week which they are urged to complete. Importantly, by joining the course at the designated start date, they get to discuss topics with each other and with the educators.

Next Generation Biosecurity: Responding to 21st Century Biorisks, a six-week course that launched on May 4, covers biosecurity and biological threats, and how these can be countered inside and outside the lab. With the globe’s superpowers watching each other’s lab practices with growing suspicion, this course could not be timelier. A section on pandemics has been updated to include Covid-19.

This MOOC is aimed predominantly at professionals working in public and global health, international security, politics and international relations, but during the Covid-19 lockdown, its appeal is likely to extend beyond these fields.

Course contributor Dr Brett Edwards said, “The history and politics of biological and chemical weapons are as disturbing as they are compelling. It’s important for us to have as many eyes on these issues as possible.”

The senior lecturer in Security and Public Policy at Bath added, “Life science research is pivotal in the fight against global pandemics – but certain research brings its own risks. Raising awareness of these issues through education will help ensure scientific innovation is matched by innovation in biosecurity policy.”

The four-week course From State Control to Remote Control: Warfare in the 21st Century starts on May 18 and examines the growing trend towards states relying on drones, private military companies and special operations units for their security, rather than conventional armed forces.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, states are more likely than ever to rely on remote means to engage in warfare, says Dr Wali Aslam, who will deliver the course with a team of Bath academics.

Dr Aslam, associate professor in International Security at Bath, said, “The current pandemic will have a far-reaching impact on the defence capabilities of several states in a number of ways. There is immense pressure on armed forces to make themselves available to deal with the current wave of infections as well as to prepare for a future second-wave.

“Also, the disease is still on the up in most developing countries – places that are also home to most sub-state and international conflicts requiring external intervention.

“Given these circumstances, it would make even greater sense for an increasing number of states to rely on remote means to engage in warfare given their unwillingness or inability to dispatch ground forces to distant theatres.”

Other Bath MOOCs that are likely to find an eager audience while schools remain closed are How to Succeed in Your EPQ: the Nuts and Bolts of Completing Your Project (starting May 11) and How to Succeed in Your Welsh Bacc: the Individual Project Essentials (starting June 8). Both courses are aimed at students hoping to ace their Key Stage 5 school research projects.

Good Practice in Autism Education, offered by academics in the University’s Centre for Applied Autism Research launched near the start of lockdown and has been a big hit with parents of autistic children.

The autism MOOC, which runs at regular intervals throughout the year, usually attracts 3,000 learners, however the March course (which continues to be available today) was followed by over 15,000.

Marie Salter, digital development manager from the University’s Centre for Learning and Teaching, said, “Many people are finding they have the time to acquire new skills and knowledge right now. These courses are an opportunity to engage with individuals across the globe, and to study something you’ve always had an interest in exploring.”

Also tapping into the Zeitgeist is the University’s Department of Mathematical Sciences, which has launched a series of lectures on epidemic modelling. Topics include ‘lessons to learn from mathematical models of disease spread’ and ‘the mathematical modelling of sneezes and coughs – or how far should you be social distancing’. Talks are pitched at maths undergraduates but available to everyone.

Dr Kit Yates, senior lecturer in Maths and co-presenter of the lectures, said, “Maths is a hugely important tool we can use to explore the nature and impact of the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, as well as predicting its future trajectory and repercussions. These lectures are designed to provide some background to epidemic modelling, starting form the most basic models, slowly building up the complexity to arrive at the sorts of models that are being used at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic."

Dr Yates also tackles thorny maths questions sent to the BBC’s CrowdScience by high school students in lockdown.

Photo credit: Engin Akyurt