This course on "global" food systems boasts a class list that's truly international.

People participating in "Sustainability of Food Systems: A Global Life Cycle Perspective" are from 138 countries. That's because it's a MOOC — a massive, open, online course that's free to anyone who wants to join in.

Jennah Fannoun is one of 27,500 enrollees. She's a soon-to-be senior at the University of Minnesota majoring in environmental studies. So the topic's familiar. But the class makeup is not.

"The way you have people from everywhere giving their opinion is a very different thing," she said. "You can hear firsthand from someone in Egypt."

The course's instructor, Jason Hill, a McKnight Land-Grant Professor, has been thrilled by the international interaction. By the first post on the class's forum, "I could see that people were already starting to think globally," he said. "They were realizing that there are these similarities that unite us worldwide."

One lesson: Students perused photographs from the book "Hungry Planet." Each features a family — from countries including France, Chad and Bhutan — with a week's worth of groceries.

In a video, Hill asks the students to study each slide: "Are the families eating a lot of food that comes pre-prepared? Fast food, perhaps? Or is it things that they need to cook themselves?" Then he took a poll: Which diet is the healthiest? The most appealing based on taste? The most sustainable?

They answered: Guatemala looks healthiest. Italy looks tastiest. Ecuador appears to be the most sustainable. They debated what makes a diet "sustainable" in the forums.

Hill is watching closely. Of the 27,500 who signed up, 15,000 have participated. About 10,000 have watched a video, and 5,000 have taken a quiz.

MOOCs have been criticized for their high "dropout" rates, but Hill's not too concerned.

"People have different things they want to get out of the course," he said. "Some people like sitting back and seeing what others do. Others are very active There's no one right way to do this."

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168