Teaching Controversial Topics

Thursday 1:30pm-3:00pm REC Center Large Ice Overlook Room
Oral Session

Session Chairs

Michelle Selvans, Diablo Valley College
Carrie Nelms, University of Arkansas Main Campus
Teaching Climate Science Discernment to Undergraduates
Sherry D Oaks, sherry.oaks@colorado.edu

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This presentation shows techniques for teaching climate science in our politically charged times. For undergraduates we analyze scientific journals, professional scientific blogs, and active research sites to illustrate the constructive uncertainty in science and a discernment of the science policy debate. Students are not usually aware of actual climate science being performed daily in the field and in the laboratory, nor are they fully cognizant of science policy debates. Each end of the scientific policy spectrum has been radicalized by so-called "deniers" and "warmists." True scientific skepticism is the hallmark for forward progress of science. Scientists are diligently working to bring new observational data into sensitive but incomplete global climate models. In addition, researchers worldwide are correlating new types of proxy data with refinements in satellite imagery. Students assess data and imagery to develop analytical skills to address the actual science. Not knowing drives science forward for both better science and science policy. Some textbook language has been smoothed to represent current preferred policy while in fact the science is dynamic, fluid, and exciting. Students actively engage in skeptical inquiry, group research activities, and individual projects.
Example of climate change seminar: Contrasting peer-reviewed literature and how it is discussed in the news (radio and newspapers)
Abir Biswas, The Evergreen State College
Carri LeRoy, The Evergreen State College

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Climate change is an important topic in geoscience classes that can sometimes be difficult to discuss fully, and which in the context of today's news can be polarizing given students' different perspectives on global change and/or climate warming. In our weekly seminar during our team-taught upper division bio-geo-chemistry class, we have been reading recent articles in peer-reviewed literature to give students opportunities to discuss new findings and develop stronger foundations in unpacking dense information in peer-reviewed literature (compared to text books), as students work toward writing peer-review style papers of their own. In this particularly successful seminar, we had students read a recent article from the peer-reviewed literature, and found accompanying radio pieces, as well as new articles and web blogs discussing the research from the perspective of predicted imminent climate warming as well as from a more skeptical perspective questioning climate change and the published research. The students' seminar was thus directed both by the findings as well as the way in which the findings were discussed in news articles. Students appeared to enjoy this shift toward considering how controversial sciences is portrayed in the news and overall this approach generate more diverse discussion.
3983 Environmental Communication: Messaging Around Climate Change Issues with Diverse Audiences
Carrie Nelms, University of Arkansas Main Campus

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Land-Locked Community Impacted By Sea-Level Rise 6200 Miles Away Due to sea-level rising from climate change issues, the inhabitants of the Marshal Islands have been moving 6,200 miles away to Northwest Arkansas. Springdale, Arkansas has the largest population of Marshallese within the United States and the second largest population in the world (Davis, 2013). Organizations working toward adaptation and resiliency methods in human displacement can reduce conflict between host communities and the displaced if organizations have effective transformational dialogue by incorporating Elaborate Likelihood Model (ELM) for audience-centered discourse. This requires an understanding of social-behavioral needs and interests of the intended audience for effective communication. This Environmental Communication course focuses on the Marshallese sea-level rise displacement case study to engage diverse audiences on the economic and social impact of sea-level rise caused from climate change on an inland community, Springdale, Arkansas. This class will develop a better understanding of the impacts of sea-level rise from climate change thru earth science lectures supported by case studies and practice effective climate change transformational dialogue to multiple diverse audiences utilizing the ELM. Students will develop an adaptation plan with social and economic adjustments for host and environmentally displaced population; furthermore, they will have a better understanding of the importance of having both cognitive and non-cognitive messaging in their overall presentations for effective communication by incorporating ELM into their discourse.