Measuring Student Improvement in Climate Literacy in a First-Year Interdisciplinary Climate Change Course

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Tara Holland, Simon Fraser University
Gabi Trainor, Simon Fraser University

Despite scientific consensus that anthropogenic global climate change poses severe risks to human and natural systems, many young Canadian adults do not view it as a major issue. Climate literacy is generally accepted to be competence or knowledge in the area of climate change, its impacts, and solutions. Research indicates that in order to improve climate literacy, the social sciences must be more fully integrated with the biophysical basis of climate change. An interdisciplinary science/social science first year undergraduate course in climate change was developed in 2017, with the main educational goals focused on improving climate literacy. This course attracts students with a wide range of climate change knowledge from across the university.

This research investigates the effectiveness of the course in improving students' climate literacy. To measure learning gains, a validated climate change concept inventory was administered pre- and post the course, for 3 offerings in 2020 (n=103 students). The final assignment in the course, a learning portfolio, was used as evidence of which assignments students felt most impacted their learning in the course: Students' choices of which assignments to include and a written reflection were analyzed with regard to climate literacy indicators. The survey analysis identified six common misconceptions that students hold when entering the course, and showed improvement in student understanding of those concepts after taking the course. Students reported that the most valuable course components for improving their understanding were lectures and brief, weekly engagement activities that challenged them to apply their knowledge to solve a problem or address a question. Thematic analysis of the learning portfolios indicated that students' climate literacy was improved through both physical and social science-based assignments.

These results suggest that an interdisciplinary approach to teaching climate change is effective in terms of correcting climate change misconceptions and improving overall climate literacy.

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