Teachers in many disciplines want to teach about some aspect of climate change in their courses, but they may fail to do so for a variety of reasons. In this project, we used teaching circles composed of diverse faculty members to identify barriers to climate teaching and to brainstorm approaches that would remove those barriers. Following each teaching circle, we paired "host" faculty members who had no expertise in climate science with "developer" faculty members from the natural sciences. Each pair worked to identify the climate literacy principle(s) that was needed to advance the host faculty member's learning goals in a pre-existing course. Then, the host and developer faculty designed and implemented a 'mini-module' that promotes climate literacy within the context of each course's themes, pedagogy and desired outcomes. The initial mini-module delivery was done with the developer as guest instructor; subsequent use of the mini-module material would generally be the responsibility of the host faculty member.
- Identify and remove barriers for faculty incorporation of climate-related content in courses outside the geosciences.
- Develop climate science primers and modules for use by non-specialist faculty in existing non-geoscience courses in the humanities, social sciences, arts and natural sciences.
- Implement modules in existing Gustavus courses and assess the impact on student climate literacy.
Nearly a decade ago, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon called climate change "the defining challenge of our age" and challenged the world's nations to address this issue. Recent events and scientific findings have clearly affirmed the urgency of his call to action, and institutions of higher education are seeking ways to respond.
Climate change and its causes are important topics in many geoscience courses, and at Gustavus, we found that a significant proportion of faculty members in other disciplines are also very interested in climate change. However, few of those faculty members were actually teaching about climate-related topics in their courses, despite seemingly ample opportunities. For example, Economics courses might address economic threats related to agricultural productivity changes; Communications Studies courses might use climate science to catalyze discussions about pseudoscientific arguments; Chemistry courses might experimentally simulate ocean chemistry change.
We set out to discover why so few faculty members were teaching this topic, about which they so clearly care, and to help break down barriers to climate teaching.
By pairing non-specialist 'host' and specialist 'developer' faculty members, we sought to create mini-modules that were grounded in the themes of a pre-existing course, and thus could become truly integrated into those courses. This model provides the greatest opportunities for survival of the content beyond the end of this project. We learned that for a host faculty member to teach the module again, the mini-module must:
- Have only as much science content as the host is comfortable presenting
- Align with the course's (and host's) existing pedagogical style
- Contribute toward one of the pre-existing goals of the course
- Flow intentionally from and into other themes/topics of the course
The process created by this project also provides a path by which additional modules can be developed when other faculty members become interested or arrive on campus. We are optimistic that this model for interdisciplinary teaching, which requires deep and thoughtful communication during development stages, but shifts content responsibility to the host faculty member over time, is more sustainable at our institution type than other interdisciplinary teaching models, such as co-teaching.