Risk and Resilience in the Context of Sustainability

Concepts on this page were derived from faculty discussions at the workshop, Teaching about Risk and Resilience workshop, held in May 2014.

Why Teach about Risk and Resilience

Resilience is essential to living in a world filled with risk. Hazards such as hurricanes, earthquakes, flooding, etc. are natural and unavoidable risks we face living on Earth, but how we deal with these risks is key. Moreover, an understanding of risk as well as the ability to handle that risk through adaptation and mitigation measures is needed to address societal issues to promote a sustainable future. Resilience is also crucial in this endeavor, as it encompasses our ability to cope with irregular or abnormal events as well as identifying, assessing, and communicating the risks involved with such events. (Read more about risk and resilience from Torrens Research Institute.)

Teaching about risk and resilience extends beyond teaching about science. These topics can increase students' awareness of unavoidable risks that exist in nature, including the factors that cause the natural hazards to occur. This knowledge can help them understand and be prepared for dealing with those risks. Further, knowledge about natural hazards, risk, and resilience can influence students' life choices, including potentially influencing where students choose to live and what precautions they take to minimize risk to themselves, their family, and their property. Why teach Earth-centered Societal Issues? »
What does InTeGrate mean by Risk and Resilience? »

Pedagogic guidance

Risk and resilience issues are interdisciplinary in nature, and as such, effectively teaching about them requires an interdisciplinary approach and makes them amenable to teaching across disciplines. While the science, economics, policy, and social impacts can be taught separately, the silo-ing of information often leads to a disconnect among the different aspects of the risk. Further, it can hinder communication among different disciplines; this communication is vital to our understanding of the risk and ability to be resilient. Our students need not be experts in all the disciplines involved, but providing them with a baseline knowledge and simply making them aware of the inter-disciplinary nature of risk and resilience is essential for preparing them for the road ahead. Below are some pedagogic strategies that lend themselves to teaching about risk and resilience across the disciplines.

  • Using Local Examples and Data to teach about risk and resilience is particularly powerful since it establishes relevance and allows students to make direct connections with the material in a local context.
  • Using Real World Examples offers a strong approach when teaching about risk and resilience scenarios in other parts of the world (e.g. if your students are in a land locked state but you want to talk about the effects of sea level rise on coastal areas). Students may be able to extend these local, national, and global examples and data to discuss issues such as mitigation and adaptation to sea level rise, earthquakes, flooding, or other natural hazards.
  • Service Learning offers the opportunity for students to engage in problem solving at a local level and can empower students to take action.
  • Using Socioscientific Issues can bridge scientific knowledge with societal applicability, providing students with a meaningful context for content knowledge.
  • Using a Systems Approach provides a mechanism for teaching about the complexity and interdisciplinary nature of risk and resilience.
  • Related: Learn more about pedagogic considerations for teaching about hazards from On the Cutting Edge. While focused on geoscience, the information provided is broadly applicable.

Effective strategies for teaching about Risk and Resilience

Know your audience

Interdisciplinary approaches and effective communication across disciplines are essential to teaching about risk and resilience. There is substantial expertise in communicating complex issues like climate change and in challenging situations like a hazard response, including understanding of how different approaches are needed to communicate with different audiences. We need to draw on this expertise to better communicate with our students to teach them to be effective communicators around these issues with their families, communities and colleagues.

At the professional level, the exchange of information across disciplines and requires a mutual understanding and respect for expertise from different disciplinary perspectives which, in turn, requires knowing your audience and communicating in mutually understandable language. The importance of communicating in a mutually-understandable language also extends to disseminating information to the general public.

At the societal level, challenges related to risk and resilience play out across the world in different ways. Understanding the challenges faced and actions taken in different societal contexts illuminates the problems and opportunities while building international understanding and respect.

Learn more about communicating about risk and resilience, interdisciplinary teaching and building a culture of collaboration.

Be sensitive to students' experiences and consider the affective domain

The nature of topics related to risk and resilience can be daunting and students who have personal experience with difficult situations may be particularly sensitive to these topics. Even if they are not directly affected, graphic images, video, stories, and details used in the media can be powerful mechanisms to engage students, but careful consideration is required as they may also carry unintended consequences. Utilizing students' experiences can be opportunities to reflect on difficult situations and as a discussion starter for planning for the future. However, remaining sensitive to students' experiences and the affective domain are important considerations in keeping lines of communication open. As addressed above, knowing your audience is the first step in keeping students receptive and communicating effectively. In addition, having a solution-driven focus can go a long way towards promoting a feeling of hope. Many topics related to risk and resilience are difficult to discuss, especially if students have negative direct or indirect experience, but keeping a solution-driven focus can help promote a feeling of empowerment and engage students to take action to address such issues.

Establish relevance and turn abstract concepts into concrete issues with practical solutions

Media's role in society has helped make acute natural hazards occurring around the world accessible and engaging for students. Even if they are not directly affected by a disaster, these events generally spark students' interest at some level - whether scientific or social. Establishing relevance for those risks and hazards faced on a longer time scale and directly affecting specific geographic regions, such as sea level rise, can be more difficult. In these cases, it is useful to explore the issue in a broader, interdisciplinary context, capitalizing on systems thinking - how will sea level rise and increasing numbers of extreme weather events affect the economy and food supply; how will society deal with the costs associated with increased prevalence of these events; where will the people displaced by sea level or natural disasters rise go and how will we provide the infrastructure they need? As mentioned above, keeping a positive, solution-driven focus on these complex issues can combat feelings of hopelessness and empower students to take action.

Additional Resources

  • Learn more about using real-world examples to illustrate concrete examples of complex issues facing society and to start a discussion on potential planning, preparation, response, and mitigation efforts that may diminish ill-effects going forward.
  • Explore discussion-starting Real world examples that can lend themselves to various types of activities, see example Courses, and browse Activities with a focus on risk and resilience, contributed by participants at the 2014 Teaching about Risk and Resilience workshop
  • Learn more about Teaching about Hazards
  • Explore Activities (from InTeGrate) and Case studies (from the University of Michigan) and Native Case Studies (from Evergreen) that highlight environmental justice aspects of both natural and human-caused hazards.