Developing student literacy on risk, resilience, and strategies for living with disaster uncertainty

This page is authored by Monica E. Gowan, PhD, Mayo Clinic Department of Health Sciences Research, based on an original activity by Dr. Gowan.
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In this guided research and critical thinking activity, undergraduate students will review literature from the fields of decision science, geoscience, health science, social science, and public policy to better understand historic and emerging conceptualizations of risk and resilience. Students will focus on learning how resilience is defined and operationalized into measurable variables, and interpret, evaluate, and explore how this knowledge can be effectively transferred and integrated into disaster risk reduction and resilience strategies. Students will prepare a written literature review paper that effectively communicates their understanding of the state-of-the-science and how resilience paradigms could be applied in a real-world scenario.

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Learning Goals

Pedagogic goals: Students will develop and strengthen their literature research and review skills, critical thinking, ability to synthesize complex concepts and constructs, problem solving, and writing skills. Students will also gain a first-hand awareness of the current advances in and challenges to building resiliency, and exposure to the process of translating and applying scientific knowledge to real-world problem solving.

Content goals: The activity addresses risk, resilience, and geoscience by helping the students understand the diverse, changing, and dynamic nature of geologic hazards; explore how risk and uncertainty is conceptualized; learn interdisciplinary definitions of resilience as both a process and outcome; and be introduced to the meaning and implications of resilience trajectories. They will also learn about motivation and behavior change theory and how cognitive, affective, and behavioral patterns can affect levels of disaster readiness.

Career preparedness goals: Gaining multidisciplinary perspectives on the "plain meaning" of risk and resilience is critical for research integrity and evidence-based science, and for transdisciplinary partnerships leading to solutions. Students will be able to participate in this arena through newly-developed awareness on the complexity and dimensions of these constructs at an introductory level, and provide some perspective on the science that supports them to practitioners, educators, decision-makers and stakeholders. Further, developing these perspectives from a solid and foundational understanding of the geological environment will give the students valuable skills for contextualizing risk and resilience for themselves within the inherent uncertainties of the natural world.

Context for Use

The context for this activity is for upper-level undergraduate science majors who have completed prerequisite introductory geology coursework. The education level can be scaled to MS or PhD coursework. This would be a term paper (literature review), ideally assigned to be worked on throughout a half-semester or full-semester course. The time of the assignment period should provide enough opportunity for the student to become comfortable with reading literature from new disciplines and synthesizing the concepts and implications thereof. This activity could complement a course with a geological or interdisciplinary focus, and could also complement field trips or attendance at public forums or meeting where risk and resilience concepts are being discussed and applied.

Description and Teaching Materials

Students will read selected systematic reviews, seminal scientific articles, state-of-the-science reports, and guidance documents for policy and practice, and be encouraged to explore related material of interest. They will be assisted in this activity with tools that will help them construct an interdisciplinary framework for meeting the learning objectives – both from the standpoint of critically appraising content and how to construct their written review – and be provided with additional questions to guide their own investigative explorations into this subject.

Teaching Notes and Tips

It would be helpful for the teacher to liaise with the campus or department librarian, and inquire about the availability of some basic resources (e.g., tip sheets) for finding and reviewing publications. While it will not necessarily be required that a student know how to use various electronic library data bases, some knowledge of online searching and how articles are organized by information specialists would be helpful.


Assessment will depend a great deal on how the teacher customizes the activity for their particular class objectives and grading system. However, samples of key points from the provided literature will be provided to help assess the skill with which the student has considered, interpreted, and reported on the literature. Grading rubrics should be based primarily on assessment of competency for meeting the pedagogic and content goals (e.g., Part 1, 70-80%), with the remaining percentage (Part 2) allotted to the rationale and amount of creativity the student showed in selecting the context for knowledge translation, and how the student might foresee using the knowledge in their personal lives or career path.

References and Resources

Students should review the following:

Alemdom AM. 2013. Resilience: Outcome, Process, Emergence, Narrative (OPEN) theory. On the Horizon 2013, 21(1):15-23.

Alexander, DE. 2013. Resilience and disaster risk reduction: an etymological journey, Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci. 2013, 13:2707-2716.

Bonanno GA, 2004. Loss, trauma, and human resilience: have we underestimated the human capacity to thrive after extremely aversive events?

Harrop E, Addis S, Elliott E, Williams G. 2006. Resilience, coping and salutogenic approaches to maintaining and generating health: a review.

Kimhi S, 2014. Levels of resilience: associations among individual, community, and national levels of resilience. J Health Psychol, March 3, 2014, 0: 1359105314524009v1-1359105314524009

Leppin et al. 2014. The efficacy of resilience training programs: a systematic review protocol. Systematic Reviews 2014, 3:20.

Martin-Breen P, Anderies JM. 2011. Resilience: A literature review. The Bellagio Initiative, Rockefeller Foundation, NY.

Slovic P, Finucane ML, Peters E, MacGregor DG. 2004. Risk as Analysis and Risk as Feelings: some thoughts about affect, reason, risk, and rationality. Risk Analysis 2004, 24:311-322.

Slovic P. 1987. Perception of Risk. Science 1987, 236:280-285.

Windle G, Bennett K, Noyes J. 2011. A methodological review of resilience measurement scales. Health and Quality of Life Outcomes, 2011, 9:8.