Analysis of the Global Climate Change Controversy: A Problem-Based Learning Activity


In this problem-based learning activity, students investigate positions held by various stakeholders regarding global climate change (GCC). Students work in teams to identify and evaluate: the interest of a stakeholder in GCC, the position held by the stakeholder, the rationale/evidence used to support the position, and the response of the stakeholder to GCC in light of their stated position. After completing the research phase of the activity, teams share their findings with classmates via short presentations. Students then have the opportunity to critique the positions (and rationale) of the various stakeholders and to form and provide rationale for their own positions.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications

Learning Goals

This activity provides students with the opportunity to view the topic of global climate change through the lenses of various stakeholders. Students will be better equipped to effectively communicate with individuals that represent different sectors. Furthermore, students will have opportunity to assess quality of claims and logic of proposed actions in relation to available GCC data.

This activity:

  • Engages students in civil discourse/ communications that lead to more effective decisions
  • Encourages students to view the topic of GCC from a variety of perspectives
  • Advances student literacy around sustainability issues
  • Encourages self-reflection and personal development of their voice for solving societal challenges

Higher-order thinking skills developed by this activity include critical thinking and evaluation of data/claims.

Context for Use

This activity is appropriate for college students with limited biology/ecology knowledge. It has been used in a class populated by first-semester biology majors and non-majors. This is a problem-based learning activity that involves student research and reporting conducted in teams of 3-5 students. While stakeholder assignments for 9 student teams are provided, this activity can be easily adapted for use with smaller classes (through the selection of fewer stakeholders for analysis). Access to the internet (via classroom computers or students' personal laptops) is required for the research portion of the activity. Approximately two classroom hours should be devoted to research and reporting. The personal reflection portion of the activity can be completed outside of class.

Description and Teaching Materials

It is useful to begin the activity with a discussion about: 1) the value of being aware of the positions and underlying rationale of various stakeholders surrounding a controversial topic and 2) the importance of conducting research and reporting findings in an unbiased manner (see teaching notes for additional information). Following the discussion, divide students into teams of 3-5 and assign each team a stakeholder group to research. Students should refer to the "Part 1 – Research" section of the attached document to guide their online research. As teams are conducting their research, circulate through the room to answer questions and inquire about student progress, interesting findings, etc. After completing their research, teams will prepare a short presentation to share with their classmates. Encourage students to ask questions during team presentations. Students can use the table found in the attached document to record and organize the findings of each team. The instructor can use the attached grading rubric to assess the presentations if desired. After the presentations, students (as teams or as a whole class) will address the question presented in "Part II – Sharing Your Findings" of the attached document. As students consider this question in light of the research presented by their classmates, they will recognize the overwhelming consensus that exists about global climate change. "Part III – Personal Reflection" can be completed outside of class. Highlight the instructions for this section; students should not only discuss their personal opinion, but should also discuss their rationale and include an assessment of several stakeholder perspectives presented in class. Instructors can use the attached grading rubric for assessment of the reflections.

Analysis of the GCC Controversy student handout (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 24kB Jul25 13)

Instructor Guide for GCC Controversy Activity (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 14kB Jul25 13)

Teaching Notes and Tips

During the research phase of this activity, encourage students to set aside their own opinions so that they can identify and critically analyze the positions held by the various stakeholders in an unbiased manner. Students will not agree with all of the positions, but it is important for them to be aware of the position as well as the rationale/evidence that underlies the position and the responses that spring from the position. Help students to understand that examination of various perspectives can help them communicate with individuals that hold diverse views, as well as help them critique and hone their own positions. This activity can be easily modified to accommodate fewer student teams (eliminate some of the stakeholder groups) or to facilitate investigation of other stakeholder groups of interest (replace stakeholder groups).


The instructor can informally assess team productivity and progress toward learning objectives by circulating through the classroom and posing questions to teams. This provides opportunities for clarification and redirection if needed. Summative assessment can be conducted during classroom presentations using a rubric such as the one included in the uploaded materials. A rubric for assessing personal reflections is also available.

References and Resources