Student perspectives on climate discussions from the UN Conference of Parties (COP) via audio narrative
This assignment provides students a storytelling structure that allows for their own voice and creativity to be applied. This is accomplished through the selection of an audience for a recorded voicemail and the climate science/societal issues of meaning to them from a United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) event.
This assignment was developed for and implemented in an introductory-level earth science course (Earth in the Future: Predicting Climate Change and Its Impacts Over the Next Century) for non-STEM majors. There are no prerequisites for the course, and the course satisfies the university's interdomain general education requirements for natural sciences and social/behavioral sciences. The general education learning objectives include effective communication, critical and analytical thinking, integrative thinking, and social responsibility and ethical reasoning.
Skills and concepts that students must have mastered
There are no prerequisites for the course and no areas of mastery expected of students before beginning the assignment. The assignment is designed for first-year university students with no prior coursework in earth science or instruction in library/research skills, narrative writing/storytelling, or audio recording.
How the activity is situated in the course
This activity was implemented in an online, asynchronous course but could easily be adapted for an on-campus offering. As this activity focuses on the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) events which have been taking place during the fall semester, this assignment has served as the third of three audio storytelling assignments for students. Earlier in the semester, students receive instruction in information search strategies and source evaluation, writing as narrative storytelling, and audio recording and editing. Students learn the science content from the geoscience instructor, information literacy from a reference and instruction librarian, and narrative writing from either the instructor or the campus writing center. Students submit a completed audio file and script for grading. Although this assignment has been used late in the fall semester to match the timing of the COP events, the assignment could be used during a spring/summer term with having students go back and review the most recent or any prior COP.
Content/concepts goals for this activity
For Part A of the assignment, the information literacy piece, goals for students include:
- To learn more about a global climate science event taking place at the moment and identifying issue(s) of interest
- To learn how to evaluate online sources for currency, reliability, authority, and purpose/point of view
- To learn how to generate an annotation of a source by summarizing and analyzing content
Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
For the script writing piece, goals for the students include:
- Writing skills development - To learn how to write about a climate issue with supporting details in the format of a voicemail
- Critical thinking and research skills - To learn how to evaluate sources and how to critically analyze text in recently-released articles/videos/podcasts to determine how well an article covers the topic, to assess what information is missing, and to evaluate to what extent an article is effective in accomplishing its objectives
Other skills goals for this activity
For the audio recording piece, goals for students include:
- Media and information literacy - To learn how information is both produced and consumed, and to reflect on available sources and their appropriate usage
- Technical skills – To learn how to use any audio recording program (even the voice memo app on their cell phone) to generate an engaging audio narrative, as audio training is growing in both educational and corporate settings
Description and Teaching Materials
These are the instructions provided to students in Fall 2021 for their COP26 voicemail assignment. Note that during the final week of COP, students were assigned various articles (such as NPR's s what world leaders agreed to — and what they didn't — at the U.N. climate summit 'Here's what world leaders agreed to — and what they didn't — at the U.N. climate summit, and The Washington Post's The Glasgow climate pact, annotated) and short videos (the UN's Outcome reflects interests, contradictions, & state of political will in the world -UN Chief) to watch that summarized the event as it was happening, In addition, students viewed the following three TED Talks for background: Christiana Figueres: The inside story of the Paris climate agreement, John Kerry and Al Gore: The US is back in the Paris Agreement. What's next?, and Alok Sharma: Why COP26 is our best chance for a greener future.
Welcome to your third and final climate voicemail assignment! Just like you did for your previous voicemail assignments, you will utilize the And-But-Therefore (ABT) style in your script. If you need a refresher, see this video that describes And-But-Therefore.
How you should format your voicemail script
 You decide who your audience is for this voicemail - just be sure at the beginning you identify who you are speaking to (for example, "Hey Denise, this is your cousin Michelle...." or "Hey David, this is Janet, the person that comes in to your place to get the oil changed in her yellow Chevy Malibu...." or you are speaking to a family member not coming to your house for Thanksgiving, or... lots of options for your audience!)
 Your AND section should be a really brief overview of what was supposed to and did happen at COP26
 Your BUT section is where you identify something that didn't happen that you personally are disappointed with (not enough of a youth voice, not enough to save the Amazon, etc.).
 Your THEREFORE section is where you state what you believe needs to happening during this next year and at COP27 (so what actions need to be taken now, and what conversations/agreements have to happen at COP27 to address the concern you addressed in your BUT section).
I realize that it may be difficult to capture all of this in 300 words, but note this is a minimum length.
I have provided enough links and information in this module for you to prepare your voicemail (FYI - COP27 will be held in Egypt next year, November 2022).
Teaching Notes and Tips
Although this has been the third voicemail assignment in the course, students have never shared a concern about being "bored" with this type of assignment format. With the topic being connected to not only the course syllabus but a live global event, students are able to follow along with the progress and outcomes, and the sources are very recent to work from. The instructor may want to highlight some of the video overviews from each day of COP that the United Nations posts online and/or other agencies to assist students going through the volume of material that is shared during the conference.
If a student has a speech impediment (stutters, is mute, etc.), they may not feel comfortable or be able to record their voice. In this case, the instructor has allowed students to perform all the steps up to the script/speech writing, have someone else record their voice reading the rally speech, then the enrolled student is required to do the final editing. Permission is always obtained in writing from the student that does the speaking (typically via email to the instructor).
For students whose first language is not English, they may feel more comfortable recording in their own language. The instructor can require the script be turned in typed in English but allow the student to record the audio in another language.
At the conclusion of the semester, the instructor may ask students if example audio pieces can be posted in the course management system and shared with others. It is easier to play select student files in a face-to-face course offering. In either setting, students reported a sense of pride and accomplishment in completing their voicemails. Students recording in a language other than English have also self-reported sharing these files with family members to showcase the science content being learned. Instructors may want to consider offering in their course a more structured opportunity and venue for all students to have the opportunity to share their work.
The grade is based upon students earning a maximum of 3 points for each of the following criteria:
- AND section (as described above)
- BUT section (as described above)
- THEREFORE section (as described above)
- The script has at least 300 words and has at least 2 citations in accurate APA formatting (*yes, videos can be cited, not just the articles, from this week's module - this is how to cite a TED Talk, and how to cite a YouTube video)
- Creativity/style of voicemail
References and Resources
Kraal, E., G. Sirrakos, L. Guertin, A. Epstein, G. Simmens. (2021). Impact of Student Produced Audio Narrative (SPAN) assignments on students' perceptions and attitudes toward science in introductory geoscience courses. Journal of Geoscience Education, 70(2): 208-222. https://doi.org/10.1080/10899995.2021.1969863
Kraal, E., L. Guertin. (2021). Evaluating the impact of student storytelling in introductory-level geoscience courses. Earth Educators Rendezvous 2021. Abstract and resources - https://serc.carleton.edu/earth_rendezvous/2021/program/talks/session5/242637.html
Additional Teach the Earth activities with audio storytelling for introductory-level earth science courses