Teaching Climate Change Through Media

Innovative Program Reaches Out to Students, Teachers, Communities

UMass Lowell's Climate Change Initiative and its partners have created a media-production/education project in which the students themselves are the reporters, directors and producers.

UMass Lowell's Climate Change Initiative and its partners have created a media-production/education project in which the students themselves are the reporters, directors and producers.

03/28/2012
By Edwin L. Aguirre

Climate change is one of the greatest problems facing humanity today.

“We are already witnessing the impacts of climate change on human society in the form of increased intensity of floods, droughts and heat waves, rising sea level, ecosystem responses to a changing climate and many others,” says environmental biology Assoc. Prof. Juliette Rooney-Varga, director of UMass Lowell’s Climate Change Initiative (CCI).

Yet public misconceptions and misinformation about climate change remain widespread and are often deeply rooted, presenting significant barriers to learning and understanding.

The CCI hopes that using innovative media tools — like video and animation — will help improve students’ learning. To boost their engagement even further, the group — in collaboration with the Cambridge Educational Access TV Media Arts Studio and the Cambridge-based education/research non-profit organization TERC — has created a program in which the students themselves are the reporters, directors and producers. The program, called Climate Education in an Age of Media (CAM), offers educators toolkits for bringing student-produced media into climate-change education.

“With support from NASA’s Innovations in Climate Education grant, we are developing ways to integrate student-media production into climate-change education that are engaging, empowering and can be readily adopted in a wide range of instructional environments,” says Rooney-Varga, the CAM Project’s principal investigator.

“We found the CAM approach to be very effective at the high school, undergraduate and graduate student levels,” she says. “It can be used to overcome many of the challenges that climate-change education presents and is an excellent way to bring active, social and affective learning to one of the most important and most complex problems facing human society today.”

Learning Through Teaching

Research has shown that visual media tools, such as video, are effective in communicating complex scientific concepts and helping viewers retain that knowledge.

By creating short films and animations and participating in video journalism students are able to integrate climate-change science with media literacy and become actively engaged in the educational process.

“Putting students behind the camera can give them a voice and a sense of empowerment, fostering active participation in the learning process,” says Rooney-Varga. “Through media production, they are asked to express and convey complex ideas or topics using clear, simple language and visual representations, so their content knowledge must be deep enough to educate others.”

Since video production is inherently a team effort requiring a director, camera operator, reporters, video editor and others, it allows students to learn in a social context, working in small collaborative groups with a common goal and focus.

“While student-produced media pieces are generally not intended to provide in-depth scientific information to the broader public, they can be successful in conveying some of the key, basic concepts needed to understand climate change as well as communicating the student-producers’ perspectives and points of view on climate change,” says Rooney-Varga.

CAM in Your Classroom

Interested in bringing CAM into your classroom?

“We are currently developing online media toolkits, lesson plans and professional development workshops for educators interested in incorporating student-media production into their own work,” says Rooney-Varga.

“We will also be developing tools for teachers with a full range of media resources — from no experience and no access to equipment or software at all to educators who can partner with a media center with access to resources such as studios, cameras and editing software,” she says.

For more information, contact Rooney-Varga at juliette_rooneyvarga@uml.edu.

Upcoming Campus Events

As part of the CAM Project, students in Rooney-Varga’s Climate Change: Science, Communication and Solutions class will be producing videos during a workshop that will be held April 27–29, at the Media Center on South Campus from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Other climate-change-related campus spring events, hosted by the Climate Change Initiative, include the following presentations:

  • Monday, April 23: “Building the Movement to Transition Beyond Fossil Fuels” by Carrie Watkins, a student at Brandeis University and climate action leader from the Better Future Project. North Campus, Olsen Hall Room 408, 4 to 5 p.m.
  • Wednesday, May 2: “Soil-Based Microbial Fuel Cells: What Makes Them Go?” by Assoc. Prof. Juliette Rooney-Varga. North Campus, Olsen Hall Room 503, 4 to 5 p.m.
  • Monday, May 7: “A Look to the Future: Student Videos Take on Climate Change. UMass Lowell Students Unite!” Short films by students in the Climate Change: Science, Communications and Solutions class. North Campus, Alumni Hall Lobby, 5 to 7 p.m.