The Use of a Mock Environment Summit to Support Learning about Global Climate Change

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

We propose that a learner-centered environment (LCE) is particularly suitable for Earth System Science (ESS) learning due to the nature of the knowledge and research environment that characterizes the field. We show how the principal characteristics of LCE effectively provide learners with motivation and opportunity to understanding this complex area of scientific inquiry.

We describe a course that supports learning the science of global change and address the human aspects of global change through the development and negotiation of an international environmental agreement. Students play the roles of country representatives and participate in activities such as writings, class discussions, presentations and negotiations. Rubrics developed for each activity are used both to assess student learning and to communicate feedback to students about their work.

Our study suggests that the adoption of a LCE enhanced student learning of content and critical skills. The frequent student presentations were found to play a major role in student learning. The rubrics served as scaffolding for knowledge construction, helped students to self-assess and maintain their quality of work, and allowed instructors to provide quick and efficient feedback. The development of basic learner-centered tools and teaching practices will help ESS instructors provide learning environments most suitable for their discipline.

INTRODUCTION

The creation of an environmentally literate citizenry is arguably among the most urgent needs in the class of societal challenges that are now rising to center stage. There continues to be some debate about the nature and origin of climate change although a strong case has been made by the international scientific community on the role of human activities on climate change (IPCC, 2002). Uncontroversial scientific evidence that could end the debate is, however, unlikely to become available soon even though the level of uncertainty in the science of global change continually diminishes. Society is therefore faced with an obligation to decide how to act long before conclusive evidence is collected and the climate system is completely understood. Only an environmentally literate society will be able to adequately and constructively participate in the on-going discussions and reflection.

The present generation of students, and likely several successive generations, will inherit the Earths environmental problems and be faced with addressing them, as they are problems that cannot be solved in one generation. This is because climate change results, in large part, from increasing concentrations of gases in the atmosphere (such as carbon dioxide) that are long-lived and whose impact will be felt for decades to come, even if immediate action is taken (even if emissions are reduced to near zero). While society as a whole does not have much experience handling this class of problem (intergenerational burden sharing), it behooves us, as educators, to find ways to help students become aware of the problem and understand the complexity and subtlety of the issues involved. It is also our responsibility to provide them with some tools, however imperfect or yet poorly adapted, to address these multifaceted issues. It is the goal of the "Mock Climate Summit" course, described in this paper, to do exactly that and prepare students to be informed, able and active citizens of the world.

Educating about global climate change is a huge task and an inspiring challenge. Global climate change is not easy to understand as it involves a natural system (the Earth) that is large and complex and whose behavior is difficult to describe and as yet almost impossible to predict in any detail. Global climate change, being at the convergence of many scientific but also social science disciplines, is broadly interdisciplinary and therefore requires a knowledge beyond that of any single individual. Due to the system-like and interdisciplinary nature of the climate system, however, the development of educational programs about global climate change offers an opportunity to apply many of the new instructional practices that are now prominent in the education community (from learner-centered environments to assessment integrated teaching). …

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