New Course Helps Students Communicate Climate Change

By Alicia Wrigley-Gailey, Office of Sustainability

A new class, offered for the first time this fall in the Communications Department at the U, is giving students of many disciplines the opportunity to learn how to dispel misconceptions and increase understanding about climate change through better communication.

Julia Corbett

Julia Corbett, professor of communication at the University of Utah

Communicating Climate Change is the first course at the U to depart from teaching only the science or implications of climate change. Instead the class aims to help students effectively explain global warming to others. But besides being a new idea the U, the class is unique on a national scale, too.

“When I [decided that the communication of climate change would be a good topic] to introduce to the University of Utah and my department, I started looking around the country and was surprised to find that no other university had such a class that I could model, at least at the undergraduate level,” says Julia Corbett, professor in the Communications Department and creator and teacher of the class.

The lack of courses about communicating climate change is particularly surprising when contrasted with the massive amount of scholarly research and information that exists on the subject. But Corbett says that the prospect of wading through the wealth of information and finding points or articles to highlight, without so much as an existing textbook to guide her, was overwhelming.

Eventually, Corbett decided that focusing the class on the work of a few nationally recognized and oft-quoted experts in climate change communication would be a useful way for students to get a sense of the broad field.

Corbett, who has done some research in communication of climate change, selected four of her colleagues: Edward Maibach, director of the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, Susanne Moser, social science research associate at University of California- Santa Cruz and research fellow at Standford University, Sharon Dunwoody, professor of journalism at University of Wisconsin- Madison, and Robert Bruelle, professor of sociology and environmental science at Drexel University.

Corbett earned a Dee Grant, an endowment that funds innovative teaching methods for instructors in the College of Fine Arts or College of Humanities. With funds from the grant, Corbett is able to bring the experts to the U to present their research in person. Corbett also organized two presentations by local experts, one panel of climate scientists and another of science journalists. These lectures are videotaped for use in future sections of Communicating Climate Change and possibly in other similar classes.

While the lectures were created for the class, they are open to the public. Maibach and the panel of climate scientists have already presented, but the majority of lectures are yet to occur: Moser on Oct. 3, the panel of science journalists on Oct. 10, Dunwoody on Oct. 29, and Brulle on Nov. 19, all at 2:00 p.m. in LNCO 2110.

Corbett hopes that focusing on the writings and lectures of the visiting experts and local panels will allow her students to increase their knowledge about climate change but, even more importantly, become self-assured about the subject.

“I hope that my students can go out and become walking ambassadors who are not afraid and are confident in their knowledge of climate change and their ability to talk about it,” Corbett says. “I want them to get a sense of their own self-efficacy and what they can do around climate change and the role they might play as they grow into adulthood.”

Corbett will now work to get Communicating Climate Change accepted into the regular offerings of the Communication Department and added to the course schedule in future years.

Alicia Wrigley-Gailey is a senior in Communication and Jazz Performance. She is a Sustainability Ambassador with the Office of Sustainability.

2 responses to “New Course Helps Students Communicate Climate Change

  1. Pingback: Journalists and Scientists Agree: Climate Science is Complex and Complicated by Politics | sustainableUTAH·

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