Leveraging Higher-Education Instructors in the Climate Literacy Effort: Factors Related to University Faculty’s Propensity to Teach Climate Change

By Abby Beck, Gale M. Sinatra and Doug Lombardi.

Published by The International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic Free Download

In this study, we explored the relationship between university teaching faculty’s knowledge, concern and feelings of responsibility toward climate change and their propensity to address this topic in their classroom curriculum. We sent surveys containing 30 questions to approximately 3,150 faculty at two state research universities in the southwest United States. We addressed three research questions: Do university teaching faculty and students differ in their knowledge of, concern about, and personal responsibility regarding climate change and what are the differences between teaching faculty’s predictions of students’ perceived knowledge and concern about climate change and students’ actual perceived knowledge and concern? Second, do perceived knowledge, concern, personal responsibility, responsibility to teach about climate change, and comfort with teaching about climate change relate to the degree in which faculty address climate change in their classrooms? Finally, how does faculty rank and discipline differentiate their perceived knowledge, concern, personal responsibility, responsibility to teach about climate change, comfort with teaching about change? In regards to these three questions, we found that teaching faculty show greater concern and perceived knowledge than their students, though they underestimate their students’ perceived knowledge. Comfort teaching climate change and feeling responsible for teaching climate change were both significant predictors of the degree to which it is currently taught. Professors of the sciences were relatively high in both comfort and responsibility to teach climate change, whereas liberal arts faculty members were less comfortable and felt less responsible to include the topic in their classroom. The study, therefore, reveals opportunities where professional development could be targeted to promote climate literacy.

Keywords: Teaching Climate Change, Barriers to Instruction, Professor Attitudes

The International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp.1-17. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 500.985KB).

Abby Beck

Graduate Research Assistant, School of Environmental and Public Affairs, University of Nevada Las Vegas, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

Abby Beck received her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Illinois at Champaign –Urbana and is currently pursuing a Master’s in Environmental Science from the University of Nevada - Las Vegas. Her experience and interests include system dynamics, urban sustainability and environmental justice. Past research activities include work on a large climate change research initiative, examining the state of climate change education at the university level to make recommendations for future curriculum development. This project also allowed for a study of college professors’ attitudes toward climate change and how comfortable they feel teaching the subject. She is currently involved in developing online computer simulations for communicating principles of environmental studies using system dynamics to undergraduate students.

Dr. Gale M. Sinatra

Professor of Education, Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Dr. Gale Sinatra, Professor of Education, joined the Rossier faculty in July 2011. She comes from her previous appointment as Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where she served on the faculty since 2000. Sinatra is the outgoing Editor of the American Psychological Association (APA) Division 15 journal, Educational Psychologist. She is currently Vice President of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Division C, Learning and Instruction, and a Fellow of both APA and AERA. Her recent research focuses on understanding the cognitive and motivational processes that lead to successful learning in science. Specifically, Sinatra focuses on the role of motivation and emotion in teaching and learning about controversial topics, such as biological evolution and climate change. Sinatra developed a model of conceptual change learning, which describes how motivational factors contribute to the likelihood that individuals will change their thinking about a scientific topic.

Dr. Doug Lombardi

Assistant Professor, Science Education, Curriculum, Instruction, and Technology in Education, Temple University, USA

Doug Lombardi’s research is on the role of plausibility judgments in conceptual change and epistemic cognition, with a particular focus on climate change education. He is an Assistant Professor of Science Education at Temple University and also a licensed physics and mathematics teacher with 12 years of experience in a variety of educational settings, including NASA education and public outreach.

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