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Why media production for climate change education?

Hear students' reflections on their experience.

The profound implications of ongoing climate change for human society and energy systems can create unique challenges and opportunities that could benefit from new pedagogical approaches. These include its politicization in the public discourse, the psychological and affective responses it elicits, and the deeply entrenched misconceptions about climate change that non-experts frequently hold. Students learning about climate change are often faced with social dissonance when they attempt to reconcile a view of the future that is informed by climate change science with the views of their family and friends. When faced with this dissonance, many seek and credit information that relieves it, even if doing so reverses gains they have made in climate literacy (Kahan et al. 2012). Together, these responses can impede the formation of robust mental models of the climate and energy systems that are needed to incorporate new information, make effective decisions, and find innovative solutions to address climate change (Engelmann et al. 2011; Jones et al. 2011).

Engaging analytic and affective processing for deeper learning

Social science research has made it clear that these barriers are not effectively addressed through the "information deficit model," i.e., information delivery alone is not an effective means for overcoming misconceptions (Pidgeon et al. 2011). Instead, effective approaches that engage active, affective, and social learning pathways are needed to address barriers that stem from these domains. In addition to the analytic processing that is evoked in conventional geoscience pedagogical approaches (e.g., reading, lecture presentations, laboratory reports, exams), video production provides a means to engage associative and affective processing (which is automatic, rapid, and influenced by emotion), through storytelling, metaphor, images, and emotion (Graber 1990).

The affective system plays an important role in evaluating uncertainty and risk (such as potential climate change impacts or mitigation), and is the primary motivator for action (Weber 2006) and sustained commitment to difficult problems (Pidgeon et al. 2011). While the affective system enables rapid responses, analytic reasoning requires us to learn algorithms for decision-making and apply them through conscious awareness and control (Marx et al. 2007). Importantly, these two processing systems work together: analytic reasoning is not effective unless guided by emotion and affect, and, if the responses of the two systems are in conflict, the affective system almost always prevails (Damasio 1994). Thus, emotion is integral to our thinking, perceptions, and behavior (Pidgeon et al. 2011).

Challenging students to convey the essence of scientific concepts through media production requires them to engage both analytic and affective processing, opening an opportunity for deeper learning. In addition, video production is inherently collaborative, requiring students to take on various roles during pre-production (e.g., writing, content research, finding images and sets, creating a storyboard), production (e.g., directing, acting, filming), and post-production (e.g., editing, further research, distribution and promotion). This collaborative aspect engages social learning and may help students overcome some of the barriers presented by social dissonance (Kahan et al. 2012) that climate change can evoke.

Media and climate literacy: Essential 21st century skills

Integrating climate change science with media literacy also provides a means for students to gain an understanding of the media through which much of societal discourse is carried out. Video production combines many key literacy skills, including content research, writing, an understanding of the power of images and sounds, the ability to use that power, and the ability to manipulate, transform, and distribute digital media (Ranker 2008; Jenkins 2009). Through collaboration, reflection, and visual expression of concepts, video production facilitates a deeper understanding of material (Sawyer 2006).


Damasio, A. R. 1994. Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. New York: Avon Books.

Engelmann, C. A., and J. E. Huntoon. 2011. Improving student learning by addressing misconceptions. EOS 92 (50):465-466.

Graber, D. A. 1990. Seeing is remembering: how visuals contribute to learning from television news. Journal of Communication 40 (3):134-156.

Jenkins, H. 2009. Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Media: Media for the Twenty-First Century: MIT Press (accessed July 23, 2012).

Jones, N.A., H. Ross, T. Lynam, P. Perez, and A. Leitch. 2011. Mental models: an interdisciplinary synthesis of theory and methods. Ecology and Society 16 (1):46.

Kahan, D. M., E. Peters, M. Wittlin, P. Slovic, L. L. Ouellette, D. Braman, and G. Mandel. 2012. The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks. Nature Clim. Change 2 (10):732-735.

Marx, S. M., E. U. Weber, B. S. Orlove, A. Leiserowitz, D. H. Krantz, C. Roncoli, and J. Phillips. 2007. Communication and mental processes: Experiential and analytic processing of uncertain climate information. Global Environmental Change 17 (1):47-58.

Pidgeon, N., and B. Fischhoff. 2011. The role of social and decision sciences in communicating uncertain climate risks. Nature Clim. Change 1 (1):35-41.

Ranker, J. 2008. Composing Across Multiple Media. Written Communication 25 (2):196-234.

Sawyer, K.R. 2006. The New Science of Learning. In The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences, edited by K. R. Sawyer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Weber, E. 2006. Experience-based and description-based perceptions of long-term risk: Why global warming does not scare us (yet). Climatic Change 77 (1):103-120.

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