A MASSIVE OPEN ONLINE COURSE ON CLIMATE LITERACY: WHAT DID WE LEARN?
The course design followed principles outlined by the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative, namely, align learning goals, activities, and assessments. We incorporated various tools available on the Coursera platform, such as embedding questions within instructional videos, peer assessment of assignments, standard quiz and survey tools, and discussion forums. We also asked participants to voluntarily contribute their assignments to a class map, which produced a unique, crowd-sourced collection of >300 climate stories from around the world. The discussion forums were one of the most stimulating aspects of the course, with participation by climate skeptics, activists, and contrarians, plus meta-discussion about the nature and patterns of these types of discussions.
What did we learn? First, the population interested in these topics is diverse. Based on a start-of-term survey, participants were from 139 different countries, and ages ranged from <16 to >60. 80% had at least a 4-year college degree and 35% had a formal educational experience with some aspect of Earth’s climate. Second, based on a short pre-post knowledge quiz, the course improved participants’ basic scientific understanding and produced a positive shift in self-perceived knowledge about climate change. Third, at the end, 90% reported feeling “somewhat” or “very” confident communicating about climate change to non-experts, and 67% reported feeling more willing to participate in societal decisions related to climate. Anecdotally, many participants posted plans for action on the discussion forums, and discussed the importance of collaborative knowledge acquisition to ameliorate feelings of disempowerment or panic about problems like climate change. Whether this type of course experience stimulates individual or collective action is an open question, requiring longitudinal study.