Spring 2017


Collaborating on Climate

Climate Change and Journalism students team up to film public service announcements, just one of the interdisciplinary opportunities in a new collaborative course.

IF YOU THINK CO-TEACHING could lead to some conflicts, you’re right—especially when it comes to a charged topic like climate change. It’s part of the reason it’s rarely done in academia. But working through those disagreements, even in front of the class, is part of the point.

During the fall semester, Environmental Studies Professor Sarah Ray and Geography Chair Rosemary Sherriff joined forces and invited other HSU professors across different disciplines to teach students about climate change.

Ray and Sherriff share a common interest in environmental issues, but their backgrounds and expertise sometimes bring them to different conclusions about how goals should be achieved. That’s a good thing, especially when it comes to a topic like climate change.

Sherriff and Ray’s goal in the course (ENST480/GEOG473: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Climate Change) was to bring a variety of disciplines and perspectives to the topic. Climate change affects a huge array of topics—Hurricane Katrina, for example, included physical sciences like engineering and meteorology, as well as social science subjects like politics and race.

Sometimes, experts in those disciplines think they know what needs the most resources, or what should be the highest priority when tackling climate change. But Ray says a subject so complicated needs broader, more interconnected analyses.

So, the two professors challenged students to think outside their own perspectives to solve an issue, to get over the dead-end of “who’s going to solve the problem better.”

Sherriff and Ray invited professors from humanities and social science fields, like Journalism Professor Vicky Sama, whose Introduction to Video Production class had spent the semester creating news and informative videos. Sherriff, Ray, and Sama partnered to have students in both classes create 30-second public service announcements about climate change.

They also invited HSU professors from a variety of science fields such as hydrology, oceanography, and wildlife, to share how their work provides context for climate change discussions and offer a critical view of the effects of and responses to it.

This approach paid off, says Ray. Students appreciated the variety of expertise and tools and learned to recognize both the strengths and limitations of each. “This also helped them understand the challenges to getting consensus on dealing with climate change,” Ray says.