InTeGrating Climate Change Across the Curriculum

LAURA TRIPLETT ( is an associate professor of geology and environmental studies at Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minnesota.

Climate Across the Curriculum
If global warming is "the defining challenge of our era," in the words of former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, why do so few college and university students learn about it? Perhaps some learn about the science of climate change in a geoscience, physics or biology course, but, frequently, the conversation stops there. What about the politics or economics of climate change? What about the psychology of environmental decision-making, or the ethical and theological constructions? How do writers and artists "speak" about the looming climate crisis, or how will the medical profession need to adapt? Teachers in many disciplines want to teach about some aspect of climate change in their courses, but they often fail to do so, leaving our students poorly prepared for realworld conversations and decisions.

At Gustavus Adolphus College, as part of an InTeGrate implementation program, we have used teaching circles composed of diverse faculty members to identify barriers to climate teaching and to brainstorm transdisciplinary approaches that would remove those barriers. Following each teaching circle, we paired "host" faculty members who had no expertise in climate science with "developer" faculty members from the natural sciences. Each pair worked to identify climate literacy principle(s) that were needed to advance the host faculty member's learning goals in a pre-existing course. Then, the host and developer faculty members designed and implemented a one- or two-day course module that promoted climate literacy within the context of each course's themes, pedagogy, and desired outcomes. The initial module delivery was done with the developer as guest instructor. Subsequent use of the module material in class is generally the responsibility of the host faculty member.

We learned that the best transdisciplinary teaching happens when the developer faculty member carefully listens to the goals of the host and constructs a module that blends into the host course's pedagogical methods and themes. For example, a climate module structured around a Powerpoint presentation may be entirely appropriate and expected by students in a lecture-based economics course. Conversely, a module in a discussion- based philosophy course should have minimal or no Powerpoint if the host does not normally use Powerpoint. If the developer comes from a science background, that person therefore may need substantially more time to develop that class session outside of his or her pedagogical comfort zone.

In all cases, the most successful modules began with the themes of the host's course. For example, health and exercise science students pay more attention to a climate module if it begins with how heat impacts bodily systems. Then, a subtle merge into a topic like greenhouse gases or climate modeling will make sense. On the other hand, a module that begins with an explanation of climate warming before describing health effects will be poorly received by those students, who perceive the module as a random or irrelevant guest lecture.

We also learned that a test-run of the teaching module in front of two to four faculty members (in addition to the developer and host) increases chances of success in the classroom. We began each testrun by having the developer and host independently write down what they perceived to be the main goals of the module (e.g., on opposite ends of a whiteboard). Then, the developer presented the module in near real-time and received feedback from the host and audience. The host could request changes within the neutral context of the test-run, and developers benefitted from the aggregate experience of other developers.

We believe this model of transdisciplinary curriculum development focused on integrating issues of climate change across disciplinary boundaries will be feasible at other institutions where diverse faculty members are interested in the topic of climate change. Furthermore, we believe it is transferrable to topics other than climate change and may offer an easier path to transdisciplinary teaching than more resource-intensive options, such as co-teaching entire courses.