A novel multinational course on global climate change was developed by East Carolina University in collaboration with five international universities and the U.S. Department of State. This course was developed to help foster the global conversation needed for developing successful solutions to some of the challenges posed to society by climate change. Using web conferencing technology, students from East Carolina University, Faculdade Jaguariúna in Brazil, Shadong University in China, University of Jammu in India, Universidad Regiomontana in Mexico, and Lomonosov Moscow State University in Russia met 2 or 3 times per week in the Global Classroom to learn about climate change science, mitigation and adaptation strategies, and domestic and international climate policy issues. In addition to learning about climate change, students worked in teams composed of members from each country to create locally implementable strategies for climate change mitigation and/or adaptation. Toward this end, students learned and were challenged to apply important cross-cultural negotiation and project building skills necessary to achieve consensus and ensure effective communication and team function. This article presents the course design, including content and the use of technology, as well as a discussion of the challenges and rewards associated with getting people from five countries together in a common pursuit of knowledge and consensus.
Videoconferencing technology allows students from universities in six countries to explore together the interdisciplinary and multicultural issues inherent to climate change.
Climate change is one of the most pressing challenges of our time. Among efforts toward developing strategies for climate change mitigation and adaptation, education emerges as a fundamental tool (Kagawa and Shelby 2010). As the scientific evidence for anthropogenic climate change increases, climate change education efforts at all educational levels and in formal and informal settings intensify (e.g., Pruneau et al. 2003; Houghton 2005; Cordero et al. 2008; UNESCO 2009; Gannet Hallar et al. 2011). Addressing the global challenges posed by climate change will also require the willingness and ability to work together across country and cultural divides, public and private sectors, as well as across generational, societal, ethical, and political divides. The multifaceted nature of this challenge calls for education approaches that weave formal climate change instruction with active social learning (Glasser 2007) at the local and multinational community levels (Kagawa and Shelby 2010). In this paper we describe how a new course at East Carolina University (ECU) is bringing together students from around the world to learn about global climate change and to collaborate to create solutions to overcome some of the challenges it poses to our society.
COURSE DESIGN AND CONTENT.
The Global Partners in Education project at ECU is a consortium of more than 30 academic institutions in 22 countries, and is a leader in international education (http://thegpe.org/). The project is based on the Global Classroom, a virtual collaborative environment that brings together students from around the world to study a field of the social, natural, or health sciences and in the process helps students become culturally tolerant and aware world citizens who can successfully live and work together in a global community (Chia et al. 2011). In the spring of 2010, the undergraduate course on global climate change was taught for the first time in the Global Classroom.
For the global climate change course, we chose to partner with institutions in Brazil, Russia, India, China, and Mexico because these countries are among the world's fastest-growing industrial economies and therefore will contribute to increasingly larger shares of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades (IMF 2009). As manifested by their rising influence in the negotiations during the more recent United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 15th Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen (Pöyry 2010), these countries are becoming increasingly important partners in international collaborative efforts aimed at mitigation and adaptation to climate change. By highlighting these key players, our choice of partners helps initiate a much-needed conversation about climate change among young people in some of the world's fastest-growing industrial countries, that is, the key stakeholders who will need to converse.
In the spring of 2010, a group of 64 students from Brazil, India, China, and the United States participated in the course. Students were divided into eight teams composed of two students from each participating country. In the fall of 2010, the course was taught for a second time to a group of 55 students in five countries, including Mexico. Each semester the course included a series of introductory lectures by ECU faculty, a webchat series hosted by the U.S. Department of State (DOS), and a country expert lecture series hosted locally by each partner country. Classes were held 3 times per week for 50 min. Faculty from the ECU Departments of Geography, Political Science, Psychology, and Computer Science and from the College of Business team taught the course in close collaboration with the faculty from our international partner institutions.
Science and policy lectures.
The course opened with 2 weeks of formal introductory lectures by the ECU faculty on the complex scientific, societal, technological, and local and multinational policy challenges associated with global climate change (Solomon et al. 2007; Mann and Kump 2009). Reading assignments were mostly web based to allow easy access to students in all countries.
Every 3 weeks the U.S. Department of State hosted a webchat with a prominent scientist, a government representative at the federal or local level in the United States and abroad, or a grassroots organization representative. Presenters and topics were selected by the DOS with the goal of covering a broad base of information on global climate change. Table 1 lists the DOS webchats held during the spring and fall 2010. The DOS webchats were attended live not only by the students in the Global Classroom but also by thousands of people around the world through a DOS web portal. Prompted by reading materials (journal articles, presentations, and web content) provided by the DOS prior to each webchat, students posed their questions to the speakers ahead of time as well as asked during the webchats. The students were delighted to hear internationally renowned scientists answer their questions directly from the DOS. The general public attending from all over the world also participated with questions. The DOS posted English language transcripts of each webchat to their website, something that was helpful to students as they prepared for exams (links to online transcripts of the DOS webchats are listed in Table 1).
Country expert lecture series.
The course included a vibrant lecture series presented by local experts from each of the participating countries. Our international faculty partners invited the speakers and selected the topics for this lecture series. Every 3 weeks a different country expert visitor lectured on climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts under way in his country. Some of the topics included the Brazilian sugar cane ethanol industry, reforestation projects in Brazil, Chinese waste management projects, and the effects of climate change on the Mexican food and beer industries. Prompted by reading materials in English provided by each country expert prior to the class, students were asked to submit their questions ahead of time to the session convener at ECU. Students also interacted with the country experts by asking questions at the end of each lecture.
Building high-performing teams.
The third week of the course featured instruction on the skills critical to ensure successful teamwork, consensus building, and project management in a multinational setting. Equipped with this foundational instruction, it was during this week that students first met their international teammates and began the process of synthesizing and responding to their instruction regarding climate change. This process began with the development of team charters that described agreed upon expectations related to acceptable team behaviors, decision-making processes, and relevant team member strengths and skills (the team charter is available as supplemental material online at http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/BAMS-D-11-00048.2). Research demonstrates that the establishment of a team charter is important to the development of healthy team norms and, ultimately, improves performance outcomes (Mathieu and Rapp 2009; McDowell et al. 2011). Further, when challenges related to team functioning arose throughout the semester, the teamfocused instruction and team charters provided a useful mechanism to resolve conflict and restore positive team functioning.
At the beginning of the semester, students were assigned to teams composed of students from each country represented in the course. About one-third of the 45 class periods in the semester were devoted to student teamwork via web conference. On team workdays, students spent the entire class period working with their teammates from around the world. They discussed their projects, searched the web together for project information, assigned tasks, shared updates, chatted, laughed, and resolved any disagreements or misunderstandings, much like they would do if they were in the same physical classroom. In-class web conferencing technology allowed students from the participating universities to work together to create original solutions for a challenging issue in global climate change. Their task was to design a project plan (see the “Project plan timeline” and online supplement for more information) that was detailed enough that it could be implemented by a third party. Ideally, the scope of the project had to be sufficiently broad to include efforts directed toward mitigation, adaptation, and policy change. If implemented on a large scale, the ideal project would produce change at a global level while allowing local implementation and action. Since climate change affects all aspects of our society, ideas for student projects generally came from a wide array of sectors, including education, energy, forestry, business, waste management, and transportation (Table 2). Some of the student teams were so enthusiastic about their projects that they carried them a step further to implementation, even though implementation was not a course requirement.
The project plan is completed in phases as follows.
Team charter (due week 6): Teams complete a team charter document (see online supplement) that describes agreed upon expectations related to acceptable team behaviors, decision-making processes, and relevant team member strengths and skills. This team charter is meant to work as a “roadmap” that ensures that each team member's experience is rewarding and enjoyable.
Project phase 1 (due week 8): Project teams select a project idea that provides a solution to one or more impacts of climate change. Teams submit to the course wiki site a written description of their project ideas and goals and then present their work orally to their local classrooms for feedback from local students and faculty. At the end of the week, ECU faculty members post their written feedback to each team's wiki space.
Project phase 2 (due week 11): Teams submit to the course wiki site a complete preliminary project plan outline (including project description and goals, needed resources, and detailed implementation plan) for feedback from faculty members. ECU faculty members post their written feedback to each team's course wiki space. There is no oral presentation associated with this phase of the project.
Project phase 3 (due week 13): After incorporating feedback from faculty members, teams submit their final written project plan document to the wiki site. Using videoconferencing technology, international team members take turns on oral presentations of their projects to the Global Classroom during the last week of classes. ECU faculty members grade projects and post final comments and grades to each team's wiki space.
Some of the challenges for course implementation and teamwork in a multinational setting were related to logistical issues, such as scheduling, language and cultural barriers, and internet connectivity. In the end, these challenges offered students a learning opportunity by giving them firsthand experience on working through some of the challenges faced in real-world multinational work environments.
The course schedule had to accommodate differences in school calendars and time zones of the participating universities. We found that fall schedules were less dissimilar among the participating universities, making it easier to offer the course in the fall. The wide range of time zones separating the participating countries also posed a challenge because it meant that while students in Mexico were waking up early to get to class at 0700 LT, their Chinese classmates were staying at school until almost 2200 LT. Daylight saving time posed a problem to students in Brazil for whom the time shift is in the opposite direction with respect to their Northern Hemisphere classmates, and for the students in Russia, where daylight saving time is not adopted. In these two countries, class time shifted by 1 or 2 h in the middle of the semester, sometimes conflicting with the schedule of students.
A common language is, of course, a paramount requirement for international cooperation. In this course, the official language for all lectures and written course content was English. This meant that most of the participating students were communicating in their second or sometimes third language. Because students had to get used to a myriad of accents and language skill levels during their meetings, several groups chose the written chat window in Centra to communicate when in class (see “Technology” for more information). Even when students chose not to communicate orally, they always enjoyed having the video on so they could see their partners.
A variety of web-based technologies were employed throughout the semester. Saba Centra web conferencing (http://cloud.saba.com/) was used for in-class team work. Saba Centra provides multiple tools, such as video, audio, chat, and whiteboard, to facilitate team work. Outside of class, students used a variety of technologies, such as e-mail, Skype, and Facebook, to exchange information as they collaborated to build their projects. A wiki site using Confluence (www.atlassian.com/confluence) was set up specifically for this course for students to collaborate and store their team projects. Faculty members used e-mail and the wiki site to communicate with students. In-class communication among faculty members was done through an Internet Relay Chat client.
Lectures were broadcasted to each partner campus through the Mediasite solution (www.sonicfoundry.com/mediasite/) and recorded to allow students to review the lectures on their own time. The DOS conducted the prominent speaker series with the Adobe Connect web conferencing tool (www.adobe.com/products/adobeconnect.html). This solution allowed thousands of participants from all over the world to attend the DOS prominent speaker lecture series. This tool also provides a chat tool where participants posted questions during each session. The country expert sessions were conducted in Saba Centra.
As described above, the use of a variety of widely available free technologies allowed us to create a unique multinational classroom experience that was a very cost effective and low-carbon alternative to other face-to-face alternatives. Although several technologies were brought to bear on our implementation of the course, the course could be successfully administered with the minimum requirements of reliable internet access, web cameras, and web conferencing software.
Some student engagement and accountability issues arose from the fact that each partner university made arrangements to have the course temporarily housed in an existing course, seminar series, or certificate program in one of its departments. In some cases, these country-to-country differences in curriculum, course requirements, and grading schemes created a difference in the degree of student engagement and accountability. These differences were sometimes detrimental to the development of team projects and placed an undue burden on the students who were held more accountable by their local course arrangements.
Some web connectivity issues also occurred during the semester, mostly related to bandwidth issues in some of the partner universities. University disruptions due to military conflict or heavy snow in Kashmir, India, where Jammuu University is located, also posed an occasional challenge to student participation in the course. Whenever such issues occurred, we encouraged students to stay safe and use technology to keep in touch with their teams from home.
Pre- and postcourse online surveys were administered to the students to assess student learning and to help us improve the course (see “Student surveys” for details). The Global Classroom pre-course survey showed that the percentage of students that agreed with the statement that global warming is unequivocal was 67%. A recent study shows that the majority of Americans (67%) are convinced that climate change is happening (Leiserowitz et al. 2010). At postcourse, our surveys showed that 86% of the Global Classroom students agreed with the statement, suggesting that climate change education can have a significant effect on public opinion about global climate change. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center (2011) found that 85% of Brazilians, 68% of Mexicans, and 62% of Indians say that global climate change is a very serious problem. Much less concern about climate change occurs in China and the United States, the two largest greenhouse gas emitters, with only 41% of Chinese and 37% of Americans saying that global climate change is a very serious problem. In our fall 2010 classroom, Brazilian students also appeared to be the most concerned about climate change by “strongly agreeing” with the statement that anthropogenic climate change is one of the most pressing challenges of our time, while most of their peers simply “agreed” with the statement. Unfortunately, a common misconception about climate change persisted in the postcourse survey, with students still strongly agreeing with the erroneous statement that stronger hurricanes and cyclones like Katrina and Sidr are signs of climate change. Perhaps one of the most interesting findings in the survey was the fact that student opinion on climate justice, an ethical issue that permeates the global discourse on climate change, fell along country and UNFCCC party lines, with only about half of U.S. students agreeing with the statement “richer nations should contribute to a multibillion dollar fund to help poorer nations cope with the effects of climate change,” while nearly all of the students from the other partner countries agreed with that statement. Much like in UNFCCC Conference of the Parties discussions between developing and industrialized countries, this thorny issue came up over and over again in the questions posed by the students from our partner institutions to DOS and country experts. On a related issue, pre- and postcourse surveys showed strong gains in student-perceived understanding of climate change policies in their country and in the partner countries.
Pre- and postcourse online surveys were administered to the students for summative and formative course assessment purposes. The survey questions were formatted using a five-point Likert-type scale (1 = strongly disagree, 2 = disagree, 3 = neither agree nor disagree, 4 = agree, and 5 = strongly agree) and included sections on personal opinion about climate change; working with people of different cultures; and, in the case of the postcourse survey, a section on student opinions about the webchats and country expert lecture series.
The DOS webchat lecture series received very high scores from the students (>4.3 on a 1–5 scale) in terms of their interest in the topics presented and also in terms of how accessible the speakers made the topics to the students. The country expert lecture series received somewhat mixed scores from the students (in the 3.5– 4.5 range) due to an accent barrier with some of the speakers. This result has prompted us to be more mindful of possible strong accents in the selection of country speakers.
Table 3 summarizes survey results for the personal opinion about climate change section of the fall 2012 survey (n = 43 students). Similar results were obtained in the spring of 2010. Bold italics indicate statements that prompted significantly different answers between pre- and postcourse surveys.
Students came into the course strongly agreeing with the reality, relevance to society, and importance of future impacts of climate change as seen in their reactions to statements 1–4 in Table 3. Moreover, the course significantly changed student opinions on the statement that global warming is unequivocal (statement 1 in Table 3), in the sense that more students agreed with the statement after taking the course. Students also felt that they can personally help mitigate the effects of climate change (statement 5). The course significantly improved student understanding of national and international climate change policy aimed at lessening global climate change and its impacts on the countries represented in the class (statements 11 and 12). The course did not, however, change students' misconception that an isolated extreme weather event is a sign of climate change, as shown by the fact that most students continued to agree or strongly agree with statement 7 after taking the course.
In response to student and faculty comments, the course was revised in its second and third offerings and continues to evolve. For instance, students and faculty suggested that longer class periods would allow more continuous, undisturbed time to work on team projects. In response to this comment, we switched to a 75-min long, twice-a-week schedule that seems to have improved the work sessions. Another concern expressed by students was that some of their teammates did not contribute enough to their team project. One of the reasons for this may be a lack of accountability due to differences in country-to-country curriculum and grading procedures. This problem is being addressed through standardizing course offerings and grading procedures across partner universities. To further strengthen student accountability, we have also begun using a peer review system to measure individual participation in the team projects. In their feedback students also often expressed a desire to implement at least some portions of their projects, so we are currently looking for ways to make this happen by partnering with university, local businesses, or agencies interested in climate change mitigation and/or adaptation. As an 0800 LT elective course, enrollment has been a challenge for this course at ECU. To increase enrollment, ECU has just officially added this course to the Department of Geography curriculum as a social science foundation offering, which will count toward the coursework required of every ECU undergraduate. Engaging in formative assessment of the course will continue to guide our future efforts to improve course outcomes.
This course is a novel way for students to participate in an international team without leaving their home institutions, and we are hopeful that it offers a positive model for global climate change education that can be followed by other institutions around the world. During this course, students spend a semester immersed in negotiations and collaboration in an international microcosm that resembles in many ways the environment of the intense international negotiations that take place prior to and during each round of the UNFCC Conferences of the Parties (Starkey et al. 2005). This exposure to international negotiation and collaboration is perhaps the most important experience our students gain in this course. Another important outcome of the course is that it raises student awareness of global climate change, equips them with a global perspective on the competing interests and challenges affecting policy change, and helps prepare them to work in a global workforce.
Perhaps the key outcome that the course aspires to is best summarized in the words of one of our students: “Even though the process is difficult, it feels good when you can complete a project, and you know that there are contributions from students from all over the world. It gives you a sense of power and a reminder of just how interconnected our world really is.”
This course is a fruit of the labor of many people in the partner universities, at the U.S. Department of State, and at ECU. A very special thank you goes to the local faculty in our partner institutions, Dr. Luiz Irias and Ms. Carolina Maiochi (Faculdade Jaguariúna), Dr. Parikshat Singh Manhas (Jammuu University), Mr. Leonardo Cárdenas (TÜV SÜD América de Mexico), and Ms. Jessica Chen (Shandong University). Our gratitude also goes to our colleagues at the U.S. Department of State, Dr. Jonathan Margolis, Dr. Holmes Hummel, and Ms. Lynette Evans, for organizing the prominent speaker series for the course. We would also like to thank our technical staff on the two continents and in particular Mr. David Clark and his ECU staff for keeping the Global Classroom running smoothly. We would also like to thank the many speakers who participated in the course.
A supplement to this article is available online (10.1175/BAMS-D-11-00048.2)