Capsule Summary

An online “Climate and Climate Change” course out of Madison, Wisconsin has been advancing climate literacy to an expanding audience of undergraduates since 2013.


Since 2013, the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Wisconsin - Madison has offered an online course titled, “Climate and Climate Change.” Students enrolled in this course learn the physical principles governing Earth's climate and climate change within the broader context of societal impacts and global political considerations. Students interact weekly with each other about these topics, and frequent instructor interaction stimulates further learning related to the course goals. The course was delivered through a balanced mix of forum discussions, weekly worksheets, quizzes, and a final project. For this study, student climate literacy was assessed through voluntary pre- and post-course surveys containing student self-assessment questions and a variety of questions directly based on course content. Post-course survey results indicate 99% of students taking this course feel “fairly well informed” or “very well informed” about their physical understanding of Earth's climate and the numerous processes governing climate change. The 2019 cohort observed a statistically significant increase in the percentage of students adopting the viewpoint that climate change is caused primarily by human activities. We present a template for implementation in other Earth Science or Atmospheric Science curricula, which includes discussion forum, quiz and worksheet examples from this course.

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