Research Summary

Student perspectives on climate change through place-based filmmaking

Informal climate change programs can positively impact students’ climate change perspectives

Environmental Education Research
2020

The implementation of climate change education (CCE) among youth globally has become increasingly essential, as it is important to educate future generations who will be most affected by climate change. Introducing CCE at a young age can provide people with environmental knowledge and awareness that can influence them to make well-informed decisions to help mitigate climate change impacts and encourage climate change action. While the implementation of CCE for youth is essential, research has shown that CCE can lead to young participants feeling overwhelmed. To mitigate these effects, CCE must find ways to leave students feeling empowered and able to make a difference on climate change. The purpose of this study was to investigate how an informal science program involving film making called Lens on Climate Change (LOCC) could impact students’ perspective on climate change.

Lens on Climate Change is an informal science program developed for middle and high school students, typically, within underserved communities. The LOCC program incorporates place-based learning, which educates participants on how CC is impacting their local community. Place-based learning creates a sense of personal responsibility and agency for change within the students. The program integrates CCE into filmmaking and storytelling; participants create short films about a local environmental issue.

This study was conducted in rural southern Colorado at a six week residential math and science program. Thirty-four high school participants were recruited, between the ages of 14-18 years, the majority identified as female. All participants volunteered to participate in LOCC, which was offered as a week-long program within the longer math and science program. The first day of the LOCC program focused solely on CCE and building climate change knowledge to ensure that participants had a common vocabulary and background on climate change issues. Participants then completed hands-on activities that allowed them to build connections between the material and their own lives. After the education day was completed, participants were separated into small groups of four or five individuals to begin the filmmaking process. Each group identified a common environmental issue that impacted their communities and began to build a narrative for their short film. All groups received help from a science mentor (a graduate student from a local university), and a film mentor (an undergraduate from a local film school). Once the short films were completed, participants presented them at a community screening event. Thirty-two participants completed pre- and post-program surveys, which included multiple choice, short-answer, and scaled questions. The surveys were analyzed for common themes.

Overall, the researchers found that the LOCC program positively impacted participants’ perspectives and characterizations towards climate change. At the end of the program, participants felt that climate change held a greater importance to them personally, felt hopeful towards the future, and were more confident in their knowledge. Prior to the LOCC, participants characterized climate change as a collective responsibility, while post program results showed they characterized climate change as both a collective and self-responsibility. This shows that LOCC helped participants identify their personal responsibility towards climate change and ways they could make a difference. Participants characterized climate change with terms such as significant, dangerous, and alarming in both their pre- and post-survey responses, but post survey responses frequently also used terms like possibility and hope. This shows that participants were able to see a positive future, rather than feeling overwhelmed and helpless. Further, participants felt more confident in their general understanding of climate change and its causes, effects, and possible solutions climate change.

This study had limitations. The participants came from a math and science program and volunteered to participate in the LOCC program which they knew explored climate change, so they likely had an interest in learning more about climate change. At the beginning of the LOCC program, 100% of the participants reported that they believed climate change is happening, which is much higher than the national average. Thus, the participants had substantial previous understanding of climate change. Future studies with individuals who do not have this interest or understand could have varying results after participating in LOCC. Additionally, the small sample size and study location could impact the generalizability of results.

The results of this study suggest that a hands-on program such as LOCC is effective for climate change education. The researchers recommend that schools and environmental education programs implement digital storytelling or filmmaking programs to increase participants’ climate change knowledge and their ability to communicate climate change issues effectively. Implementing place-based curriculum allows participants to understand how climate change is impacting their local community, which can result in a greater sense of agency and responsibility towards climate change. Overall, the researchers believe implementing CCE programs like LOCC will result in positive impacts on participants’ perspectives and characterizations surrounding climate change.

The Bottom Line

The purpose of this study was to investigate how an informal science program called Lens on Climate Change (LOCC) could impact students’ perspectives towards climate change. The week-long program integrated hands-on climate change education with filmmaking. This study was conducted in rural southern Colorado, where 34 students aged 14-18 years participated in the LOCC program and created short films on local climate change issues. The researchers found that the LOCC program positively impacted participants perspectives and characterizations towards climate change. The researchers recommend integrating place-based curriculum and digital storytelling and filmmaking programs to create personal connections between youth and climate change. This connection can build hope and foster youths’ sense of agency to mitigate climate change issues.