April 20, 2017

Helping Students Advocate for the Earth – from InTeGrate

Posted by Laura Guertin

The InTeGrate Teaching for a Sustainable Future module has a new section authored by Sarah Fortner and Rob Baker (both from Wittenberg University). If you have been thinking about ways to tap into the energy and momentum around science advocacy this month and in the future, I encourage you to explore


Helping Students Advocate for the Earth

Website link: http://serc.carleton.edu/integrate/teaching_materials/advocacy/index.html

Every instructor has an opinion on whether “advocacy” belongs in the classroom – and I know we are not all on the same page. I recently organized what I viewed as my first science advocacy event on campus, a postcard writing party for #OurEPA (see blog post). I was excited to do so, yet nervous at the same time. How would my students react to being asked to write a postcard to the EPA and their representative (they were not required, even though I set aside class time to do so)? Would other students outside of class be willing to write postcards? What would my faculty colleagues think of me, and would my administration approve? Turns out my small campus, a campus with no geology majors or four-year degree program, came together and authored ~100 postcards. My first advocacy success!

…. or was it? As I started reading through the module and reflecting upon projects I completed with students in the past, had I actually been engaging students in advocacy work all along? For example, several years ago, my students (and they designed this project themselves) wanted to raise awareness about water issues, specifically water access and security. So they generated their own podcast series, Twitter and tumblr accounts, and organized a two-week water awareness campaign that was not only heard/seen locally but had people as far away as Singapore reach out to them to comment on their work. Perhaps many of us have been including advocacy exercises and examples in our courses, but we haven’t thought about it or framed the issue in this way.

Sarah and Rob have pulled together some excellent definitions, descriptions, references, and models for instructors to consider for Earth science advocacy in and out of the classroom. The module contains the following sub-sections:

  • Designing Courses around Issues: Includes resources for designing courses around issues important to your community and links to an example course, course design template, and reflection assignment tips.
  • Political Activities for Your Course: Features starting-place activities that help students explore policy and environmental justice issues. These explore the complexity of communication, decision making, and groups impacted by decisions.
  • Advocacy Events: Includes examples of advocacy events and as well as a template for planning events as part of your course or across campus.
  • Developing Talking Points: Considers how expertise or consensus documents may be translated alongside locally-relevant concerns to meet with or write letters to representatives. Sample assignment is included.
  • Strategies for Reaching New Audiences: Provides tips for writing Op-Eds, blogs, and using social media to reach audiences.
  • Political Talk is Important to Democracy (Essay): Reflects on the large number of independent voters and talking with others about issues as necessary political engagement.

Please do take a moment to explore and reflect upon your own advocacy in the classroom and around campus.