NSIDC Cryosphere Seminar
Cycling to Climate Learning: How Educational Adventures Build Understanding and Engagement with Dave Morris and Nadia White of the Wild Rockies Field Institute
Journalists and scientists have been working – sometimes in unison, sometimes at cross purposes -- to communicate the understanding and implications of anthropogenic climate change since the end of the 1950s. It has proven challenging work as the human issue-attention cycle frustrates the ability of audiences to focus on the implications of change that is slow, far away or in the future.
Teaching the causes, impacts and implications of climate change from the seat of a bicycle is our attempt to interrupt the issue-attention cycle before our audience reaches the off-ramp of their awareness. Offered through the Wild Rockies Field Institute and the University of Montana, Cycle the Rockies is an experiential learning opportunity that gives college students a chance to slow down and take a personal look at factors that inform climate change policy debates.
The 27-day, 600-plus mile bicycle tour across western Montana considers energy production and transmission, as well as climate change impacts and implications in the state. The students tour a coal mine, a wind farm, a hydro power dam. They visit ranches and national parks and a proposed copper mine at the headwaters of a cherished wilderness river. They bike along oil refinery pipelines and high voltage transmissions lines and meet with energy developers and environmental advocates. They ride into the wind and under a prairie sun. On any given year, they see and feel evidence of a changing climate, including, in the last two years: extreme heat, drought and its impacts on ranchers and rural communities, floods, and the impacts extreme weather events have on towns supported by outdoor recreation and tourism.
Experiential teaching challenges students to synthesize information they take in from reading and lectures with knowledge they derive from conversations and observations along the way. Structured blog posts, call-to-action letters and substantial social media posts require them to refine the lessons learned into engaging anecdotes supported by science and their own experience.
Morris, an ecologist and outdoor educator, has taught Cycle the Rockies many times since he helped develop the course more than a decade ago. He and White, a journalist and journalism professor, have taught the course together the past two years. This talk will consider their observations about the efficacy of field teaching for communicating climate science and policy to college students.
Dave Morris has been instructing and administering field-based university courses since 2001. His teaching has centered on the U.S. Northern Rockies with the Wild Rockies Field Institute and the University of Montana. He has also led educational adventures in Canada, Latin America, the Himalayas, New Zealand and Africa. Climate and energy issues have become central to his teaching on all courses, and Dave is always seeking new ways to engage students through experiential learning.
Nadia White is an associate professor of Journalism at the University of Montana and director of the master’s program in Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism there. Montana Journalism teaches using a “learn by doing” model that lends itself nicely to teaching and learning in the field. She has co-led courses at the Wild Rockies Field Institute with Dave Morris and led experiential courses in terrain as rugged as the federal criminal court system and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and surrounding countryside.