Students, classes team up for climate change action

Paul Mayne // Western News

Beth Hundey, an eLearning and Curriculum Specialist with the Centre for Teaching and Learning, and Political Science professor Radoslav Dimitrov combined their classes as ‘diplomats’ and ‘scientists’ to confront the challenges of global climate change.

Diplomats and scientists representing 20 countries gathered at Western earlier this week to confront the challenges of climate change. And while the ‘diplomats’ were third-year Political Science students and the ‘scientists’ third-year Geography students, the importance of mission was not lost on the participants.

“We are constructing an international community that tackles the problem of climate change and designs an effective solution to the problem,” said Political Science professor Radoslav Dimitrov, whose Global Climate Politics class joined forces with Beth Hundey’s Environmental Change Geography class for their first collaboration. “The scientists inform the diplomats, as policy makers, and offer them the best scientific information on global warming.

“Based on that, every delegation will formulate its national interest and negotiating position on the matter – all with complete freedom without any interference from us. It’s a great opportunity for the scientists to learn as much as possible about how policy-makers do their work and what considerations go into the process, and for diplomats to take seriously the input scientists bring to table.”

Hundey, an eLearning and Curriculum Specialist with the Centre for Teaching and Learning, approached her class with the idea of a communications project that brings together people who care about the same issue but view it through a different lens.

“We don’t give students as much practice as we could in doing something like this,” Hundey said. “Climate change is obviously a giant challenge for all-around mitigation and adaptation. We know that to move towards a solution people need to be having dialogue across disciplinary lines. There is no way forward without it.”

Dimitrov said once everyone has had the opportunity to interact and share their thoughts, his students will use this new information and, following United Nations protocol, begin to negotiate with the other represented countries.

“Every country’s goal is to seek a collective outcome that best reflects their national preferences and interests,” he said. Letting the students take control of the process leads to a more effective experiential-learning experience, he added.

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For both groups, the entire exercise ends with a “reality check,” where the students will hear the real story of the negotiations on the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

“After being involved in role-playing, they are receptive to wanting to learn what actually happened in the real world,” he said. “This is what completes the cycle of experiential learning. They’re going to be hooked on this, wanting to do more.”

While this was a first attempt at combining classes in this manner, Hundey advocates for expanding the idea to others classes – even other departments and faculties.

“There is a lot of interesting work and teaching happening on our campus around climate change. Could you get Engineering or Arts and Humanities’ students involved? Absolutely,” she said.

“What has been enjoyable for me has been seeing how into this project the students are. When you find something that sparks their interest you can see a big difference when they’re asking questing or seeking out information. Even in the little side conversations in class, you can tell they have whatever country they represent in the back of their mind.”