A team of 16 Western collaborators have been recognized for innovation in teaching and learning by the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE). Their combined efforts created the Connecting for Climate Change Action course, which earned one of STLHE’s five D2L (Desire2Learn) Innovation in Teaching and Learning awards.
“All of this has come from a passion to see change,” said geography and environment chair and professor Katrina Moser, who led the charge to create the new course after a pivotal moment.
Moser had been teaching Western’s first dedicated climate change course for approximately five years when she noticed a growing despair among her students. Although they were enjoying the course and learning the concepts, the consequences of climate change were leaving some overwhelmed.
“One student told me she was depressed,” Moser said.
As a paleoclimatologist “in a slow, uphill battle” to drive change after nearly 30 years in the field, Moser realized she “was probably a little depressed too.”
The experience motivated her to reimagine the course, with a goal of helping students apply what they were learning and take action to help mitigate climate change.
After consulting with experts from across campus, including philosophers and learning and teaching specialists, Moser assembled a core course creation team, including herself, Beth Hundey, curriculum specialist and professor, geography and environment; Sara Mai Chitty, curriculum and pedagogy advisor, Office of Indigenous Initiatives; Serena Mendizábal, subject matter specialist, geography and environment and Hawlii Pichette, a Mushkego Cree (Treaty 9) artist/illustrator, who currently resides in London, Ont.
The team grew to include students and contributors from the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) and Western Technology Services/ITRC.
“Aamir Aman from the CTL was instrumental in creating a beautiful online space for the course, and staff and students at the ITRC created amazing videos to illustrate the ideas,” Moser said. “It is so clear to us that this course wouldn’t be as successful without the gifts of each team member – which is also a key lesson in the course. Each of us brings our unique and much-needed gifts to the climate crisis.”
Conveying concepts through Indigenous art and knowledge
The new course is driven by a two-eyed seeing approach, braiding together Indigenous knowledge and Eurowestern science. It is a blended, online offering, using videos, story maps, experiential learning and reflective exercises to help students to find solutions to one of the greatest challenges of our time.
Unique to the course is the way Pichette’s art is incorporated to convey concepts and to inspire collaboration.
“Hawlii’s work brings the course to life,” Moser said. “She has a real gift. For example, when I wanted to talk about how carbon moves from the biosphere to the atmosphere, she ‘got it,’ and created this beautiful artwork to illustrate the concept of photosynthesis.”
The course was first offered last fall, earning the 2023 Vice-Provost (Academic Programs) Award For Excellence In Collaborative Teaching and positive praise from students.
“The practice of being pro-active, self-reflective, and hopeful about humans and a more sustainable future stood out to me. I learned individual actions are a good place to start your journey to improving climate change and that connection to place and people is crucial to holistic approaches.” – Student reflection, Connecting for Climate Change Action
Coming soon: Free access through Coursera
Moser and her team have been adapting the Connecting for Climate Change Action course for wider consumption through Coursera, a global platform for online learning that offers access to online courses and degrees from leading universities.
The free 12-week, seven-module course will launch late September. Registration details will be announced soon.
Moser is excited about the opportunity to reach a global audience.
“I’m hoping, through education, we can get more people onboard to push for the changes we need to see happen,” she said. “People often say, ‘individuals can’t change the world,’ but my response is that with momentum, and more people onboard, you can make change. To draw on the inspiring words of Waasekom Niin, we have agency if ‘we paddle together.’”