Fostering Climate Change Education in the Central Great Plains: A Public Engagement Approach

By Lisa M. PytlikZillig, Tim Steffensmeier, Amber Campbell Hibbs, Benjamin L. Champion, Eric Hunt, John Harrington, Jr., Jacqueline D. Spears, Natalie Umphlett, Tarik Abdel-Monem, Roger Bruning and Daniel W Kahl.

Published by The International Journal of Sustainability Education

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Despite its increasing importance for sustainability, building widespread competency in the basic principles of climate literacy among the United States general public is a great challenge. This article describes the methods and results of a public engagement approach to planning climate change education in the Central Great Plains of the United States. Our approach incorporated contextual and lay expertise approaches to public engagement with a focus on supporting the self-determination of the specific stakeholder groups–rural producers, educators, and community members. An integration of results from the focus groups reveal that our approach was received positively and elicited a number of important themes describing stakeholders’ concerns, interests, and needs pertaining to climate change education. Focus group participants were concerned about climate change, cautious regarding conflicting sources of information, and interested in learning more about climate science and climate change impacts. Across all stakeholder groups, participants consistently expressed a desire for trustworthy, personally- and locally-relevant, easy-to-access information that they could evaluate and use in applications as they saw fit. Although these findings do not yet provide a recipe for concrete educational programming, when viewed through the lenses of social, cognitive and educational theories, they suggest a number of important directions for future research and program implementation that are needed in order to advance the understanding of effective climate change education.

Keywords: Climate Change Education, Public Engagement, Community-based Research, Rural Stakeholders, Trust

International Journal of Sustainability Education, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp.161-177. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 482.500KB).

Lisa M. PytlikZillig

Research Assistant Professor, Public Policy Center, Center for Instructional Innovation, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, USA

Lisa PytlikZillig is a Research Assistant Professor at the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center. Her research focuses on understanding and improving public engagement with governmental policy. As part of that work, she has used experimental designs to examine trust in institutions, methods for effectively communicating complex information (including science) to the public, and the relationships between “participant engagement” and different features of public engagement.

Tim Steffensmeier

Associate Professor and Head of the Division of Communication Studies, Kansas State University, Manhattan, USA

Dr. Timothy Steffensmeier is an Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Communication Studies at Kansas State University. In addition he serves as a research associate with the Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy. He has a Ph.D. in Communication Studies. His research interests include rhetorical invention, deliberative democracy and argumentation as they contribute to sustainable community development.

Amber Campbell Hibbs

Kansas State University, Manhattan, USA

Amber Campbell Hibbs is the Project Coordinator for the Central Great Plains Climate Education Partnership (CGP-CEP) and the Kansas NSF EPSCoR Climate Change Mitigation Project as well as an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Kansas State University. Her research examines the influence of human interaction with the environment through food production and the impacts of those interactions on health and wellbeing. She was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and received a Ph.D. in Biocultural Anthropology from Emory University in 2010. She has conducted research on the influence of irrigation use patterns on disease transmission dynamics in archaeological populations and is currently developing climate education programs for rural populations including agricultural producers in Kansas and Nebraska as part of the Central Great Plains Climate Education Partnership.

Benjamin L. Champion

Kansas State University, Manhattan, USA

Ben Champion is director of sustainability for Kansas State University, and also holds the title of assistant professor of geography. In this role, he leads university-wide initiatives to address sustainability through campus operations and administration, student life, curriculum development, research collaborations, and outreach. His past research has focused on North American local food movements and his current research interests include the political economies of food and energy systems, community planning, community climate adaptation strategies, and communication and education challenges of climate change.

Eric Hunt

University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, USA

Eric Hunt is a Ph.D. candidate in Natural Resources Sciences with a specialization in Bio-atmospheric interactions at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His research focuses on the seasonal relationship of soil water under rainfed and irrigated agroecosystems, the relationship of soil water and evapotranspiration, and the relationship of soil water with other biophysical parameters. Eric has a strong interest in doing Extension related work with agricultural producers on issues such as climate change.

John Harrington, Jr.

Kansas State University, Manhattan, USA

John Harrington, Jr. is a Professor and former Department Head in the Department of Geography at Kansas State University. His research and teaching interests include the human dimensions of global change, remote sensing of land cover change, climate science, GIScience applications in local resource management, and geographic education. Dr. Harrington, Jr. has considerable experience working on interdisciplinary teams to address research questions related to challenges associated with coupling natural and human systems.

Jacqueline D. Spears

Kansas State University, Manhattan, USA

Jacqueline Spears is a Professor of Curriculum and Development. She current directs the Center for Science Education and serves as the Interim Associate Dean for Academic Programs and Research at the Olathe Innovation Campus. She completed both B.S. and M.S. degrees in Physics prior to completing doctoral work in Curriculum and Instruction. Her areas of expertise include educational programs serving rural populations, gender issues in education, and strategies for linking Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education in the university with K-12 classrooms.

Natalie Umphlett

University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, USA

Natalie Umphlett is the regional climatologist at the High Plains Regional Climate Center, which is located within the School of Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In addition, she serves as an assistant for the adult education program called Climate Masters of Nebraska. She received a M.S. in Geosciences, with an emphasis in Meteorology-Climatology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2008. Her research and service interests are focused on high plains climatology and climate/climate change education with an emphasis on rural and native communities. She has worked for the Center since 2008.

Tarik Abdel-Monem

Research Specialist, Public Policy Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, USA

Tarik Abdel-Monem is a Research Specialist at the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center. He has helped coordinate or evaluate a variety of public engagement programs and activities in Nebraska, and nationally. He received a Juris Doctorate and Master’s in Public Health from the University of Iowa.

Roger Bruning

Professor, Center for Instructional Innovation, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, USA

Roger Bruning, Ph.D, is Velma Warren Hodder Professor of Educational Psychology and Co-Director of the Center for Instructional Innovation at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln (UNL), where he teaches courses in applied cognitive psychology, cognition and technology, and motivation. He has served as a principal investigator and consultant for numerous education- and science-related projects and as evaluator for major projects of the National Science Foundation, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Agency for International Development, and Environmental Protection Agency. He is the primary developer of two online learning tools: ThinkAboutIt, which uses participant judgments and structured interactions to develop critical thinking, and InfoGather, which helps users assemble online information in ways promoting deep learning. Bruning’s research has tested features of online applications in context ranging from video case utilization in medical and teacher education to farmers’ use of satellite data in making water-use decisions. He is serving or has served as an editorial board member for the Journal of Educational Psychology, Contemporary Educational Psychology, Scientific Studies in Reading, and Educational Psychology Review. A member of AAAS and Sigma Xi, he is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and the American Educational Research Association.

Daniel W Kahl

Kansas State University, Manhattan, USA

Daniel Kahl serves as the Extension Liaison with the KSU Center for Engagement and Community Development. As Liaison, he connects research, education, and outreach projects of the university with the work of Extension professionals across the state. In addition, the work connects relevant community development concerns with university resources. Through his work as the Director of the Kansas PRIDE Program, he assists community-based volunteer groups to mobilize for community betterment. Dan also assists with the design and offering of Extension Professional Development opportunities, including work through the Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy on Public Issues Forums Facilitation; the Kansas Environmental Leadership Program; Community Coaching, and; Community Development Academies. Dan has a Master’s Degree in Leadership Studies, and a Ph.D. Adult Education.