COS 63-2
Local vs. global: Women learn more from local examples of the biological impacts of climate change

Wednesday, August 13, 2014: 8:20 AM
Regency Blrm E, Hyatt Regency Hotel
Elinore J. Theobald, Biology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Alison J. Crowe, Biology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Janneke HilleRisLambers, Biology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Scott Freeman, Biology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA

What is the best way to teach about the biological impacts of climate change? Research on climate change education has lagged behind the science of climate change and documentation of public attitudes and beliefs. In response, we designed a large, randomized trial in an introductory, undergraduate biology course. We asked: will student learning and attitudes be affected more from working through local or global examples of biological impacts of climate change? To answer this question, we implemented an in-class, evidence-based learning module in a large introductory biology classroom (n=484). The module required students to examine data from the peer-reviewed literature showing biological impacts of climate change. One version of the module used only broad-scale global examples of impacts while the other version used only local, place-based examples of impacts. We assessed students’ understanding and attitude with an identical test before and after implementing the module. We used these pre-post data to test the hypotheses that 1) students who studied more dramatic global examples would out-perform students who studied more subtle local examples and 2) learning about climate change impacts would inspire changes in personal attitudes and beliefs.


Our results show that a one-day module, when implemented in introductory biology can inspire change in students’ knowledge and attitudes. Furthermore, we found a strong gender effect: females learned more if they studied local examples, compared with both their male peers and their female peers who studied global examples. Females were also more likely to declare that they are willing to change their behavior in response to climate change than males, regardless of example. Finally, we found limited support for the “knowledge means concern” hypothesis: controlling for pre-score, students with higher GPAs more strongly favored government involvement in climate change mitigation. Our results support the use of local examples when teaching about climate change. While more research is needed to determine 1) whether the patterns we found hold in other student populations and other aspects of climate change science, and 2) how knowledge and attitudes translate to behavioral changes, our results are consistent with previous research showing differential environmental concern between men and women. Thus an interesting question arises: do we look to women to serve as local knowledge and change leaders as we contend with local impacts of global climate change?