Research Summary

Potential of ‘future workshop’ method for educating adolescents about climate change mitigation and adaptation: a case from Freistadt, Upper Austria

Future workshops can complement climate change education

Applied Environmental Education & Communication
2021

Climate change education (CCE) aims to teach students about climate change impacts and the strategies to effectively respond to these impacts. Though future workshops (FW) have been implemented in other subjects for a few decades, FWs have not been researched as an educational intervention in CCE. FWs, which support students to identify and solve real-world issues, are learner-centered, and help students collaborate through distinct phases. In this study, the researchers developed an FW specific to the Muehlviertel region of Upper Austria, which has experienced intense climate change impacts like flooding and drought. The FW aimed to expose the students to new climate adaptation and mitigation solutions, increase awareness of climate-resilient actions that can be taken as individuals and within a region, and test the effectiveness of an FW in CCE.

This study took place over one week in February 2019 at an upper-secondary school in Freistadt, a city in the Muehlviertel region of Upper Austria. The participants included 50 students who were between 17- and 18-years-old, and they were divided into 13 groups for the FW. The FW was delivered to the student groups by the researchers in five phases. The first phase was the preparation stage in which the researchers created CCE content specific to the region and developed guidelines for the student working groups. The second phase, the critique stage, required each group to research climate change threats in their area based on the Austrian Assessment Report Climate Change 2014. In the fantasy stage, phase three, the groups developed a shared vision for a climate-resilient region. In phase four, the implementation stage, the researchers asked the groups to find reasonable solutions to the climate issues they identified and describe actions they could take to reduce contributions to climate change as individuals and as a community. The final phase was the follow-up stage during which each student group presented their work from the FW to their peers. Each phase lasted about 200 minutes, except for phase one which was 50 minutes.

The researchers measured the impact of the FW through pre- and post-intervention questionnaires and collected responses from 41 students for both tests. Though 50 students participated in the FW groups, some students were absent on either the pre- or post-test administration day. The questionnaires gauged their awareness of climate mitigation and adaptation strategies through a scale of one (not at all important) to six (very important). The questionnaires also measured student knowledge on actions people can take to implement those strategies through two open-ended questions. The researchers analyzed the data quantitatively by conducting a statistical analysis as well as qualitatively by reviewing the written answers to the open-ended questions.

The results showed a significant increase in the participants’ awareness and knowledge of both climate mitigation solutions and adaptation strategies in the local area. Further, all the student groups named more climate impacts, mitigation ideas, and adaptation opportunities in the open-ended answers in the questionnaire after the FW as compared to the pre-intervention questionnaire. For example, the participants listed four additional adaptation strategies in the post-intervention questionnaire as compared to the original six in the pre-intervention questionnaire. They were more efficient irrigation, urban gardens, sustainable forestry, and CCE.

There were limitations in this study, and the results are not generalizable. The researchers acknowledged that the sample did not represent all teenagers in Austria. Also, the FW for this study was specific to the Muehlviertel region in Austria and may not apply to other circumstances around the world.

The researchers recommended FWs be used in CCE based on the results from the study. FWs can help students develop collaboration skills while exploring climate change solutions for individual behavior change and for collective action within a region. The researchers also suggested that teachers can frame CCE as a broader, cultural issue instead of a challenge specific to science. Further, tying climate impacts to the specific region in which the students learn elicits place attachment and effectively influences students' ability to grapple with mitigation and adaptation strategies.

The Bottom Line

Climate change education (CCE) teaches students about climate change impacts and the mitigation and adaptation strategies people can implement to respond to these impacts effectively. Future workshops (FW) are learner-centered experiences during which students collaborate to solve complex problems. In this study, the researchers developed an FW specific to the Muehlviertel region of Upper Austria to expose the students to new climate adaptation and mitigation solutions and increase awareness of actions taken at the individual and regional levels and test the effectiveness of an FW in CCE. The results showed that the FW was effective in increasing participant awareness of climate mitigation and adaptation strategies as well as the steps people can take to implement them. The researchers recommended FWs be used in CCE, and teachers can frame CCE as a broader, cultural issue.