Filmmaking program positively impacts student's perceptions of climate change and resiliency

Leckey, E. H., Littrell, M. K., Okochi, C. ., González-Bascó, I. ., Gold, A. ., & Rosales-Collins, S. . (2021). Exploring local environmental change through filmmaking: The Lentes en Cambio Climático program. The Journal of Environmental Education, 52, 207-222.

Climate change is a social and environmental issue impacting many communities around the world. Understanding ways to mitigate and adapt to these impacts of climate change are important for the continued strength of local communities. In particular, younger generations can be crucial in spreading the lessons learned from climate change education with their use of social media and their increased motivation to act. However, research has found the initial engagement of youth in climate change can be burdensome because the complex and numerous relationships between climate change causes and impacts can be difficult for students to understand. The researchers in this study sought to understand the impact of place-based education using filmmaking on students' awareness, attitudes, and engagement towards climate change.

The researchers in this study implemented a place-based, informal educational 7-day program called the Lentes en Cambio Climático (LECC) program in Puerto Rico. The participants included 25 local middle and high school students (ages 12-17 years), and the study took place during the summers of 2018 and 2019. Students were tasked with using filmmaking to explore the impacts of climate change within their communities, such as increased hurricanes, rising sea levels, and coastal erosion. The students were matched with professional scientists and filmmakers to help them throughout the filmmaking process, though the students were encouraged to work primarily by themselves to fully immerse themselves in the social and cultural settings of their subjects. The LECC consisted of three workshops: 1) a pre-production meeting during which students researched climate issues they cared most about and selected a topic; 2) the production phase in which they filmed the movie; and 3) the post-production during which participants edited and created their final project.

Participants were assessed through a pre- and post-survey, and they participated in focus groups after the program to understand their experience in the program. In addition, six students participated in individual interviews after LECC to gauge their experience. The pre- and post-survey measured students' overall awareness and attitudes towards climate change, and the impact of the program on students (including how they would apply what they learned, if their views on climate change differed, and if they valued the experience and would want to participate again in something similar). The focus groups hosted discussions about the usefulness of the workshops and questions were asked to reveal the impact of the program. The individual interviews with the 6 students were semi-structured and lasted for about 5-10 minutes. These interviews helped the researchers gain specific insight on the program such as the reasons why it may or may not have had an impact on the student or whether the program supported existing ideas on how to help their communities during and after climate-related events. The researchers then analyzed the differences between survey results and reviewed the focus group and interview transcripts.

The results showed that all participants, but one student, believed climate change was taking place (though they changed their response in the post-survey, showing they did believe in climate change) and all agreed that humans do have some responsibility for its impacts. Between the pre- and post-survey, the importance of climate change as an issue to students personally also increased. Students also showed an increase in their understanding of the scientific factors that cause climate change. The focus group emphasized the results of the pre- and post- surveys, specifically regarding how climate change affected the students personally and their interest to learn more about its impacts. Almost half of the focus group participants mentioned they learned more about local environmental issues through the program. Additionally, the interviews confirmed an increased understanding of local climate issues and an increased importance to the students after participating in the program. The researchers note the pre-production workshop in which students were taught about climate change science likely contributed to increased understanding, though was likely mostly from in-depth research they in developing their films. The majority of students from the focus group (73%) shared that the program increased their interest in science and technology in general, while 66% said the films inspired them to take more action toward climate change mitigation. The students presented their films at a community event at the end of the program and noted they ignited discussions about climate issues within their local communities in Puerto Rico. That experience encouraged some students to come back to participate in the program the following summer.

This study had limitations. There were fewer students in 2019 that participated in the program compared to the number of students that participated in 2018. Therefore, focus groups and interviews did not occur in the second summer and further qualitative insights are missing from those students. Second, the sample size was small and not representative of the entire youth community in Puerto Rico. Furthermore, the climate change-induced conditions in Puerto Rico differ from other regions in the world, therefore this local, place-based program may not similarly impact students in other regions of the world.

The researchers concluded the LECC program increased student understanding of climate change impacts and subsequently motivated them to act on the social, economic, and environmental issues resulting from these impacts. Based on the results from this study, the researchers recommended that filmmaking can be used to empower youth in local communities to act against climate change and teach others about the specific issues relevant to their area. Furthermore, these films can empower local government officials or other people of power to enact change.

The Bottom Line

<p>Motivating students to act on climate change is key to a more resilient future for communities. In this study, the researchers implemented a place-based, informal educational program called the Lentes en Cambio Climático (LECC) program in Puerto Rico with 25 local middle and high school students during the summers of 2018 and 2019. Specifically, the program called for participants to use filmmaking to engage with climate change impacts in their local community. The participants were evaluated using a pre- and post-survey, focus groups, and individual interviews. Overall, the results showed that the program positively increased the students' understanding of climate change and motivation to act. The researchers recommended filmmaking can be used to empower youth in local communities to act against climate change and teach others about issues that are personally relevant to their locality.</p>

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