The CAM Project

Tools for Bringing Student Media Production into Climate Change Education

Juliette N. Roon ey-Varga ( is director of the Climate Change Initiative at University of Massachusetts Lowell and an associate professor of environmental biology. Angelica Allende Brisk ( is an instructor at Cambridge Media Arts Studio, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Mitch Shuldman ( is a librarian at University of Massachusetts-Lowell, Lowell, Massachusetts; and Kenneth Rath ( is a project evaluator at SageFox Consulting Group, Amherst, Massachusetts.

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Climate change education offers many challenges and opportunities that may not be encountered in other geoscience subdisciplines. In the cognitive domain, challenges include the inherent complexity and dynamic nature of climate change, as well as the prevalence of misconceptions, or faulty mental models, about the climate system (Forest and Feder, 2011). Additional challenges include psychological, affective, and social responses to information about climate change that can impede both discussion and learning (e.g., CRED, 2009). For example, Leviston et al (2013) describe the effect of "pluralistic ignorance," in which people who believe that human-induced climate change is occurring are reluctant to share that view with others because they mistakenly think they are in the minority.

The Climate Education in an Age of Media (CAM) Project provides geoscience teachers with resources to bring student media projects into climate change education. We have found that these can be a powerful way to meet the challenges mentioned above while simultaneously fostering 21st century literacy skills, using active learning approaches, and empowering students to have a voice in societal discourse about a topic that will disproportionately impact younger generations (Rooney-Varga et al. 2014).

While still relatively uncommon in geoscience education, falling technological and cost barriers, the rapid growth of video as a communication medium, and an increasing emphasis on active, project-based learning all suggest that student video projects can be effective as pedagogical tools. Many of us rely on video sources for educational content as a means to "flip classrooms" or a way to enrich our own learning. Similarly, media literacy—the ability to learn from, critically evaluate, and use media to communicate with others—is considered an essential 21st century literacy (Mioduser et al. 2008). The ability to communicate through video is increasingly demanded of scientists (who often lack media literacy skills; Olson, 2009) and is likely to grow in importance as our students move into careers of their own. Lastly, a growing number of young people use video as an expressive form (Lenhart, 2012).

The CAM Project has brought together a team of scientists, science educators, media artists, and media instructors to create curriculum materials and resources that give geoscience educators the tools they need to bring student media production into their own climate change education work. The CAM approach has been successfully adopted in a wide range of instructional settings—from fourth grade science curriculum to high school science projects, middle and high school after-school programs, and undergraduate and graduate courses (Conway, 2013; Rooney-Varga et al. 2014). CAM Project resources include curriculum, materials, and student exemplars for animation projects, person-on-the-street and expert interviews, public service announcements, and video mash-ups, as well as examples of student-produced music videos, mock game shows, and film essays.

The Process of Media Production: Opportunities for Learning, Assessment

The media production process is typically viewed as having three phases: pre-production (including planning, research, and writing); production (where assets and resources are created and/ or gathered); and post-production (where everything is brought together, integrated, synthesized, assembled, and edited into a single coherent informative and aesthetic piece of communication). While we tend to focus on the media piece itself, the work needed to generate that piece provides many opportunities for learning and assessment. The end product is analogous to an iceberg, consisting of a small portion that is easily evident, while the vast majority of work and learning is "below the surface," during its creation.

For science education, the pre-production phase is especially important. Curriculum and assignments during this phase can easily be adjusted to meet specific educational needs and course goals. Students may do an original research project, collecting their own data. They may research the primary literature or other sources to see what they can find. Or they may be given explicit reading assignments or lectures that deliver science content for their project. For example, in the CAM Project resources for middle and high school grades, we have included short descriptions of feedback loops in the Earth-climate system. Assignments for more advanced undergraduate students require them to conduct their own review of primary literature sources. What is essential during the pre-production phase is that students gain sufficient mastery of the content to not only explain it to others, but to create a compelling piece that harnesses language (i.e., writing skills), as well as visual and audio representations of concepts in an integrated, fluent communication piece.

During the production phase, audiovisual assets are created or found. This phase typically involves group work, especially if filming is involved, with at least one team member manipulating the camera while others are being filmed or handling microphones and/ or lighting. It calls for extensive collaboration, discussion, problem-solving, and time management.

The post-production phase consists of editing audio and visual products into a coherent, integrated piece as well as disseminating that piece. The iterative process of editing provides an opportunity for learning through continued group discussions, as participants edit their narration and manipulate images, audio, and timing to deliver a message in a compelling manner. As they create their own pieces, students gain insight into the process by which the media they consume is produced and become more sophisticated consumers as a result.

A Sampling from the Cam Project Toolkit: Animation Projects

The CAM Project website provides information and resources for public service announcements, video mash-ups, person-on-the-street interviews, and visual storytelling and animations at and samples of projects at

Animation projects are particularly well-suited for communicating abstract concepts about complex, dynamic systems, which are clearly central to climate change. Unlike a writing assignment or a Power- Point presentation, animation is inherently dynamic, lending itself well to explaining how systems or their components change over time. In fact, in materials developed for the CAM Project, we have integrated systems thinking into animation curriculum materials and found that when we challenge students to use animation to explain how systems work they gain a stronger understanding of how system components are interconnected and change over time. Animation projects can be carried out using a range of tools,varying from hands-on, low-tech "paper-mation" or whiteboard animation to more sophisticated software such as Videoscribe or After Effects. While animation software packages continue to become more accessible in both usability and cost, our recommendation for K-12 settings is to start with a low-tech approach so that students focus more on content and less on learning new software. Animation can be easily combined or integrated with other media formats by adding a narration that explains the scientific content, as well as overlaying footage or visual assets to illustrate concepts.

Learning Outcomes and an Invitation

External evaluation of the CAM Project approach has indicated its potential to foster intrinsic motivation, engagement, critical thinking, social learning, an interest in climate change beyond the classroom, and a sense of empowerment and agency (Rooney-Varga et al. 2014). Findings from surveys, student reflections on their experiences, and focus groups have provided evidence for gains in communication skills, teamwork and interpersonal skills, conceptual and analytical abilities, students' understanding of climate change science concepts, and their commitment to addressing climate change. As for the undergraduate student media projects we studied, audiences who viewed student pieces online or at face-to-face "meet-the-filmmaker" screenings also showed gains in climate literacy and viewed students as trusted messengers about climate change science. We have found that screening events provide a forum for students to lead discussions about climate change science that engage their peers, families, and broader communities, offering opportunities for students to play the role of informal educators. In summary, we see strong potential for student media projects to engage students in learning about climate change science while simultaneously empowering them to have a voice in the societal discourse. We invite you to leverage CAM Project tools and bring student media projects into your own climate change education work.

Literature Cited

Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED). The Psychology of Climate Change Communication: A Guide for Scientists, Journalists, Educators, Political Aides, and the Interested Public. New York: Columbia University, 2009. Available at

Conway, M. Yes We CAM: Youth Media for Climate Awareness, 2013. Retrieved December 2014 from

Forest, S. and M. Feder. Climate Change Education Goals, Audiences, and Strategies: A Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: T. N. A. Press, 2011.

Lenhart, A. Teens and Online Video. Pew Research Center, Washington, DC: 2012. Retrieved April 2013 from Pew's Internet and American Life Project:

Leviston, Z., I. Walker, and S. Morwinski. "Your Opinion on Climate Change Might Not Be as Common as You Think." Nature Climate Change 3, no. 4 (2013): 334-337. doi:10.1038/nclimate1743.

Mioduser, D., R. Nachmias, and A. Forkosh-Baruch "New Literacies for the Knowledge Society." In Springer International Handbook of Information Technology in Primary and Secondary Education, J. Voogt & G. Knezek (eds.): 23-42. New York: Springer, 2008.

Olson, R. Don't Be Such a Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2009.

Rooney-Varga, J. N., A. A. Brisk, E. Adams, M. Shuldman, and K. Rath. "Student Media Production to Meet Challenges in Climate Change Science Education." Journal of Geoscience Education 62, no. 4 (2014): 598-608. doi: 10.5408/13-050.1.