Environmental communication educators: let's help our students build their news feeds

Stephen Depoe's picture

Environmental Communication Educators: I teach an undergraduate course in Environmental Communication at the University of Cincinnati once or twice a year. The course usually enrolls 30-40 students, and is dual-listed as an elective in our Environmental Studies major.

I have a new goal for the course this year--help students to build their news feeds with sites and sources pertaining to climate change, other environmental concerns, and ways in which active citizens can address those concerns via communication, political mobilization, and more.

Each of us builds our own information environment, either consciously or consciously, by what we attend to, view, read, click, and buy. Social media platforms contain embedded algorithms that feed back to us what sponsors think we want to see. We create and reinforce our own internet filter bubbles every day.

So do our students.

We have an opportunity via classes like Environmental Communication to encourage students to be more consciously reflective and thoughtful about the news and information sites and sources they surround themselves with. In some ways, all of our media and communication courses at the college level should be doing this work. But in the case of environmental communication, we have a chance to introduce students to meaningful social media platforms and well-sourced and accessible sources of news and information about the key issues we all care about--climate change, air pollution, water quality, land use, endangered species, public participation, and more.

IECA members who teach courses in media and environmental communication can join hands and work together on this important project. Specifically, I am asking you to share in the comments section below this post names of reliable, well-sourced, and user-friendly (for college-age students) news and information sources and feeds (NGOs, journalistic sources, citizen scientists, etc.) that you have used or could recommend for use in class, both as sources of material for class lessons and as news feed sources that you would like to see your students carry with them after they leave the class.

I have started my own list, in the form of Twitter handles to start--

@Mason4C  George Mason Center for Climate Change Communication

@YaleE360   On-line magazine published by Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Issues

@EnviroAction NGO formed after Earth Day in 1970

@Grist  Grist magazine

@InsideClimate  Inside Climate News, Pulitzer Prize-winning site

@skepticalscience Site developed by John Cook as part of the Making Sense of Climate Change Denial project

@carbonbrief   UK-based site that fact-checks science and energy policy and produces some great infographics

@NYTclimate  NY Times reporting desk dedicated to climate change

@khayhoe  Personal site of Katharine Hayhoe, Texas Tech scientist and climate change communicator

@MichaelEMann Personal site of Michael Mann, the Penn State scientist who developed the "hockey stick" graph on climate change

@DrBobBullard Personal site of environmental justice activist and scholar Robert Bullard

My list is just the tip of a large iceberg. But I want to get my students to start thinking more deeply about where they are getting their news and information about anything, but especially about environmental topics. 

I gave the students a quiz yesterday and asked them to name 3 specific sources or news feeds where they get their information about news, politics, sports, popular culture, etc. Some students could not differentiate between media platforms and media sources. One student named "InfoWars," "4Chan," and "Fox." So, we have a ways to go here.

But this is a very worthwhile project that I am going to devote the rest of my teaching career to. I want to help my students to build a better news and information environment for themselves, particularly pertaining to issues that make envrionmental communication a crisis discipline as well as a discipline of care.

Are you interested in this project? I hope so. If you have news and information sources or creative media platforms to share, please do so here. Let's work together here, folks!

About the Author: 

Steve Depoe is Professor and Head of the Department of Communication at the University of Cincinnati. He is a founding member of IECA and served as chair from 2011-13.