Course: Environmental Communication - Research Into Practice
An online course offered through the International Environmental Communication Association
This course explores how the most relevant research and theory from communication, psychology, sociology, and political science can be used to improve the practice of environmental and sustainability communication. Participants get an overview of the field as we examine how language, images, narratives, values, frames and media come together in advocacy and social marketing campaigns, and other forms of public participation for environmental protection. We consider how communication is used to accomplish practical goals, as well as how it affects people's beliefs about nature and environmental affairs. To do this we use readings, examples, cases, recorded lectures, discussions and other activities. Participants have the opportunity to work on communication projects that are relevant to their specific interests.
Who is the course for?
Offered since 2014, this course will be relevant to the following participants:
- Environmental communication practitioners who want to brush up
- Environmental policy & science professionals who want to improve their communication
- Students (graduate or senior undergraduate) in communication, environmental studies and sciences, or other fields who don’t have access to such a course at their school
- Concerned citizens who want to become more involved in advocacy and public participation in environmental affairs
Course participants have included undergraduate and graduate students, concerned citizens, university professors, civil servants, artists, consultants, public relations specialists, researchers, foundation representatives, activists, photographers, journalists, creative writers and NGO staff. Among the latter have been participants from Greenpeace, WWF, Rainforest Action Network, Global Canopy, Cool Earth, 350.org, the United Nations and others, along with many national, regional and local NGOs. The map below shows where some of the recent participants have hailed from.
We pledge to make this an accessible and memorable learning experience.
What does the course cover?
The course serves two main functions:
- To introduce and scope out the main facets of the field of environmental communication.
- To direct participants towards good practices in environmental communication campaigns, etc.
It is important to understand that the course emphasizes learning from research and theory in order to better inform campaign interventions. We do not get into high level theoretical debates, but some of the readings are theoretical.
The course covers the following topics, subject to slight alterations:
- Understanding the field of environmental and sustainability communication
- Environmental discourses - the ways people talk about environmental affairs
- Constructing nature and environmental affairs
- Psychology and the environmental communication mix
- Language and metaphors
- Message framing
- Narratives - environmental stories
- Values in environmental communication messages
- Visualizing environmental affairs and sustainability
- Visualizing the climate crisis
- Regarding nature
- Media and the environment
- Advertising and popular culture
- Environmental news
- Advocacy campaigns
- Social marketing campaigns
- Social media
- Public participation in environmental debates
- Ethics, integrity, and the future
What are the course objectives?
Upon successful completion of this course, participants should be able to:
- Make better-informed and critically-aware judgments about choices of language, visuals and media used in their environmental and sustainability communication
- Understand and engage with the complexity and challenges of effective environmental and sustainability communication
- Explain and use major theoretical concepts in the field of environmental communication
What do participants need in order to take the course?
Participants need to be able to devote at least 10-15 hours a week to the course for each of the 10 weeks that the course is in session.
You will need a computer with a webcam and microphone, and a fast internet connection. You will need these so that you can watch streaming videos, listen to streaming audio, and record your own videos for the class. PLEASE NOTE: Apple's Safari browser does NOT support the WebM technology which is used for participant videos. We recommend using Firefox, Chrome/Chromium, or Edge.
The course will be taught in English and the readings and other materials will be in English. Also, written work must be in English, so you will need to be fluent or close to it in English.
What format does the course take?
The course will run for 10 weeks. Because participants come from all over the globe, course materials can be accessed at whatever time is convenient for each participant. Each week there will be 2 "classes," Mondays and Wednesdays (Vancouver time) which participants can "attend" on their own schedules that day. For each class, a reading or two will be posted the previous week. Readings should take about 1 hour, but some will take longer. Typically, an audio introduction and a video lecture will be posted on the day of the class. Additional materials may also be posted. Participants will discuss the day's topic in the course forums and may be asked to undertake additional challenges related to the topic. The expectation is that participants will spend approximately 2 hours per class (4 hours per week) watching the lectures and engaging with the discussions in the forums. Over 10 weeks, the total class time will be at least 40-50 hours, roughly the equivalent of a one-semester university course.
In addition, participants should plan to spend approximately 2-4 hours per week working on assignments/projects. There will be three short assignments in the first six weeks of the course, and one final project to complete by the end of the course. The final project may be customized to suit the professional interests of each participant.
How are participants evaluated in this course?
Participants can choose either a graded option, a pass/fail option or an audit option. Participants who choose the graded option will be assigned a letter grade. Their work will be evaluated by the instructor and feedback will be provided. Participants who choose the pass/fail option will receive feedback from the instructor and a pass/fail grade. Participants who choose an audit option will receive no feedback or grade and are not expected to complete the assignments.
Participation (30% of final grade) throughout the course is a major component of evaluation. There are three short assignments (10% each) focusing on environmental discourses, language and visualization due respectively at the end of the second, fourth and sixth week. Then there is a final project (40%) involving planning an environmental communication campaign due at the end of the course. There are no tests or exams.
What technology is used to run the course?
The course runs on Moodle, an online learning platform. No client software is required; you just login using a modern web browser such as Firefox or Chrome. Please note that Safari is not compatible with the video technology used in Moodle. We will also use email. Coffee helps too.
Who is teaching the course?
The course is taught by Dr. Mark S. Meisner. Dr. Meisner holds a Bachelor of Commerce with Honours from Queen’s University at Kingston and Master’s and Ph.D. degrees in Environmental Studies from York University in Toronto. He has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in environmental communication, environmental studies, and communication at York University, McMaster University, Royal Roads University, the State University of New York, and the University of Puerto Rico. He has developed graduate and undergraduate curricula in environmental studies and environmental communication and served as the lead of those programs. He has also worked as a management consultant, writing instructor, editor, administrator and IT consultant. Currently, he is the Executive Director of the International Environmental Communication Association (IECA). He has been teaching this course since 2014.
When is the course offered?
We offer the course twice a year, beginning in January and September. In the unlikely event that we don't get enough people registered for a given session, we may postpone the course until the next session. If that happens, registered participants will have the option of postponing their registration to the next session or canceling and having their fees fully refunded.
What do participants get at the end of the course?
All participants who successfully complete the course receive a Certificate of Completion and a letter certifying completion from the IECA. If you need something else, let us know.
Can participants get credit for the course?
Past participants have obtained course credit for the course from their institutions. Your school would have to make that decision though, probably by reviewing the course to see if it meets their standards. We intend the course to meet the standards of a university graduate course. The IECA is not a university and we do not have any reciprocal agreements with any other institutions regarding course registration. However, we will work with participants to provide whatever documentation their institutions require related to taking the course for credit.
Can you send me the syllabus?
There is no syllabus as such. This page contains most of the relevant information that you would find on a syllabus, except for the readings. Since we change the readings each session, we don't list them here. But the topics covered in the course are listed above, as are the course objectives, means of evaluation, etc.
What does the course cost?
Members of The IECA receive discounted rates for the course. Anyone can save 10% on course fees by registering early (see the Registration block above for the early bird deadline).
- IECA Lifetime, Supporting, Regular, Modest Means, Student and Organizational members: US$630 Early Bird / US$700 Regular
- IECA Lower Income Country members: US$495 Early Bird / US$550 Regular
- Non-members: US$675 Early Bird / US$750 Regular
At this time we cannot offer exemptions or scholarships. Sorry.
Once fees are paid, WE CANNOT OFFER REFUNDS unless the course is postponed.
When can I register and is there still space?
Registration typically opens in July for the September course session and in October for the January session. Please see the registration block at the top of this page for specific dates and availability. Would-be participants are encouraged to register at least 1 week before the course starts in order to take full advantage of the course site orientation period. Payment must be made in order to register; there is no pay later option. In other words, participants must have paid for the course before joining it. We also cannot reserve spaces in the course. Registration is first come, first served.
The enrollment for each session is limited, after which we will have a waiting list. If there are enough people on the waiting list, we will consider opening a second section. If you see the "Register" button in the registration block at the top of this page, there is still room in the course.
Please contact Dr. Mark Meisner with questions: mark at theieca dot org