Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Climate Solutions Lab
Coal train climate change

How to teach climate change: sourcing and sharing syllabi

February 17, 2021

The Watson-based Climate Solutions Lab has created a syllabus bank to encourage more social-science instructors to teach university-level courses on climate change. One goal, according to political scientist and the Lab’s director, Jeff Colgan, is to help close the gap between the huge demand for and scarcity of such courses. Another goal is to help improve existing courses.

The syllabus bank already comprises 35 syllabi, donated by experts from universities in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. More are expected. The experts represent a range of disciplines, including political science, economics, sociology, environmental sciences, and public policy.

"What’s wonderful is that different instructors have different tools and approaches — like film documentaries or in-class simulations — that teach climate change in lots of different ways and from different perspectives," Colgan says.

The syllabi are available on the website and are free to anyone in the world.

According to Colgan, the idea for the syllabus bank came from a conversation he had with Michael Ross, a professor of political science at UCLA. 

“Political science as a discipline has been slow to respond to the reality of climate change,” Colgan says. “The syllabus bank is about making it easy for people to take a step off the path they were trained on. A labor economist who wants to teach climate politics, for example, might not know what’s out there, or what the best work is. The syllabus bank offers a sort of shortcut.”

The Climate Solutions Lab is currently accepting new syllabi from higher education institutions anywhere in the world. 

- Sarah C. Baldwin