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Climate Change

Climate Solutions Lab’s syllabus bank makes valuable and diverse courses on climate change available to professors worldwide, at no charge

September 27, 2021

At many universities around the world, the strong student demand for climate change courses far outstripped the number of such courses being taught. So, when Professor Jeff Colgan, Director of the Climate Solutions Lab at the Watson Institute heard from colleagues about the challenges instructors faced creating brand-new syllabi, he seized on an idea: Why not create a “syllabus bank” of climate change courses, and make them available to professors at colleges and universities around the world, for free?

The Watson Institute talked with Colgan about the Climate Syllabus Bank and why its syllabi are meaningful for students today and in the future.


WI: How did you solicit so many valuable syllabi, and what’s the response been from the academic community? 

Colgan: It’s been less than a year since we launched the Climate Solution Lab (CSL) Syllabus Bank and, in that time, there have been more than 10,000 visits to the website and over 2,000 syllabus downloads. During the inaugural year, we’ve reached out to colleagues working in the climate space at Brown and around the country and promoted on social media, but we’re only getting started! 

With close to 60 syllabi posted so far, we’ve seen great contributions from experts here at Brown University, but the list also includes, for example, Diane-Laure Arjalies, my colleague in Canada, whose course recently won the top Financial Times prize for excellence in sustainable finance education.

I especially appreciate the collaboration of my Brown colleagues across disciplines, from Timmons Roberts, who directs the Climate Social Science Network; Timothy Herbert in environmental studies; Daniel Hirschman in sociology; Derek Stein in physics; and Matthew Turner in economics. 

It makes my day when I see professors who I haven’t met tweet positive messages about the syllabus bank such as this one: ‘I just used this great resource.’ It’s a huge credit to UCLA Professor Michael Ross and others, whose ideas helped inspire the Syllabus Bank, and to the Watson Institute staff who helped lead the web design. I am grateful, too, to Arianne Motte ’21.5, Political Science, who was instrumental in uploading many of the syllabi.

WI: Why is the CSL Syllabus Bank initiative so meaningful to you and what do you hope it will accomplish?

Colgan: I believe that climate change is the most important global challenge of our age. Students are demanding courses on these subjects and we are under-supplying such courses. The CSL Syllabus Bank is one way to help solve that problem and make it easier and more comfortable for instructors, who may be self-taught on climate change issues, to teach such a course.

I hope that it will lead to not only new courses on climate politics from faculty around the United States and across the globe – we have contributions from Australia, Canada, and England – but also to improved courses from professors who are already teaching climate change issues.

I also hope that the Syllabus Bank can help instructors reach other pedagogical goals, like increasing the diversity of the voices that their students hear and read. Climate change will disproportionately affect Black, indigenous, and other people of color. Getting diverse perspectives on the challenges of environmental justice is vital for our students.

WI: How does the CSL Syllabus Bank reinforce the Watson Institute’s interdisciplinary focus?

Colgan: The CSL Syllabus Bank is open to all scientists, whether they are teaching climate change from social science, life science, or physical science perspective. No academic discipline has a monopoly on the knowledge of climate change, so the Syllabus Bank brings all these disciplines together under one resource. Courses include, for example, Climate Change Law & Policy; Environmental and Climate Litigation: China, U.S., the World; Power, Justice, and Climate Change; and Climate Geoengineering. The Watson excels at those kinds of collaborations. 

– Nancy Kirsch