The OU centre for STEM pedagogy
Ecoanxiety – the distress related to climate and ecological crises – is increasingly recognised in learners by educators (Hickman et al, 2021), in the media (e.g., BBC Ideas 2021, Rannard, 2022) as well as through programmes of advice and education (e.g., Wright, 2022). Whilst it can be seen as a rational reaction to climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution and other environmental issues, ecoanxiety is connected to negative emotions of anger, grief, guilt and hopelessness. But it can also be linked to adaptive or ‘practical’ responses. Environmental educators teaching such emotive content therefore need to be able to address eco-anxiety, providing safe spaces for support and coping strategies. This is especially important in an OU context where students are more isolated and may not have the immediate support of peers.
This project proposal came about because of reports of student ecoanxiety from an OU tutor; this led to discussions amongst the project team about how to support our students and how to explore links between ecoanxiety and our environment teaching. In a current scholarship project looking at awarding gaps in environment modules (Davies, Keys and McPherson), responses to a question on ecoanxiety showed that students are anxious about the environment and climate change (56% of respondents on selected environment modules). In free-text comments, students expressed feelings of fear, worry and overwhelm, but also empowerment and determination to help. Interestingly, there appeared to be differences in ecoanxiety levels between students on different modules and qualifications.
Environment teaching at the OU covers a wide spectrum of subjects. Environmental science teaching often focusses on the science of climate change and other environmental issues with less emphasis given to attitudes, feelings, and taking action, whilst social science-based and cross-faculty and interdisciplinary environment modules have perhaps been more mindful of potential negative impacts on students, aiming to provide balance with stories and examples of positive actions.
This project intends to investigate student experiences of ecoanxiety and coping strategies across a range of environment modules and qualifications (using an ecoanxiety scale, Hogg et al 2021), including feedback from tutors. The project will also develop and evaluate a range of resources to support students, and pointers for tutors supporting students. Finally, it will use the study outcomes to inform discussions around curriculum and pedagogy.
The support resources will include articles on ecoanxiety, pointers to mental health support and digital stories around ecoanxiety. A valuable way of addressing ecoanxiety is to create safe spaces and open conversations (Bauden & Jachens, 2021). This project will use digital storytelling, a powerful method for connecting people and helping them make sense of the world, as a way of opening up conversations. Volker Patent, a psychology lecturer who has written on climate grief (Patent, 2022) and who is currently on a digital storytelling fellowship, will help a range of selected individuals (advanced learners (MSc/PhD, academics and industry professionals) to develop digital stories around their own ecoanxieties.
A further important aspect of coping with ecoanxiety is taking action; in this project the feedback from students and staff will feed into discussions on how support resources, curriculum and pedagogy can be used to support and empower students' pro-environmental behaviour and actions.
Baudon P, Jachens L. ‘A Scoping Review of Interventions for the Treatment of Eco-Anxiety’. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Sep 13;18(18):9636. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18189636. PMID: 34574564; PMCID: PMC8464837.
BBC Ideas (2021) Are you suffering from eco-anxiety? https://www.bbc.co.uk/ideas/videos/are-you-suffering-from-eco-anxiety/p073zgqd
Davies, Keys and McPherson (current) Pathways and Intersections: Investigating awarding gaps on cross-faculty modules and degree programmes Pan-university, cross-faculty project
Hickman, C., Marks, E., Pihkala, P., Clayton, S., Lewandowski, R. E., Mayall, E. E., Wray, B., Mellor, C., &; van Susteren, L. (2021). Climate anxiety in children and young people and their beliefs about government responses to climate change: a global survey. The Lancet Planetary Health, 5(12), e863–e873. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2542-5196(21)00278-3
Hogg, T.L. et al. (2021) ‘The Hogg Eco-Anxiety Scale: Development and validation of a multidimensional scale’, Global environmental change, 71, p. 102391–. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2021.102391
Patent, V. (2022) ‘Climate grief: Mourning for a world that might have been’ HRZone https://www.hrzone.com/lead/change/climate-grief-mourning-for-a-world-that-might-have-been
Rannard, G. (2021) ‘Climate change: Don't let doom win, project tells worriers BBC’ https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-61218933
Wright, S. (2022) ‘5 Steps To Supporting Your Student’s Eco-anxiety — Plus 3 Things Not To Do’. Force of Nature https://www.forceofnature.xyz/the-bloom/support-students-eco-anxiety