Students Take Charge of Climate Communication

It is not easy to create responsible climate communication, and it is especially difficult to reach a young audience with it. What kind of visual design and rhetorical appeal should media have in order to present the gravity of climate change in the best possible way?


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Written by Lars Nyre, Andy Opel and Kristin Eidsheim.

We challenged our students at UiB to work on this task with the national broadcaster NRK, the local newspaper Bergensavisen (BA) and the startup media company Scary Weather. Young people often know best how to appeal to young audiences through the media. Students are typically concerned about the future and they are ready to take responsibility for improving not just the climate but also the public communication about the climate. Furthermore; young people are unafraid to criticize old media's often quite weak dissemination and are motivated to design new solutions that might work better. 

Read our critical evaluations here.

Test our design prototypes here.

Innovation pedagogy in Media City Bergen

The premise for our educational approach is called innovation pedagogy; a teaching method designed to give students major, real and difficult challenges during coursework. We provide students access to novel technologies that previously haven't been explored properly in our university setting. 

When students are put in charge of activities that neither teachers nor industry people are experts on, they are typically quite uncertain about what to do at the beginning, but as the exploration continues they become highly motivated, responsible and creative. They take ownership of their insights and ideas in ways that regular coursework seldom achieves. The students become the innovators, while teachers assist them. 

The course MIX202 "Design for Media Use" is tailor-made to explore innovation pedagogy. It is part of the bachelor program in Media and Interaction Design at the University of Bergen's campus in Media City Bergen. In the spring of 2020 we mobilized thirty students and six professional teachers in collaboration on two related modules: one associated with critical evaluation of climate communication and another associated with innovative design of climate communication. 

Climate focus

Fulbright guest professor from Florida State University, Andy Opel, is the brain behind the climate focus of the course. Opel came to Bergen to document anecdotal observations of a changing climate and collaborate with faculty and students at UiB. 

He and Professor Lars Nyre quickly realized they shared a passion for project-centered learning that connects students with professional organizations in the local community.  Nyre had been pushing students in this direction for the past few years and Opel’s climate interests added an important and timely focus to this year’s class. 

Opel challenged the students to think critically about how best to communicate climate issues, offering them a crash course in the key concepts of climate communication. Students responded enthusiastically, eager to apply their technical and theoretical skills to create products that may well have impacts far beyond the university classroom.    

Opel also invited the students to write blog posts throughout the semester, documenting the progression of their thinking as well as reflecting on the unique qualities of this class experience. These blog posts are available on Opel’s project website.

User Testing

Part 1: Critical evaluation of established media products

In the first half of the course, student groups evaluated climate journalism and climate dissemination in BA, NRK and the Natural History Museum (in collaboration with the company Scary Weather).

They found that BA had a rather unclear communication of local climate journalism, that NRKs climate journalism, despite its high quality production values, still had room for improvment, and that Scary Weather’s museum installations has relatively poor usability for the elderly, and that this prevents enthusiastic grandparents from learning more about the climate.

Audience response and media impact evaluation are critical components of developing effective media. These processes are time consuming and often neglected by busy professional organizations. By harnessing the power of university students’ research skills, this module provided detailed feedback to our partners, demonstrating a tangible value of university partnership and empowering the students to apply their theoretical and methodological skills to real world problems.  

Students used eye tracking, stress bracelets and more traditional interviewing methods to find out how people reacted to everything from newspaper articles to interactive installations at the museum. Each of the project groups interviewed eight to ten informants in different demographic groups, including high school students, home owners in Bergen, parents with young children and grandparents.

Part 2: Making new media designs

In the second half of the course the student groups were challenged to apply the insights acquired in the first module to develop prototypes of new media products that could communicate climate change information more effectively than the existing solutions. They also used insights from the climate communication scholarship provided by Andy Opel. 

Like most other activities, the project was interrupted by COVID-19. Our partner BA had to step aside for module two of the course. NRK and Scary Weather continued to work with the students as they went through a process where each group pitched ideas, developed storyboards and eventually delivered finished design prototypes to their professional partners.  

The prototypes range from websites to applications, and their common denominator is that they all aim to make users more knowledgeable about their own positive and negative contributions to climate change. All the prototypes were designed for mobile phone interfaces or laptops, and were interactive to different extents. The “Klimagotchi” application reacts to your physical activities as well as your purchasing habits, and turns the surveillance potential of smart watches and mobile phones into a benign tool for cataloguing climate footprints. 

The new designs were supposed to be useful and satisfactory to the collaborators NRK, Scary Weather, Fløibanen AS and The Natural History Museum and to reach their target users, while at the same time not compromising the ethos of responsible climate communication. 

The pedagogical team

The media company contacts for this course were facilitated by Roy Tore Lysen Jensen at NCE Media. He was very helpful in the early phase of the planning process. Our contacts in the companies were chief editor Sigvald Sveinbjørnsson in the newspaper BA, journalist and leader of the task force for climate journalism Astrid Rommetveit in NRK, and media entrepreneur Ronald Toppe in Scary Weather.

The course leader for MIX202 was Professor Lars Nyre. Subject teachers were Professor Andy Opel (Florida State University), Senior Engineer Zulfikar Fahmy, PhD Fellow Fredrik Håland Jensen, PhD Fellow Oda Elise Nordberg and Master's Student Jonathan Lindø Meling. The evaluations were translated into English by Kristin Eidsheim.