Online Course: Environmental Communication: Research Into Practice

Since 2014, I have been offering an online course twice a year that is meant to help interested participants become familiar with the specific challenges of the communication landscape for environmental affairs. I formerly offered the course through the International Environmental Communication Association (IECA). I am now offering it independently, and it is the same course.

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.

Why this course is unique

This isn’t just another course on effective communication. It’s not about how to write compelling copy or design a stunning advocacy ad. It’s deeper than that. This course will help you to understand the unique and sometimes near-impossible challenges of communicating well around environmental affairs and sustainability.

I’ll show you why much environmental communication today is not as effective as it could be, and is all too often counter-productive. And I’ll give you the information and critical perspective you need to make better communication choices in the environmental public sphere.

Who is the course for?

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.

Participants in past sessions of the course come from around the world.

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:

  1.     Understanding the field of environmental and sustainability communication
  2.     Environmental discourses – the ways people talk about environmental affairs
  3.     Constructing nature and environmental affairs
  4.     Psychology and the environmental communication mix
  5.     Language and metaphors
  6.     Message framing
  7.     Narratives – environmental stories
  8.     Values in environmental communication messages
  9.     Visualizing environmental affairs and sustainability
  10.     Visualizing the climate crisis
  11.     Regarding nature
  12.     Media and the environment
  13.     Advertising and popular culture
  14.     Environmental news
  15.     Advocacy campaigns
  16.     Social marketing campaigns
  17.     Social media
  18.     Public participation in environmental debates
  19.     Persuasion
  20.     Ethics, integrity, and the future

What are the course objectives?

Upon successful completion of this course, participants should be able to:

  1. Make better-informed and critically-aware judgments about choices of language, visuals and media used in their environmental and sustainability communication
  2. Understand and engage with the complexity and challenges of effective environmental and sustainability communication
  3. 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. I 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 around 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 activities 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 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. From 2011 to 2022 he has been the Executive Director of the International Environmental Communication Association (IECA). He has been teaching this course since 2014.

When is the course offered?

The course is offered twice a year, beginning in January and September. In the unlikely event that fewer than eight people register for a given session, the course may get postponed 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.

I can also offer the course to groups at other times. If you would like to arrange a special session of the course for your organization, please contact me.

What do participants get at the end of the course?

All participants who successfully complete the course receive a letter certifying completion. If you need something else, let me 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. My intent is for the course to meet the standards of a university graduate course. I 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 I change the readings each session, I 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?

US$675 Early Bird / US$750 Regular

In certain cases, I can offer a lower fee to participants from low income countries who do not have organizational support.

Once fees are paid, I CANNOT OFFER REFUNDS unless the course is postponed.

When can I register and is there still space?

I begin taking registrations in July for the September course session and in November for the January session. Please see the registration section below 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. I also cannot reserve spaces in the course. Registration is first come, first served.

The enrollment for each session is limited, after which I will have a waiting list. If there are enough people on the waiting list, I will consider opening a second section.

Questions?

Please write to me at ecrip231@talk.eco if you have any questions.


Registration

The next 10-week session of Environmental Communication: Research Into Practice will run from

January 9 to March 24, 2023

The early-bird discount will be in effect until December 12, 2022.

Please write to me at ecrip231@talk.eco to let me know you want to register. Once I have enough people signed up, I will send out invoices. You will then be able to pay with a credit card through Stripe.

Space is limited to 20 participants.


What Participants Say

“As a practitioner in environmental communication, I’ve often felt that the well-used metaphors common among environmental advocates are lacking, but until I took the Environmental Communication course, I hadn’t the tools to understand why. Dr. Meisner introduced class participants to the academic research and methodologies that can help practitioners make inroads into the daunting task of more effectively connecting with our diverse audiences. By dissecting the frames and metaphors universally used for environmental causes, course participants glimpsed a new and exciting vision for the future of environmental communication. The course inspired me to begin the conversation with my work colleagues about how we might lead the way to a more effective approach to environmental advocacy. Thank you Dr. Meisner, for offering this much-needed and very useful overview of the pitfalls of common practices in environmental communication and the need for environmental advocates to find a new discourse that connects people to the natural world.”
– Cathy, USA 


“I have been working in the environmental field for more than 35 years and for the last 5 years on climate change communication. As a practitioner, I took the course on Environmental Communication to make sure that I did not miss important elements of environmental communication and to ensure that the process is carried out efficiently. I value the course for its systematic way of explaining the materials from basic theories to examples of their application. This helped me make sense of how to properly do public outreach on a complicated matter such as climate change. The course also provided reference material that I can go back to should I need it.”
– Amanda, Indonesia


“Environmental Communication: Research Into Practice is an important addition to my understanding of the issues specific to environmental communications. In a field that generates a lot of opinions, this course has helped me understand how environmental issues are framed and communicated. It helped me to step away from my own bias by showing me what the reader brings to the communication exchange and how important that is to the final outcome and understanding of the issue. Finally I would say that by blending topics, speakers and dynamic exchanges between and among students and experts (and some of the students were experts!) the course provided a very rich online experience that was engaging and enjoyable. That is pretty hard to do in an online course offered in the summer!!”
– Mary, USA


“I came to the Research into Practice class looking for a way to complement my university literary eco-criticism studies with more practical research. What I found in the class was exceptional students from around the world, incredibly thoughtful selection of texts to read, the patient and extremely knowledgeable guidance of Professor Meisner, and challenging assignments that really helped me to think and grow as an Environmental Communications specialist. Professor Meisner gave great feedback, encouraged lively discussions, and provided really helpful insight into some of today’s most pressing problems in environmental thought. After completing this course I was able to receive graduate credit at my university in equivalence to an intensive, semester-long theory & methods course. I found this course to be one of the select few academic courses that I can honestly say have had a huge impact on my life. I recommend this course to anyone who is serious about making a positive difference in the field of Environmental Communications.”
– Devon, Switzerland


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