Public Service Announcement (Higher Ed)

Juliette Rooney-Varga, University of Massachusetts Lowell 

Producing a PSA is an ideal culminating project for an interdisciplinary course on climate change and related topics. The PSA assignment requires high-level synthesis of content and, through it, students learn first-hand about the challenges of communicating about climate change to a general audience in a compelling way. The assignment offers the opportunity for students to engage with the material, consider what they want society to understand or do, use creativity and twenty-first century technology and communication tools, and become empowered to enter societal discourse about climate change

Learning Goals

Content/concepts goals for this activity

The PSA assignment can be tailored to focus on diverse content areas. However, key areas that are a natural fit for the assignment include: 

  • Climate change science fundamentals
  • Climate change impacts
  • Actions and policies to address climate change mitigation or adaptation

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

PSAs rely on compelling storytelling, metaphors, and images to deliver a message. Translating complex scientific concepts around climate change into a compelling PSA requires high level synthesis of ideas, collaboration with other students, and twenty-first century communication skills.

Other skills goals for this activity

Other skills involved in this assignment include script writing, presenting a PSA proposal ('pitch') to the class, creating a storyboard, filming, video editing, searching for important audio and video assets, facilitating audience discussions, and distributing final pieces via social media.

Context for Use

Audience

Versions of this assignment have been used in a variety of instructional settings, from high school to doctoral students. This particular version is adopted from an advanced undergraduate and graduate level cross-disciplinary course on climate change science, policy, and communication.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

This assignment is more effective if students have already been introduced to climate change science fundamentals and, potentially, barriers and opportunities for taking action to address climate change mitigation and adaptation. The assignment requires them to synthesize their content knowledge and distill it into a clear message, so some level of climate change science knowledge is necessary before they begin the assignment.

How the activity is situated in the course

The PSA assignment is well suited to a culminating course experience. It can also be integrated into a workshop or lab course that provides opportunities for extended in-class project work.

Teaching Notes and Tips

The PSA assignment offers an opportunity to step out of the traditional lecturing role and into the role of facilitator of student-centered learning. It is important to check in with students and ensure that scientific accuracy of the material they are presenting is rigorous at an early stage. Fostering a positive environment for collaboration is also important – i.e., encourage students to:

  • critique each others' work respectfully and with a collective goal of having all projects in the class be strong;
  • explicitly acknowledge excellent work by their classmates;
  • consider how they will take their work beyond the classroom.

Assessment

There are many potential points for assessment during this project, offering instructors an opportunity to tailor assessment to their own goals and capacity. Project components and assessment opportunities include:

  1. The PSA Script can be assessed for writing style and clarity, scientific accuracy, appropriate use of metaphor and storytelling, creativity, planning, use of the three-act structure (see PSA Script Assignment under Teaching Materials above), etc.
  2. The pitch presentation offers an opportunity to assess oral presentation skills.
  3. Rough cuts and final cut assignments offer opportunities to assess scientific accuracy, creation and use of audio and visual assets to communicate a key message, editing skills, and public speaking skills (as students explain what they are trying to convey, especially during rough cut screenings).
  4. Face-to-face screening events offer an opportunity for students to show their work and to facilitate a discussion with audience members about what they are trying to convey. These screenings offer an opportunity to assess their knowledge about climate change, as well as their public speaking and facilitation skills.
  5. Peer review of team members. In group work, it is helpful to give each group member an opportunity to review the other members of their team. A simple form (we have used Google Docs forms) can be used to solicit student feedback on their peers (an example is provided).