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Helping Hawaii prepare for Climate Change

At the University of Hawaii ISR Seminar Series on Climate Change Adaptation on October 29, 2018, Professor Maxine Burkett from the Richardson School of Law gave a talk on “Climate Change, Migration, and Conflict: Engaging Law and Positive Peace”. During the question and answer session following the talk, Professor Burkett was asked, “What is one thing the University of Hawaii can do to help address climate change?” She answered without hesitation: “Require every student at the University to take a class on climate change.”

Of course, the bureaucratic obstacles to creating a new, required course for all University of Hawaii students are significant, but those obstacles do not prevent us from acknowledging the wisdom of that goal or beginning work on what such a course might look like. This website and accompanying materials are intended to provide a sketch of one potential solution as a starting point for discussion.

One structure that might work is a 1 credit course, offered more or less completely online, that would consist of (say) 12 “modules” that would each take about 1 hour of time to complete. Add in a single half-day “event” and you’d get to around 16 contact hours, which I’m guessing is worth about 1 credit hour according to University of Hawaii policies.

To beta-test the course, it could be offered to residents of Hawaii. Having a curriculum in place for which we have gathered positive evaluation data from a public offering would presumably make it much easier to establish such a course as required at UH.

In thinking about how to create a successful online course for Hawaii residents, a number of additional useful requirements emerged:

Free. The course must be free. We will not get significant adoption or useful evaluation data if the course has a paywall.

Mobile. You should be able to successfully complete the course using only your smart phone. Requiring the user to be “tethered” to a laptop will also significantly reduce adoption.

Content specialized to location. Upon starting up the app for the first time, it can ask on what island do you live. Then the content can be specialized for that island.

Content specialized to user demographics. The appropriate content for an elementary school child is different from the content appropriate to a middle or high schooler, which is different from the content for a college student, which is different from that for an adult. Upon starting the app for the first time, it can ask for your demographic in order to customize the content appropriately.

Game mechanics. There is the potential to significantly increase engagement and effectiveness through very careful design and implementation of features that make the course into a serious game. For example, in 2010, I led a project to design and implement a serious game for education and behavioral change with respect to energy called the Kukui Cup. I hope to apply some insights from that experience to the design of ClimateGameChanger. For example, we could award points for (verified) completion of activities, then have a leaderboard, achievement levels, and perhaps laptop stickers for those who achieve the “final” level in the game.

Notifications. Besides delivering content regarding climate change, the app can also provide notifications of important upcoming events. Note that these notifications can be customized based upon the island (location) and the user demographic. For example, the Climate Strike held on March 19, 2019 would be appropriate to send to elementary, middle, and high school students. Other events, such as the ISR climate change seminar, would be most appropriate for college students on oahu.

Privacy. It might be appropriate to not request any information from users, at least initially. Location and demographic information can be stored on the device and not communicated to the central server. It might be necessary to ask for identifying information such as their address if we mail them stickers or some other game prize.

I chose “ClimateGameChanger” as the working title for this project because it is a portmanteau of “Climate Change” and the expression “game changer”. It has a hopeful sound to it, which I think is good, although I believe that if this project is successful, the game changing aspect will not be with respect to the degree of climate change, over which we have little control, but with respect to the investment of time, money, and resources into preparation for the impact of climate change. Of course, it also has the word “game” in it, which I hope might make the educational mission a little more palatable.

(Unfortunately, I just discovered that a person in the UK has created a site called I will contact him if we decide to move forward with this idea to see if he sees any issues with us using a very similar name for our project.)

There are two loosely coupled design problems for this project. The first is the curriculum: what content do we want to present, and what are the learning outcomes we hope to achieve? The second is the pedagogy: how will we deliver the content, how will we engage people with it, and how will we assess the impact?

As a first step toward defining the content, I have created a website with a first pass at a curriculum, structured as a set of modules, outcomes, readings, experiences, and assessments. The goal of the curriculum website is to provide an organizing framework, although I expect the current content to be modified drastically once more people are involved. Once we have made progress toward the desired curriculum, we will hopefully have a better idea about an appropriate pedagogy.

The curriculum website is available at

As a first step toward defining the pedagogy, I’ve created a short white paper proposing a set of game mechanics. Your comments and suggestions are welcomed.