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Write Your Future (High Schools): A Citizen Science Project

Background and aim Building on the DIAS Citizen Science project ‘Write your Future’, this pilot aims to explore whether a similar project is possible involving high schools. The Write Your Future project asked university students to compose short fiction texts (fewer than 1200 words) set four years into the future. The resulting stories expressed the authors’ concerns, hopes, and overall impressions about the near future and the potential impacts of COVID-19 (and related government measures) on society. These stories are research data for the exploration of scientific literacy, climate anxiety for young adults and confronting social issues.

This pilot builds on this previous project’s success by expanding the scope of the experiment to cover potentially several different high schools in the area and their students. It will investigate whether it’s possible to design and run a big scale project potentially for all Danish high schools.

For this pilot, students will write short stories and analytical essays on the future impact of climate change on their personal lives as well as on society as a whole. The aim is a co-created Citizen Science project in dialogue with teachers and high school students that teaches high school students to express and make sense of topics that are important for society. In addition, the project will provide potentially unique data to researchers and can serve as a bridgebuilder for recruiting motivated new students to the study of the humanities or related fields.

 

Research design and goals

 

  1. Provide Scientific Literacy and Democratic Participation 

 

This pilot program is organized around the principle that citizens should become literate in envisioning and making sense of anticipated futures in order to (among other things) work toward desired futures and recognize potential threats. To meet this objective, citizens must also identify and use methodologies that help to form a common will in the process of applying practical knowledge (or ‘phronesis’) and also develop strategies that serve the common good (Scharmer, 2016; Nonaka and Takeuchi, 2021).

 

  1. Address Existing Climate Anxiety for Young People

 

High school students and their generational peers face are in many respects uniquely aware of climate change’s impact on their personal lives (and futures) when compared to previous generations of students. Young people are developing their education during a time when the consequences of carbon emissions are increasingly difficult for politicians and governments to ignore. As a result, this generation may feel especially ignored or marginalized by institutions that are supposed to represent their interests. For example, a recent Bath University survey across 10 countries showed that nearly 60% of young people (between ages 16-25) are very worried about climate change, and two-thirds remarked feeling sad, afraid, and anxious when thinking about the future (Hickman et al., 2021). 

 

"Eco-stress" due to climate change is only now beginning to be documented (Usher, 2019), which suggests that more work needs to be done not only to understand this phenomenon but to give young people an outlet for expressing their concerns.

 

  1. Confront Social Issues via Creative Writing and Analysis

 

The flash fiction component of this pilot program addresses this knowledge gap in two ways. First, it provides students with a creative outlet for expressing their concerns, hopes, and anxieties regarding climate change (and its possible impact on their individual future). Each student will write a flash fiction text as well as a short story consisting of fewer than 1200 words. The premise of flash fiction is to condense potentially complex topics down to an essential core expressing the author’s key insights or expectations regarding the topic. Previous studies have shown that flash fiction is an effective tool for non-experts to generate ideas about prospective scenarios and anticipated societal changes in the near and far future (Wolf et al., 2018). 

 

Second, the pilot program provides a catalogue of stories that, when read both individually or collectively, provide insights into feelings young people express about climate change. In short, the program amplifies and disseminates the thoughts and opinions of a population that feels underrepresented in policy debates while also equipping this group with tools for channeling their concerns into legible texts. Previous studies affirm that, with regards to climate change, the uptake of developed visions is higher when the results will impact the life of people (Selin, 2006). 

 

In connection, the project is based on Citizen Science principles of inclusion, contribution and reciprocality (Golumbic et al. 2017)

 

Practicalities 

The basic idea is to develop and test a methodology to increase the participants’ literacy in creative expression, critical analysis, and social/democratic participation. As the visions produced by the creative essays need to be stored somewhere to become publicly accessible, a sub-goal is to develop an infrastructure in the form of a digital learning platform a la ‘Our History’, Professor Klaus Petersen) that fits the learning goals and expectations of teachers. It would seem the course (fag) English is a fit. 

 

The schools have so far reacted favorably on the first contact. High school students in the course English on level 2.G or e.g., 3.G would work on curriculum-based materials and training provided by SDU and submit short stories to SDU researchers.

 

The progression of the pilot course would be:

 

  • Module 0: Masterclass for teachers
  • Module 1-2: What is climate fiction, themes, and semantic glossary (in class)
  • Module 3-4: Flash fiction workshop and story writing at each of 3-4 high schools
  • Modules 5-6: follow up (in class); analysis and interpretation of short stories; short story composition
  • Assignment for the students: Write a short story (min. 1000 words)
  • Handing in and grading the short stories by teachers; teachers submit short stories for competition.
  • Module 7: Virtual red-carpet event. Feedback from researchers and small awards for top 3 short stories. 
  • Investigation of publication of a brief volume of stories e.g., by a media partner.

 

Phases, scope and outcome

The project is planned in two phases. The first is a pilot phase in 2022 with 3-4 regional high schools and 6-8 classes. In the pilot methods and research aims is developed in a partnership with teachers and students. A large-scale design is investigated. The second phase is a potential national project 2023-2027 in which high schools across Denmark would access learning materials and submit their short stories and are included in the analysis? In connection, the outcome is: 

  • A method and prototype for a large-scale scale project
  • A unique collection of stories for researchers on topics like eco-anxiety (and related emotions); climate fiction; speculative/science fiction; flash fiction; the social imagination
  • An increased sense of responsibility and awareness towards global challenges
  • An increased sense of democratic and scientific literacy.
  • Student-teacher-researcher generated research within the Humanities and Social Science.
  • A contribution to upgrading English, Social Science and Literature teaching at schools
  • The pilot will investigate the design of a digital teaching portal with nano modules as a tangible bridge builder between SDU and high schools.
  • The pilot will also investigate whether this approach can be applied at e.g., Danish classes at Danish high schools.

Phase One (pilot)

This phase will develop a teaching portfolio at high schools coupled with a process of gathering data in the form on student’s short stories on climate fiction and climate change. The steps will be:

  • Develop and test the method by a project/research design:
  • Dialogue with high teachers on a teaching and data collection process
  • Input for a teaching platform 
  • Input for the design (specification) of a future application for data collection
  • Input for the demands of storage (database)
  • Investigation of GDPR
  •  Considerations of FAIR data
  • Input for a feedback loop to students and teachers
  • Input for the future design of a digital learning platform based on ‘Fremtidens Uddannelse’.
  • New partnerships
  • Exploration of funding opportunities

Link to learning and teaching in high school

The project addresses high school students by developing their knowledge, skills and competencies on a research-based background. A course plan based on the academic goals in the course curriculum for English (stx)1 will be composed. Students must be able to

 

  • understand oral English texts and conversations of a certain length on general and academic topics
  • express themselves coherently and fundamentally fluently, including formulating own views, in presentation, conversation and discussion in English on general and academic topics with a relatively high degree of grammatical accuracy
  • read and understand written texts in English in different genres of a certain length on general and academic topics
  • write clear, detailed and coherent texts in English with different purposes on general and academic topics with a relatively high degree of grammatical accuracy Language, text and culture
  • analyze and describe the English language using relevant professional terminology
  • explain content, views and linguistic features in English-language texts
  • analyze and interpret texts using professional terminology and method 

 

 

Milestones

In order to succeed the following steps is required

 

  • January: Recruitment of 3-4 high schools and 6-8 classes
  • January: Governance (steering committee, advisory board, project management)
  • February: Dialogue with teachers: 1-2 co-creation sessions with teachers
  • March: methods design and development
  • March: Analysis of GDPR and upload of data
  • Early April: 3-hour masterclass for teachers
  • Mid-April to Mid-May: Course completion
  • Late May: Evaluation
  • June: Specifications for future design, usability, storage, and GDPR
  • June: Decision on upscaling and additional funding from external grants, including platform (phase two)

 

Editing was completed: