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Climate change education: What do we know about the sources of information teachers are using?

Steve Puttick, Associate Professor of Teacher Education at University of Oxford Isobel Talks, DPhil Student at University of Oxford

Teachers can access a huge amount of information. The quantities are so vast they’re hard to comprehend. On a daily basis, more than 3.5 billion Google searches are conducted, more than 3.3 billion YouTube videos are watched, more than 350 million tweets are sent, and this blog post is one of more than 3.5 million written every day.[1] As highlighted in a recent report by the Royal Society (2022), there is substantial variability in the quality of information available online. How teachers navigate these contested online environments is an important part of teachers’ professional practice, raising questions about trust, expertise, knowledge and representation. These questions are sharpened in the context of complex, contested and politically charged global issues of which climate change might be the archetypal case.

There are conflicts between different purposes at work online – for example, between finding high-quality, relevant information, and capturing the user’s attention – compellingly portrayed in the Netflix production The Social Network. Teachers have a key role to play in supporting young people to make good use of information and positively engage with public reasoning. It is therefore an urgent task for research to understand where teachers are going to access information for their teaching – more specifically, what sources of information about climate change do teachers use? Our recent study (Puttick and Talks, 2021) used an extensive ‘scoping review’ methodology to answer the question: What do we know about the sources of information teachers are using?

Our scoping review used five main phases (figure 1) which allowed us to identify and analyse more than 600 papers initially, refined to 52. Full-text scrutiny led us to 13 relevant studies. We used a very broad set of inclusion criteria: in contrast to systematic reviews, our scoping review approach did not discriminate between methodological designs (Pham et al., 2014): studies that addressed the substantive area of teachers’ sources of information about climate change were all included. The contrast between the number of studies conducted against the massive numbers quoted above to describe the quantity of information circulating online is stark: this is an under-researched area that has received a relative lack of empirical attention. We also found a very narrow geographical focus: this literature did not reveal any attention to countries in the majority world, and nearly half of the papers (six) are based in the US. Two are based in Singapore, with one each from Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Greece and Turkey. The methodological approaches also represent a narrow range of designs, with most (11) relying on teachers’ reports of the issues through a survey, focus group or interview. Existing accounts reviewed suggest four main types of information sources are used by teachers: the internet (studies 2010 onwards); government sources; mass media; and professional development courses. The one pre-2010 study (Michail et al., 2007) provides a striking contrast, finding the internet to be the least used source of environmental information: a reminder of the rapid pace of change in the distribution and accessing of information.

Figure 1. Summary of scoping review process

Source: Puttick and Talks (2021, p. 5)

Exploring what and how teachers are accessing sources of information about climate change is an important task for research, which might develop broader methodological approaches to supplement self-reports, and give greater attention to and collaboration with global majority colleagues. This research also has implications for teacher education, including: exploring how teachers might be equipped to critically navigate the ‘superabundance’ of information available online (Botturi, 2019); moving beyond simplistic biased/unbiased binaries to critically consider representation, production, distribution and the transformation of information; and examining how we might prepare teachers to equip students to navigate the ubiquitous platforms competing for their attention.

This blog is based on the article ‘Teachers’ sources of information about climate change: A scoping review’ by Steven Puttick and Isobel Talks, published in the Curriculum Journal.

[1] See


Botturi, L. (2019). Digital and media literacy in pre-service teacher education. Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy, 14(03–04), 147–163. 

Michail, S., Stamou, A. G., & Stamou, G. P. (2007). Greek primary school teachers’ understanding of current environmental issues: An exploration of their environmental knowledge and images of nature. Science Education, 91(2), 244–259.

Pham, M. T., Rajić, A., Greig, J. D., Sargeant, J. M., Papadopoulos, A., & McEwen, S. A. (2014). A scoping review of scoping reviews: Advancing the approach and enhancing the consistency. Research Synthesis Methods, 5(4), 371–385. 

Puttick, S., & Talks, I. (2021). Teachers’ sources of information about climate change: A scoping review. Curriculum Journal. Advance online publication.  

The Royal Society. (2022). The online information environment: Understanding how the internet shapes people’s engagement with scientific information.