Fulbright Specialist Dr. Stephen Blank: Promoting energy literacy at the University of Ottawa

Nov 05, 2018


By Stephen Blank, 2015-2016 Fulbright Specialist Project on Energy Literacy, and 2012-2013 Fulbright Research Chair in Governance and Public Administration to the University of Ottawa

This past December I went to uOttawa, as a Fulbright Specialist, with the goal of creating greater energy literacy among uOttawa students. The project was hosted by the University’s ‘Collaboratory’ on Energy Research and Policy, operating within the Institute for Science, Society and Policy (ISSP). Dr Monica Gattinger, Founding Director of the ‘Collaboratory’ and now Director of the ISSP, played a central role in organizing and supporting the project.

What is energy literacy?

Energy Literacy is a term that refers to a basic understanding of what energy is and the role it plays in our everyday lives. It also refers to our ability to comprehend the implications of changing energy sources, supplies and uses and our collective ability to apply this understanding in a meaningful way. Our goal was to find ways to help University of Ottawa students have a clearer sense of the major energy and energy-environment issues that will face them when they graduate. We were not out to create a tool box of answers to energy questions, but to ensure that students gained familiarity with the questions.

How can we increase energy literacy?

Through in-depth conversations with 40 uOttawa professors in 15 departments and faculties and meetings with energy and energy-education specialists, associated with the University, I was able to arrive at recommendations designed to help to solve a key challenge to the promotion of energy literacy on the uOttawa campus – a lack of collaboration among the university’s remarkable wealth of energy resources. In fact, the great majority of people with whom I spoke were eager to improve their connections with others in the university who share their interests.

5 Key Recommendations:

  1. Develop enriching course content
  • Create energy-related modules for both energy and non-energy courses that are consistent with main themes of the courses. Although developing effective modules requires collaboration with individual professors, once done, the product exists and can be used again and shared for similar courses.
  1. Share information and widen understanding of university energy assets
  • Class speaker exchanges could be established help to share information and energy assets. For example, a social science faculty member could speak to engineering students, allowing them gain a basic understanding about the policy making process then an engineering faculty member could speak to social science students.
  • Explore opportunities to share assets. For example, site visits to developments such as, the Sunlab Facility, or invites to meetings with professors involved in carbon programs provide opportunities to enhance understanding
  1. Broaden the base of faculty communication
  • Energy related resources are often isolated within disciplinary (or even narrower) silos.The value and impact of these assets on raising energy literacy can be increased significantly by enhancing connectivity among them. For example, “Lunch and Learn” programs could provide an opportunity for these professors to meet, learn about one another’s research and teaching interests, and to explore possible collaborative opportunities.
  1. Develop university-wide course to promote collaboration on energy literacy
  • Riadh Habash, Professor and McLaughlin Research Chair in Energy and Health, suggested creating a university-wide transdisciplinary course titled “Energy and Sustainability Development.” The objective would be to ensure that participants acquire the knowledge and skills needed to understand energy and sustainability development.
  1. Create channels of communication
  • Channels of communication are essential for linking individuals and groups with energy interests. For example, a new and independent website could contain variety of materials including brief (TED-type) talks by UO professors and researchers, modules (with teaching guide-comments), interviews with visitors to campus, references to current literature, events, developments, links to other energy focused centers, organizations, etc.

Strategies capable of enabling members of the uOttawa community, who share interests in energy matters, to connect, exchange information and work together, would have a positive impact on the energy literacy levels and could lead to energy-focused research (particularly the creation of interdisciplinary teams).  This type of development would go far to set uOttawa apart as an energy leader, an area of focus and goal that has proven to be an important part of the community’s identity.

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