Teaching Award to Karen O'Brien

- I try to give of myself and to be very honest. I need to teach with both my intellect and my emotions, says Karen O'Brien.

Gives me hope for the future: Meeting the students give me a boost, says Karen O'Brien. (Photo: Gro Lien Garbo, UiO)

For teaching of undergraduate students at the Department of Sociology and Human Geography and for the course "Environment and Society SOSGEO2301" that Professor Karen O'Brien is being presented with the Teaching Award for 2015. The prize is awarded by the Student Parliament after a thorough assessment of nominations from students from many different disciplines. The Teaching Award also went to an SV lecturer, two years ago, former postdoc Øivind Bratberg, now assistant professor at the Department of Political Science.

Moved and humbled

- Receiving this award is a great honour for me.

I feel both touched and humbled, says Karen O `Brien and adds that interaction with the students is very important to her.

- I'm continually impressed with how engaged the students are. But it's also important for me to thank Milda Jonusaite Nordbø, who has led the seminar part of the course. She has been an amazing resource, says Karen O'Brien.

O`Brien has researched climate change, vulnerability and human response for the last 25 years and has  contributed considerably to the work of the IPCC.

Discouraging theme

- Climate can be a depressing topic when you see how long it takes to reach agreement on fundamental issues. It is becoming ever warmer, emissions worldwide are increasing, people remain vulnerable, and there is still too little weight behind the idea of a much needed change in course.

Today we see how vulnerable Nepal is when it is hit by a powerful earthquake.

I have often been downcast over the international community's lack of response before I teach. But interaction with the students gives me a boost, says O’Brien.

Over 80 students have followed her course this Spring. Values ​​and discourse, or how to talk about environmental and climate challenges, are central in the teaching.

Quiz and articles

- What I want is to help students to develop critical thinking around environmental issues, she says. O’Brien uses film, debate, she asks the students to write an open editorial letter and holds quizzes in class. Students from the course have had their letters published in the Norwegian newspapers Klassekampen, Firda and Stavanger Aftenblad. On the first day of the course students answer a quiz consisting of 10 questions – one of which asks them to rank Norway’s degree of climate awareness.

Almost invariably those who have grown up in Norway give the country the worst rating, while those who come from outside think that Norway is an environmentally conscious country. The quiz is an important practice to be aware of one’s own perspective, says O'Brien.

The writing of letters is an important learning arena says O’Brien.

- Students learn to write clearly and concisely, and they learn to build their arguments and to give their message bite.

They are also challenged to find out what they think on a subject, rather than to discuss "on the one hand, but then again on the other", as so often one does.

The local merges into the global

One of the most challenging things about the course is to make it interesting and comprehensible for all students, whether they know a lot about the environment and climate or whether it is new to them, says O'Brien.

- I follow the news closely and use real examples to illustrate questions about what is local and what is global. The answer is that the two categories often do not make sense. The local merges into the global and vice versa, says Karen O `Brien.

By Gro Lien Garbo. Translated by Matthew Rix Whiting
Published Apr. 30, 2015 4:05 PM - Last modified May 4, 2015 9:43 AM