Drilling into controversy: the educational complexity of shale gas development

  • Joseph A. HendersonEmail author
  • Don Duggan-Haas


Potential development of shale gas presents a complicated and controversial education problem. Research on human learning and our own experiences as educators support the conclusion that traditional, disciplinary-focused educational experiences are insufficient due to the nature of the concepts necessary for understanding the development of shale gas within the energy system as a complex, contextualized phenomenon. Educators engaging in communicating complex phenomena such as shale gas development can also increase sophistication of learner understanding by taking into account the sociocultural and psychological mechanisms that shape one’s understanding of the change processes at work. We therefore review an emerging body of research showing that nurturing environmental literacy requires more than the clear explication of evidence, and instead requires interrogating one’s existing worldview and comparing alternative options for action, as opposed to analyzing energy options in isolation. We then apply the results of this research to the challenging task of creating meaningful learning experiences and engagement with complex issues such as emerging energy systems and shale gas development in particular.


Natural gas Fracking Energy Environmental education Complexity 



The authors would like to thank Beth Kinne, Thomas Love, Ken Klemow, David Hursh, Natalie Macquire, Tracey Henderson, and two anonymous reviewers for comments on previous drafts. This material is based upon work supported by the grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF GEO-1016359 and 1035078). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


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Copyright information

© AESS 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Margaret Warner Graduate School of Education and Human DevelopmentUniversity of RochesterRochesterUSA
  2. 2.The Paleontological Research InstitutionIthacaUSA

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