Social Media for Environmental Communications

Need to craft a buzz-worthy social media campaign? Join a global cohort of environmental professionals who utilize blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms for research, promotion, and networking. Assigned readings, social media projects, and discussion boards allow for customized instructor feedback and peer review. Taught by the team of science bloggers from

Registration for 2016 coming soon! Please contact us at for more info. 

Program Description

© Shutterstock
Instructor Andrew Thaler

This course is six weeks in length and is taught in an entirely online, distance learning format, with both asynchronous (discussion boards, peer review, readings, and written assignments) and synchronous portions (One-hour web conferences once per week). No campus visits are required.  

A different theme within the topic of social media will be addressed each week. An example syllabus from last year is below:

Week 1: Introduction to Social Media
Blogging and Environmental Leadership. Social media theory, how it’s used by groups, find out what people use already. Specifics of each platform (examples: Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Storify, Pinterest, Foursquare). Assignment: Create an account on all of these networks, explore.

Week 2: Demography of Networks
Discuss findings from Social Media exploration. Who uses what, privacy settings, behind the scenes, archiving? Students present project proposals: creating a guide for 2 or more platforms.

Week 3: Building an Audience/Network
Discuss findings from Social Media Guide, introduction to Network Theory, and building an audience: tools, tricks, strategies, and pitfalls. Assignment: Focus on 1 social media platform, cultivate an audience, evaluate network.

Week 4: Building a Brand
Discuss findings from network build. Maintaining a persistent, recognizable presence across multiple platforms. Progress Reports on Projects. Assignment: Take a controversial stance and engage with dissent. If you can’t think of one, talk about how great Nixon was for the environment.

Week 5: Engaging with Dissent
Talk about dissent reactions. Horror stories: what went wrong, how did they fix it or fail to fix it (case studies). Assignment: Finish your project, look at other students projects

Week 6: Wrap-Up/Presentations
Each student presents their project, discusses what went well, what they would improve, reflect on success and failures.

Course Details

This course will require 40 hours over the 6-week class period.  Time will include, but is not limited to:

  • Each week class will meet for a web conference session where students and instructor will address the week’s theme and materials.
    • Please note: Meeting times will not be determined until registration is closed. Times depend on registrant availability, which will be elicited via email to registrants.
  • Discussion via online conferencing tools.  Participation will be encouraged through the posing of various questions based on readings, previous discussion, and future directions of the class.  In addition to exploring general course topics, web discussion tools will also allow students to work through issues related to their campaign – exploring opportunities and selecting the correct strategies with help from others in the class and instructor’s guidance.
  • Reading of assigned materials.
  • Students will become competent in the basic features and functions of popular social media tools.
  • Students will understand the advantages and limitations of these tools and be able to choose the most appropriate ones for their programs.
  • Students will become comfortable communicating through various social media tools and be able to incorporate these tools into a larger communication plan.
  • Creation of, and response to, final project actually designing a social media campaign.

Please note: While specific components of outlined class structure may change, it will be expected that students commit to 40 hours over the 6-week class period.

Course Facilitators

The instructors possess a wealth of expertise in marine science and conservation.  They have demonstrated success in online communication and science outreach ranging from practical skills to the publication of peer reviewed journal articles.  They actively mentor other science communicators in formal classes and online publications.

Dr. Andrew David Thaler is the founder and manager of the popular blog Southern Fried Science, whose articles and tweets have been picked up by many popular media outlets such as Slate and CNN.  He lectures on building networks and engaging with dissent online.  His scientific studies focus on the connectivity of deep-sea hydrothermal vent ecosystems and understanding how patterns of connectivity or isolation affect the ability of vent organisms to re-colonize vents after catastrophic disturbance. He holds a B.S. in Biology and a Ph.D. in Marine Science and Conservation from Duke University.

Andrew is also a strong advocate for backyard farming and sustainable pet ownership.

Dr. Amy Freitag is a Science Integration Fellow with the California Ocean Science Trust. She works on the California Citizen Science Initiative, which empirically investigates how citizen science might contribute to the management of California’s network of marine protected areas. Both with this project and through other projects, she is interested in the ethics of working with diverse stakeholders and volunteers as well as the myriad of information types that need to be produced as a result.  Amy contributes to network theory and audience engagement/evaluation class lectures. 

Amy recently completed her PhD in Marine Science and Conservation from Duke University, where her dissertation research focused on how diverse ways of knowing (one of the benefits underlying citizen science) might contribute to water quality conservation in coastal North Carolina.  She also holds a BS in Development Sociology from Cornell University and a short, but inspirational stint at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Both of these experiences grounded her interests in democratizing science and the social dynamics involved in environmental conservation.


Class Participation
One of the most critical elements of this class will be your personal contribution to the course through consistent postings to the course webpage, as well as participation during weekly web conferences.  You will receive specific instructions for this requirement before the course commences.

Course Project

Social Media Campaign:  Participants will develop and implement a specific campaign using two or more social media tools at least one of which must be new to them. Assignment details will be given at the beginning of the class.

Technical Requirements

We understand that participants have different comfort levels with online learning coming into this course.  We are happy to answer any questions you have about online learning in general and our online learning software.

Internet Access
Course participants need to arrange to have reliable, high-speed internet access through their local internet service provider (ISP).  We encourage participants to arrange for broadband access to the internet via a cable modem, DSL, or a satellite connection.  Dial-up or slow connections will not work as effectively for this course.  We cannot provide support for your network connection, nor can we help you with any home networking equipment such as firewalls, routers, or switches.  For any of those issues, you will want to contact your ISP directly.

Distance Learning Software
The course will be facilitated using WebEx web conferencing software. The Duke Environmental Leadership Program will be available during the course to assist you with any course issues.  Contact information will be provided with your pre-course packet. The distance learning software will be available to you at no additional charge (except for the WebCam and USB head-set for Google+ Hangouts participation).

Pre-Course Packet

Prior to the course start date, you will need to purchase the course textbook, Webcam, and USB head-set for web conference participation (note: this is not included in the course tuition).  The course textbook is Dataclysm, by Christian Rudder. The book is available as an e-book or paperback from Textbook readings will be supplemented by readings from around the internet, as well as the published, peer-reviewed literature. If you have any questions regarding the textbook email

Because this course will be held via online virtual classroom, we recommend that you use a WebCam and USB headset with microphone so that you can participate in real time with voice over internet. We recommend purchasing the Logitech HD Webcam C310 and Logitech H330 USB Headset for the web conference participation. Please note, if your computer has a built in camera that will be sufficient.

General Course Policies

Payment is due upon receipt of invoice or no less than 15 days before the start of the course. If special arrangements must be made for payment due to agency requirements, you must contact our office no less than 15 days prior to the start of the course at to complete and submit a payment due notice form.

Failure to make payment arrangements 15 days prior to the start of the course may result in the forfeit of your seat and you will be held responsible for the full tuition of the course. Future registrations will not be accepted from individuals with unpaid invoices.

Course certificates will not be provided until payment is received.

Cancellation & Transfer Policy
All speakers and companies listed have confirmed their participation. If for unforeseen and unavoidable circumstances a speaker cannot attend, instructional time will be filled with comparable instructors. If a course is canceled due to insufficient registrations, tuition will be refunded. Duke cannot be held responsible for travel costs or arrangements made by participants.

Cancellation of registration requires 15 days written notice prior to course start date in order to receive a refund (please submit notification to Individuals who do not attend and fail to send written notice prior to the deadline will be charged the full tuition. You may send a substitute to attend the course in your place, however, a $100.00 administrative fee will be assessed for this change, regardless of when written notice is submitted.Any cancellation or substitute request must be received in writing.

  • 15 or more days prior to the course start date – Full tuition refund, minus a $100 administrative fee.
  • Less than 15 days prior to the course start date – Full tuition is assessed and a refund is forfeited.
  • Substitute within your organization can attend in your place for an additional $100.00 administrative fee.

In order to receive a refund, you must cancel your registration (in writing to by 5:00 pm on the refund deadline date for the course.