Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Earth Data, Science Writing, and Peer Review in a Large General Education Oceanography Class

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Earth Data, Science Writing, and Peer Review in a Large General Education Oceanography Class

Article excerpt


Writing assignments were introduced to a large introductory Oceanography class at UCSB. The assignments evolved, over a period of 10 years, from papers handed in to the instructor, to online peer reviewed assignments using the calibrated peer review methodology. The assignments required students to acquire and plot data and use these data plots to create scientific arguments in support of a theory. The topics addressed plate tectonics, the Indian monsoon, the Earth's climate, and the world fisheries. The course activities were managed by the EarthEd software package, which supports course management functions such as online writing and peer review, image storage and upload, auto-graded homework problems, and course grade computation. Access to Earth data is integrated within the EarthEd software through the "Our Dynamic Planet" CDROM, Global Ocean Data Viewer, and links to other data browsers available on the web. Data representations are captured as images, uploaded to the student's image library (in EarthEd) and then can be edited and linked to the writing assignment text. Convenient commenting, scoring, grade curving, and posting is also implemented. The peer review assignments were successful in providing accurate grades for students, while reducing grading by the instructor by about 70% to 80%.


Our general education science courses provide essential science content and critical thinking skills for the majority of our college students, who may take only one or two science courses during their undergraduate experience. Our introductory courses might be viewed as "terminal" courses for many. Committees of the American Geophysical Union (1997) and National Research Council (1996) recommend that introductory science courses include a greater emphasis on "hands-on" inquiry and science process and less emphasis on the memorization of facts. Here we discuss how science writing using Earth data has been incorporated in a large general education oceanography class at UCSB (Prothero, 1995; Prothero, 2000). The methods presented here are the result of a 10 year collaboration between the authors that includes an examination of student writing, TA grading of writing, development of online writing technology, and refinement of the methods and materials based on these findings (Kelly, 2003; Takao, 2003; Kelly, 2002; Takao et. al., 2002; Kelly et. al, 2000).


The class currently serves 70 to 100 students each quarter and satisfies a quantitative science and writing requirement for the undergraduate major. There are 3 hours of lectures and a two hour lab section (limited to 20 students) per week. The demographics are similar from session to session (40-50% freshman, 25-35% sophomores, 10-16% juniors, and 10-15% seniors). About 80% of the students are liberal arts majors. Our approach is to model the course activities after those of practicing scientists. These include the selection and display of Earth data, use of data to support a theory, construction of scientific arguments in oral and written form, and review of peers' work. This is made possible with smoothly functioning software that insulates the learner from the details of data formats, complicated plotting programs, and provides point and click access to a rich variety of Earth data. The software also helps manage the assignments and their due times, and allows students to monitor their progress in meeting course requirements. The EarthEd software (Prothero, 2005) that supports these objectives is discussed later.

The course focuses on 3 major learning themes:

1. Facts and concepts about oceanography

a. ocean basins

b. atmosphere and climate

c. waves and beaches

d. life in the ocean and world fisheries

2. Science process

3. Implications for society

The strategies for attaining these goals are diagrammed in Figure 1. …

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