Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

On the Practical Aspects of Incorporating Field-Based Projects into Introductory Oceanography

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

On the Practical Aspects of Incorporating Field-Based Projects into Introductory Oceanography

Article excerpt


Field-based projects provide a way for students in introductory oceanography to experience the process of scientific inquiry. However, in order to provide genuine field experiences for a class of forty-eight students significant restructuring of a traditional oceanography course is required, together with a substantial investment in field equipment. Course reorganization needs to provide hands-on instruction with field equipment and adequate time in the field to collect data. Moreover, students need to be taught how to design and carry out a scientific study, as well as how to process data and make meaningful interpretations. Necessary equipment includes a large boat, sonar system, laptop computer, sediment, water, and biologic sampling equipment, together with access to lab computers with software for data processing, plotting and map making. To assess skills and knowledge I use pre- and post-course concept inventory tests, together with a combination of instructor- peer- and self-evaluations at various stages throughout the project. Assessments compiled over three years indicate that the benefits to students include improved critical thinking skills, an increase in oceanographic knowledge, greater confidence in the use of instrumentation, high interest in field-based projects and positive experiences with the process of scientific inquiry. The main draw back to the instructor is the extensive record keeping that is required.


What is it that scientists find so interesting about science? For me, much of the fascination is embedded in the process of designing and carrying out a scientific investigation. Mysteries appear at all stages. During the data gathering and sampling phases of an oceanographic expedition motivation and excitement run high as bottom samples are brought on deck or when the latest seafloor images are shown on a computer screen. The thrill of scientific inquiry may also involve deriving a new interpretation to some long-puzzling problem. Mysteries and questions drive scientific curiosity, which in turn leads to deeper levels of understanding.

One way to increase science literacy and to promote positive attitudes towards science is for students to experience the excitement of scientific inquiry first-hand through field-based projects (Manduca, 1997; Badger 1995; Karabinos, et al., 1992). However, the practical concerns of converting to a project-based course can seem overwhelming. How easy is it to incorporate field-based research activities into an introductory level science class composed largely of students with minimal science background? What equipment is required and how do you obtain it? Do field-based projects really excite and motivate students? How do you assess attitudes such as excitement and motivation, as well as the effect of field-based activities on knowledge acquisition and conceptual understanding?

In this paper I describe the modifications that I fabricated for an introductory college oceanography class of forty-eight students such that it now includes field-based projects as a significant component of the course. The field-based focus serves as the major theme around which lecture topics and lab activities are designed and implemented. Students learn oceanographic concepts in lecture and practice using oceanographic equipment and data analysis methods in lab. Student-designed field projects are then carried out on one of severallocal lakes.

In order to redesign the course I had to overcome two significant obstacles. First, routine access to a suitable oceanic field location was difficult because the Oregon coast is over 350 km away from our college. To solve this problem, I chose to use nearby lakes as surrogate oceans (Reynolds, 2001; Smith, 1995). Second, the college had no oceanographic field equipment. This problem was solved by financial support provided by a grant from the National Science Foundation, Division of Undergraduate Education. …

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