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Student Learning Outcomes in Introductory Oceanography

What are student learning outcomes?

A student learning outcome (SLO) is something that students should be able to do after passing your course. They are usually developed by faculty who teach a course, listed in a course outline or description, assessed to determine course effectiveness, and used to focus class activities. (Although a course might have different instructors, different pedagogies, and different activities, the outcomes should be the same.) SLOs need to be written in such a way that they can be measured. They need to be high level. Many experts suggest that an introductory oceanography course have 5-7 of them. Example: "Analyze and evaluate scientific data to create a conclusion about oceanographic processes." Learn more about learning outcomes (referred to as 'overarching goals' on the linked page) from the Course Design module.

Why have student learning outcomes?

Only with defined outcomes for student learning can you effectively decide which activities, visualizations, and resources to incorporate into your class. It's easy to find exciting activities and visualizations, but just because they excite you and the students doesn't mean you should use them. Choose the ones that align with the outcomes you've already defined.(Note: a number of accrediting organizations now require that student learning outcomes be defined for all college courses.)

The following outcomes as recommended assessments were offered from participants at the June 2013 Teaching Introductory Oceanography workshop in June 2013. They are not intended to be complete or unique. Participants were responding to:

  • What important outcomes should students take away from an introductory-level oceanography course?
  • What are the most essential learning outcomes that you would use to recognize success?

Example Learning Outcomes

After completion this introductory oceanography course, a student will be able to

+ Analyze and evaluate scientific data to create a conclusion about oceanographic processes

Assessment tool you would use to test mastery of this learning outcome: Collect data (eg temperatures in oceans or lake), graph data, identify stratification. Students will create a graph or map demonstrating distribution of data, and will write a discussion explaining what these data mean. (Other examples of data types- Hurricane Katrina, bathymetric data)
Mastery rubric to indicate aspects of partial or full mastery and how you would rate/score the level of mastery: Evidence of data mastery would be a data product and discussion - eg. map with contours, graph with axes labeled and points in appropriate places
Notes: How do students deal with outlying points? How do students deal with uncertainty. Throughout course, collect a portfolio of these types of assignments, which could become more complex throughout the semester. Maybe include a narrative connecting these assignments at end of semester. Focus on process as well as product - students should be aware of thinking process as they complete these assignments (students should be able to explain their reasoning for each step). Students should stop to ask themselves if their results make sense throughout the process.

+ Predict distribution of organisms based on physical and chemical hydrographic data


Assessment tool you would use to test mastery of this learning outcome: Students are given a list of terms, and they organize them into a concept map.

Central idea: Marine productivity
  1. How get energy: Photoautotroph, chemoautotroph, heterotroph, chemotroph
  2. Habitats: Hydrothermal vents, photic zone, aphotic zone
  3. Physical parameters: light, temperature, salinity, nutrient concentrations
Mastery rubric to indicate aspects of partial or full mastery and how you would rate/score the level of mastery: Check concept map to make sure that the grouping of habitat with organisms and physical parameters is correct.
Assessment tool you would use to test mastery of this learning outcome: Students are given a diagram indicating a series of combinations of light level, temperature, depth, nutrient concentration, and they fill in the type(s) of organism(s) that lives there.
Mastery rubric to indicate aspects of partial or full mastery and how you would rate/score the level of mastery: Check concept map to make sure that the grouping of habitat with organisms and physical parameters is correct.

+ Provide examples of the interdisciplinary nature of oceanography


Assessment tool you would use to test mastery of this learning outcome: Concept map poster, students choose any topic related to oceanography and show how all three branches (geological, biological, physical/chemical) of oceanography are connected.
Notes: Can also have the students develop a pre- and post-course concept map and have them compare the two. For a large class, students could self evaluate. A set of topics could be pre-selected and students could rank the similar posters.
+ Assess news with respect to ocean events or oceanography in general; read and interpret articles in the news

Assessment tool you would use to test mastery of this learning outcome: News item analysis: Summary, Evaluation of science in article, Place event in the correct ocean regime, Identify ocean process involved in the event, Write 3 additional questions that you would ask about the event. Resource: www.sciencedaily.com
Mastery rubric to indicate aspects of partial or full mastery and how you would rate/score the level of mastery: scientific accuracy of student's analysis | use of vocabulary | grammar, writing

+ Articulate scientific arguments for why the oceans matter

Assessment tool you would use to test mastery of this learning outcome: Using scientific logic and examples, explain how the earth would be different if the oceans did not exist on the earth.

+ Explain interrelationships of oceans to other Earth Systems

Assessment tool you would use to test mastery of this learning outcome: Scenario - grandma takes her last breath, then dies. Her body is buried at sea, what happened to the carbon in her last breath.
Mastery rubric to indicate aspects of partial or full mastery and how you would rate/score the level of mastery: Specific processes need to be addressed for different mastery levels
Notes: if X happened in a carbon reservoir, what would happen in another reservoir
Assessment tool you would use to test mastery of this learning outcome: Diagram Global Wind Belts, Ocean Currents and Upwelling/Downwelling
Notes: Ocean Gyre Circulation Activity
Assessment tool you would use to test mastery of this learning outcome: Photosynthesis vs. Chemosynthesis -- Compare the process by which a tree/kelp gains mass and how a hydrothermal vent tube warm gains mass. Many opportunities to assess students on this (concept maps, jigsaw activity, short answer question)

+ Evaluate the interaction between humans and the ocean
+ Use the scientific method at a basic level

Assessment tool you would use to test mastery of this learning outcome: [for non-major science course]: Identify which of a series of steps from prepared list would be useful to test a hypothesis. or Describe steps in scientfic approach to a specific scientific question.

+ Explain formation of seafloor features/landforms

Assessment tool you would use to test mastery of this learning outcome: Essay Questions: What is seafloor spreading, where is it happening today and what evidence can you cite to support this process?

+ Describe ocean chemistry and processes of nutrient cycling

Assessment tool you would use to test mastery of this learning outcome:
Map of Ocean Salinity: multiple-choice question to select dominant processes controlling surface salinity. Map of Cholorphyll and ask students to explain ares of high and low chlorophyll in terms of nutrient cycling. Map of sea floor sediment composition and students asked to explain them.
Why is the ocean salty when river inputs are fresh? Explain difference between the concentration of dissolved ions (composition) of sea water vs river water. Students can be asked to do residence time calculations. Describe unique properties of water molecules essential for life as we know it on Earth.
Accurately characterize the observed relationship between water temperature and productivity in ocean surface water and explain why. Students asked to associate maps of global SST, Chlorophyll, and Benthic Biomass (particularly in equatorial upwelling regions).

+ Apply the 8 science practices defined in the NGSS

The eight practices of science and engineering that the Framework identifies as essential for all students to learn and describes in detail are listed below:

  • Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
  • Developing and using models
  • Planning and carrying out investigations
  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Using mathematics and computational thinking
  • Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
  • Engaging in argument from evidence
  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Next Generation Science website

+ Understand all the themes recommended through the Ocean Literacy effort

  • Ocean Literacy Principle #1: The Earth has one big ocean with many features.
  • Ocean Literacy Principle #2: The ocean and life in the ocean shape the features of Earth.
  • Ocean Literacy Principle #3: The ocean is a major influence on weather and climate.
  • Ocean Literacy Principle #4: The ocean makes the Earth habitable.
  • Ocean Literacy Principle #5: The ocean supports a great diversity of life and ecosystems.
  • Ocean Literacy Principle #6: The ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected.
  • Ocean Literacy Principle #7: The ocean is largely unexplored.

Ocean Literacy website

+ Describe the major surface and deep currents in the oceans and explain their causes
+ Analyze the movement of tectonic plates, MOR and subduction zone
+ Relate scales and rates of ocean and ocean processes
+ Defend that the ocean is more than just a big puddle
+ Develop and communicate conceptual models of the ocean
+ Explain how physical and chemical factors in the ocean affect the climate in the past, present and future

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