Initial Publication Date: May 29, 2015

Course profile: Oceans and Our Global Environment

Simon Brassell, Indiana University

Entry level oceanography course, 71-150 students

Information for this profile was provided by Simon Brassell in 2007. Information is also available on the course website.


Jump down to Overview and Context * Course Content * Connecting to the Future of Science * Goals and Assessment * References and Resources * Additional Materials

Overview and Context

Oceans and Our Global Environment is an introductory course in oceanography for non-science majors. This course explores the fundamentals of oceanography, and emphasizes the climatic and environmental importance of the oceans. It fulfills the 'Natural and Mathematical Sciences' distribution requirement and consists of two lectures and one discussion session each week, the latter focused on the series of on-line web-based exercises that substitute for lab classes.

Course Content

Oceans and Our Global Environment incorporates aspects of geology, geography, physics, chemistry and biology in an interdisciplinary approach to exploration of the marine realm. The course comprises lectures, in-class discussions, web-based exercises focused on explanations of critical concepts and recognition of the observational basis for understanding processes in the formation of ocean basins, the physical structure of the ocean and the atmosphere, the dynamics of ocean and atmospheric processes, and how they influence marine productivity and biology, and climate. The fundamental skills targeted are development of abilities to construct, describe, evaluate and interpret scientific information presented in diverse visual formats on the internet.

Connecting to the Future of Science

The course assignments utilize the ready available access to real-time or near-time observations (e.g. earthquakes, hurricanes, tides, wave height, atmospheric levels of ozone and CO2), supplemented by calculators and atlases (e.g. plate motion, ocean temperatures and salinities). Exposing students to these data sets and requiring them to comprehend the complexities of the Earth system should prepare and equip them to understand scientific information in visual formats likely to become increasingly prevalent in the media. Moreover, the future of science will be rooted in the presentation of complex data sets on-line, as witnessed by the growth in their availability since this course first adopted web-based exercises a decade ago.

Goals and Assessment


The course goals include both overt and covert learning objectives, with the latter category focused on attitudinal perspectives that emerge from and complement students' comprehension of critical concepts and their ability to interpret oceanographic data. After successful completion of the course students should be able to:

  • Analyze sets of observed or measured parameters to identify patterns in the data that attest to the dynamic behavior of ocean and atmospheric systems.
  • Evaluate how life in the ocean is intimately coupled to the physical and chemical aspects of its environment.
  • Synthesize evidence from different locations and at different times to build an integrated perspective of temporal and spatial variations in the ocean environment.
  • Predict, with recognition of uncertainties, future trends in climate based on assessment of recent and historical records.

Success in the class typically requires students to demonstrate:

  • An ability to work effectively in groups.
  • Quantitative skills in data assessment and manipulation.
  • Interpretation and critical assessment of the varied approaches to the visualization of oceanographic information in maps, graphs, and figures.

In addition, the course seeks to influence students' attitudes through:

  • Stimulating their interest in the oceans—relevant for a university in the Mid-West.
  • Building confidence that they can understand scientific concepts and principles and complex data sets.
  • Developing abilities to communicate scientific principles in their own words.


Course assignments consist of written exams, reflective questions, web-based exercises and on-line quizzes. All of these activities focus on seeking evidence that the students understand concepts and can independently interpret new data sets equipped with the principles learned from the lectures, discussions and exercises. For example, the short-answer questions in the written exams involve sketching and/or explaining graphical, cartographical, and visual data. The on-line quizzes require students to apply the understanding they gained from the exercises to the evaluation and synthesis of similar sets of images and data, typically representing locations or time periods that extend their previous experience.

Copies of a course portfolio for G131 written in 2005 that provides further information on assessments can be downloaded in two different formats as pdf files via these links: (fully illustrated) or (a compact version).

References and Resources

The text for the course is "Oceanography: An Invitation to Marine Science" by Tom Garrison published by Brooks/Cole (5th ed., 2005; ISBN: 0-534-37557-X). Supplemental resources include copies of all lecture slides as pdf files, and numerous web sites presenting geologic and oceanographic data that are the basis for the on-line exercises and quizzes. Students access these assignments using Indiana University's course management system called Oncourse, which is not open access.

Additional Materials

Download the course syllabus. (Microsoft Word 76kB Mar26 07)