Coastal Management case study

Anne Jefferson
University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Author Profile
Initial Publication Date: May 21, 2008


After being presented with lecture material on coastal processes and engineering structures, students have small group discussions of a case study on whether a terminal groin should be built on a barrier island on North Carolina's coast. They are presented with opposing editorials that contain additional information.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



This activity is used an in an introductory Earth System Science course that is primarily non-majors.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students must have been introduced to coastal processes, specifically longshore drift and barrier islands. They should also have received a basic introduction to coastal structures (jetties, groins, and breakwaters) and their effects on coastal morphology. Students should also have mastered the concept of mass balance.

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity is at the end of 3 days of lecture material on oceans and coastal processes.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Longshore drift, effects of coastal structures, complexities of environmental decision-making

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

  • Critical evaluation of competing claims
  • Application of earth science concepts to real-world situations

Other skills goals for this activity

small group discussion

Description of the activity/assignment

To prepare for the case study, lecture material on coastal landforms and processes is presented. Particular attention is paid to barrier islands, such as the Outer Banks. During the lecture, typical coastal engineering structures, such as groins, breakwaters, and jetties, are introduced. The case study is introduced with a brief overview of North Carolina's coastal management laws, Figure Eight Island's geography, and the current controversy over whether to build a terminal groin. Students are then broken down into small groups and presented with two opposing editorials. The groups are instructed to try to come to consensus as to whether the terminal groin should be allowed or disallowed or to suggest a third alternative. After approximately 25 minutes, each group informally reports out to the rest of the class.

Determining whether students have met the goals

During the small group discussions, I circulate throughout the classroom monitoring student conversations. I do not formally assess this particular activity, but I do include a question on the effects of groins on their subsequent exam.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs (this link is down, perhaps temporarily)