Marine Environmental Geology

Edward Laine
Bowdoin College


Marine Environmental Geology is a problem-based service-learning course that focuses on addressing water quality issues in nearby Casco Bay. Working with our community partner, The Friends of Casco Bay, a non-profit watchdog group, our students, study the problems posed to them and propose a program of field study, which they carryout. Working in small groups they analyze their data and present their findings orally, as posters, and as a final report. In addition to preparing them to do these projects, traditional lectures and labs briefly cover plate tectonics, sea level change, the oceans and climate change, and global fisheries.

Course URL: All on BlackBoard
Course Type: Intro Level Oceanography
Course Size:

Course Format:
Integrated lecture and lab

Institution Type:
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

Marine Environmental Geology is an introductory course that satisfies the Inquiry in the Natural Sciences requirement at Bowdoin. It can be counted for both Geology and Environmental Studies majors. Students who decide to major in Geology must take a subsequent course in physical geology. The majority of students are Environmental Studies majors.

In your department, do majors and non-majors take separate introductory courses? no

If students take a "non-majors" course, and then decide to become a major, do they have to go back and take an additional introductory course? yes

Course Content:

Marine Environmental Geology focuses on oceanography and marine geology. Students plan and carryout a field program related to water quality in coastal waters, analyze the data from their field program, and present their results. In this process students learn to effectively use a variety of oceanographic instruments and perform simple laboratory procedures in marine chemistry and biology.

Course Goals:

In Marine Environmental Geology one of the goals is to enable non-science majors to become comfortable with using numbers to address and solve problems. Another goal is to encourage groups to share results from different aspect of their field work to address bigger problems. A final goal is for the students to understand that science is a process and not a set of revealed ideas and facts.

Course Features:

Marine Environmental Geology is a problem-based service-learning course in which students address problems in ocean water quality for a community partner. The problem is broken down into small projects (groups of three) and lasts the entire semester. Students are guided by letters from the community partners, meetings with the partners, and by theme and the laboratory instructor. At the end of the semester the students demonstrate what they have learned through an oral presentation, a poster presentation at the campus wide service learning symposium, and a written report to the community partner.

Course Philosophy:

I adopted the service learning concept for a variety of reasons. I felt that students would be more engaged if they felt that their course work was based in and would have an impact on the community. The consequent group work seemed more realistic training for helping students prepare to seek employment. By creating a situation in which students owned their data I felt that they could be stretched quantitatively. Building a safe, supportive community in the classroom seemed to be a better way for us all to live and it would encourage more risk taking and the learning that comes with that risk.


Two exams, three short writing assignments, five e-Journal assignments, two lab reports, one presentation (group), one poster (group), one final project report (group).


Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 282kB May7 08)

Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

Text: Introduction to Ocean Sciences 2nd ed, Douglas A. Segar
Very current, more rigorous than many intro texts

For the service learning portions of the course in many cases the key reading assignments are the letters from our community partners and reports on similar problems done by earlier classes. The lecture portion of the class covers a series of topics such as the oceans and climate change, sea level change, plate tectonics, and global fisheries. Each fall I scour the literature for new, accessible articles on the web or available electronically form the literature. So, key readings change year to year.

Gordon, R., 2000. Problem Based Service Learning: A field Guide for Making a Difference in Higher Education, 2nd Edition. Education by Design Program, Keene, NH, 132pp.

Service Learning in an Introductory Oceanography Course (Acrobat (PDF) 1.6MB Jul28 08) - this is a poster that was presented at the 2008 SERC Teaching Introductory Courses Workshop.