Teach the Earth > Oceanography > Course Descriptions > Ocean Planet: A User's Guide

Ocean Planet: A User's Guide

Michelle Wood

University of Oregon,
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs


This is a new class that is currently proposed to meet General Education reguirements in "Natural Science" for all University of Oregon undergraduates. It is intended to develop science literacy and to provide an introduction to marine biology and marine policy. Two specific goals are 1) for students to be able to identify and describe the biology of common marine organisms visible to visitors ot the OReogn coast and 2) analyze policy problems in marine science to identify the elements that can benefit from science and the elements that require approaches from social science and politics.

Subject: Geoscience:Oceanography
Resource Type: Course Information
Grade Level: College Lower (13-14)
Earth System Topics: Oceans
Theme: Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:Intro Geoscience, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Oceanography
Course Size:

Course Context:

This is a lower division General Education course that does not have pre-requisites beyond admission to the University. It involves two field trips, lectures with active learning elements, case studies, two exams, three writing/problem assignments, and weekly discussion. There is an emphasis on two themes, 1) observing nature and recognizing other organisms as independent and important parts of the same "Ocean Planet" humans occupy, and 2) developing skill in critically analyzing complex problems... the former using field trips and field guides, the latter using discussion and reading to develop concept maps or conceptual models.

Course Goals:

At the end of the course, students should be able to
  1. identify common marine invertebrates and birds using a field guide
  2. use a tide table to predict high and low tides, spring tides, and tide height
  3. plan a field trip to the Oregon coast to visit the intertidal for natural histor, or for recreational shellfish harvesting
  4. discuss the history of oil pollution control legislation in the U.S.
  5. explain the scientific evidence for the benefits of marine protected areas
  6. be able to discuss the Endangered Species Act and the way it applies to management of one or two specific species.
  7. be able to discriminate between scientific questions and other kinds of questions that arise in a discussion of a marine policy or marine environmental problem.
  8. suggest a reasonable list of stakeholders for a given marine environmental problem and a reasonable list of responsible government entities.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

The course is a ten week course (4 credits, on the quarter system). During the first four weeks video, slides, field trip, and discussions are used to acquaint students with the natural history of the Oregon coast (shared with northern California ad he rest of the Pacific northwest). Following this students work in groups to present three case studies with two weeks spent on "Managing Endangered Species", "Oil Spill Response and Restoration", and "Marine Protected Areas" using fairly specific examples and readings. For each of these topics/case studies, the student groups each develop a concept map or conceptual model that shows competing interests, ecologically and socialogically interacting elements, anddrivers and stressors and services at work in the system of interest. "Hole" and questions are identified during this process, information is gathered, and the final report written by each student includes identification of areas where science is paramount in the model and areas where social science, social custom, and other factors are paramount.

Skills Goals

Focal skills
  • observation of nature
  • critical reading skills
  • analysis of a complex problem

Secondary skill
  • writing

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Field trips and practical application during the first half of the course, assessed by a mid-term exam is the plan for the first skill, this also includes a bit of progress on the second skill.

Second part of the course (Case Studies) and development of the concept map is the main mechanisms for developing skill #3 and secondary skill (#4)

Attitudinal Goals

This course is part of an overall effort at the University of oregon to increase science literacy among all our studetns. In this particular case, enhanced science literacy will hopefully be reflected as 1) increased appreciation of other species as 'co-habitants" of our planet, 2) increased awareness of the marine environment, the services it provides, and the value of protecitng it, and 3) appreciation that science is one part of good stewardship, but not the only part. I would also love it if the class caused students to feel more empowered and more responsible to be part of the solution to social and environmental problems.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

This is beginning to feel a bit redundant, but observing nature, and successfully using field guides and keys and making connections from lecture and the field... and getting students to reflect on what they are seeing from the perspective of the organisms is a key part of achieving attitudinal goals. Similarly, including some reflection on how people's attitudes are influenced by successfully acheived some of the skills and content goals are potential ways to achieve the attitudinal goals. Suggestions about other ways to do this would be welcome!!


Assessment comes from written assignments, two exams, three case studies and field trip reports. Together these test student knowledge and writing capability and understanding using a variety of measures.


Syllabus for Gen Ed course _ Ocean Planet (Acrobat (PDF) 1.4MB May21 13)

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