Debra Stakes

Cuesta College,
Two Year College


An introductory course designed to acquaint the student with general oceanography. Topics treated include the history & scope of oceanography, properties of sea water, ocean currents, ocean waves and tides, submarine morphology and geology, marine sediments, life in the sea, and the significance of the oceans to local and global environments.

Course Size:

Course Context:

This is an introductory oceanography course with no prerequisites except for College Algebra and an English advisory. Only about 10% of my students are science majors looking for a certificate in Earth and Ocean Science. Most students are seeking to fulfill their GE requirements before they transfer. The student majors are diverse but most plan to transfer. There are engineering majors and environmental studies majors. There is an optional lab that is a separate course. The has oceanography has a pre- or co- requisite, but you can take oceanography either in the face to face or online modality and be in the lab.

Course Goals:

Upon completion of this course the student will be able to:
  1. Describe the process of scientific inquiry, commonly called the scientific method, and be able to apply the method as it pertains to oceanographic phenomena especially the origin of the Earth and atmosphere and the processes of plate tectonics.
  2. Contrast the principal types of physiographic features on the seafloor and discuss their origin relative to plate tectonics.
  3. Describe the origin of the four major types of marine sedimentary materials and predict the distribution of the types of sediments on the sea floor.
  4. Explain the influence of the hydrologic cycle atmospheric circulation, changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide and marine life on the chemistry of seawater.
  5. Understand how temperature, salinity, and density characteristics determine the physical structure of the ocean and produce deep ocean (thermohaline) circulation.
  6. Discuss Earth's heat budget and the influence of oceanic and atmospheric processes in distributing heat.
  7. Explain the Coriolis effect and characterize its role in the dynamics of ocean and atmospheric circulation.
  8. Draw and discuss the idealized global wind system and its affect on global climate patterns and global ocean circulation.
  9. Describe the characteristics, formation, and dynamics of wind-driven waves.
  10. Explain the motions of the Earth-moon-sun system and the resulting ideal monthly tidal cycle.
  11. Compare development of coastal landforms; provide examples of how man-made coastal structures affect shoreline processes.
  12. Describe the impact of the tectonic setting and impact of global rise in sea level of major US coastlines
  13. List and describe several types of ocean pollutants that especially affect the water quality of coastal zones.
  14. Understand the global distribution of primary productivity and its relationship to the physical dynamics of ocean circulation.
  15. Discuss the characteristics of several marine pelagic and benthic ecosystems and the adaptations of and niches of organisms within those ecosystems.

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

The goals mirror both the textbook and the structure of the course. For each chapter, students are required to complete an open book quiz and be ready to submit their answers via clickers before the first lecture. This motivates students to actually read their book. I use numerous homework and in-class activities to reinforce the major concepts. There are clicker review questions on a regular basis. All the exams include short essay questions that require students to master the concepts.To prepare for exams, students write out a study guide and a cheat sheet that assist in consolidating their understanding of the material.

Skills Goals

My course has an emphasis on the analysis of information presented in a variety of graphical formats, including maps, cross-sections, X-Y plots, etc.

I use group work and insist on smaller more effective groups of 3-4 students.

I want students to be able to critically assess information presented in mass media. We spend a lot of time distinguishing data (observations) from interpretation (hypotheses or models).

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

All group work results in some sort of project that is handed in and graded. I will show some exemplary ones on the document projector.

I use lots of graphs in my lectures and ask students to help me with the interpretation.

I include questions on the final exam to challenge students to distinguish between models and data.

Attitudinal Goals

Many of my students are afraid of science. They have not done well in the past. I work to provide many activities to spark curiosity and to help understanding. The repetition supports students to understand the major concepts and builds their confidence.

I have many students that are unaware of the fragility of the coastal ocean or the imminent threat of climate change. Students need to be able to assess the validity of public comments relating to this.

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

My introductory extra credit is the TED talk by Robert Ballard on exploration. This gets everyone fired up and it piques their curiosity.

I give students lots of practice with multiple choice questions with the clickers. Also the study guides are a great exam preparation tool. If students fail an exam badly I will also offer to them an opportunity to do the entire exam or a couple of questions over to improve their grade.


The attitudinal questions are included in the end of the semester student self-evaluation.


Oceanography syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 28kB Jun3 13)