General Oceanography

Don Reed
San Jose State University
Author Profile


This course focuses on the scientific examination of the impact of the oceans on global society, and human impacts on the oceans, through web-based exercises, bulletin board discussions, and field studies of local shoreline habitats.

Students play an active role in their learning through the timely, but self-paced, completion of online virtual expeditions in which students take on the role of a research oceanographer. Students participate in electronic discussions, often problem-based and issue-oriented, with other students on issues based on reading assignments and research activities.

Approximately 120 enroll in class each semester with another 200 students enrolling in the winter and summer special sessions.

Institution Type
University with graduate programs, primarily masters programs

Course Size
greater than 150

Course website

Grade Level
College Lower (13-14) College Introductory

Course Context

The general education (GE) program at SJSU is divided into two categories, lower division core GE and upper division SJSU studies courses. This is an Introductory online course in the upper division category with prerequisites including completion of all core GE courses, completion of writing skills test, passing score on entry level math test and Intermediate Algebra or equivalent.
The course does not serve as a prerequisite for other courses. Typically, 90% of the students take the course to satisfy an upper division general education requirement and 10% of the students take the course as pre-service elementary teachers. This course is currently taught only in an online format, although it has been taught in a "face-to-face" format on the past.

Course Content

Main themes of the course includes the scientific assessment and management of marine fisheries, seafloor visualization, marine geohazards, ocean water properties, marine ecosystems, including hydrothermal vents communities and mid-water organisms in the Monterey submarine canyon, human impacts and geoengineering of the ocean, and ocean circulation and global climate change. Emphasis is placed on the methods and limits of scientific investigation and to have students use a scientific approach to generate knowledge of the marine environment. Students document marine research activities in writing and use of basic math to make scientific predictions that can be tested. Similar content was presented in face-to-face course format in the past.

Course Goals

Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to:
1) appreciate the methods and limitations of scientific investigations of the global ocean; (Learning Outcome #1)
2) distinguish between science and pseudo-science; (Learning Outcome #2)
3) apply the methods of science to a problem involving the earth and environment; (Learning Outcome #3)
Students will also:
1) increase their knowledge of the oceans and its life forms;
2) understand that oceanography is global in nature and of special interest to diverse societies of the Pacific Rim, including the multicultural population of


Students participate in five required electronic discussions during class. There is no formal discussion section for the class.


Learning quality is assessment through an integrated quiz and essay on marine fish stock assessment methods, four graded discussions, two exams, one final in which students write a 700-800 word research grant proposal, and a course workbook, documenting their work on the virtual expeditions. All SJSU Studies GE courses must have students complete at least 3000 words of written assignments, which is about 12 pages. SJSU course regulations also specify that this requirement be spread across multiple assignments in order to give appropriate feedback on the quality of writing. In this class the 3000 word requirement is covered by the four Desire2Learn discussion assignments (a total of about 1050 words), an essay on the science of marine fisheries assessment and management methods (1150-1250 words), and the final exam (about 750 words).

Teaching Notes

Adaptations have been made that allow this course to be successful in an online environment

  • Having students be participants in multiple web-based research expeditions to take advantage of "role-playing" in a virtual environment.
  • Offer audio track with written text for every webpage.
  • Generate video and audio segments, including introductory presentation before class begins, and weekly introduction to material.
  • Develop a "hardcopy" workbook for students to document their learning in each virtual expedition.
  • Provide well-organized, complete descriptions with clearly stated learning objectives of all required assignments and performance expectations.

The most successful elements of this course are:

  • Having students participate as scientists in virtual research voyages and required participation in focused electronic discussions. Documentation is through scores on learning assessment tools and unsolicited feedback from students.

Recommendations for faculty who teach a course like this:

  • Be strategic in role of online work in faculty merit system, which varies from institution to institution.
  • Start small and evolve to build a growing library of exercises though a multi-year plan to move from classroom to hybrid to online formats.
  • Be selective in choosing specific course to offer online. Learn to leverage a single, dedicated effort to cover multiple roles of faculty (teaching, scholarship and service).
  • Have clear and consistent dates for students to complete each assignment, including weekly work, for example Tuesday at 10 AM each week, and specified well in advance (in course schedule in syllabus provide to students at beginning of term). Build in a mechanism for students to confirm to you each week that they have completed the work.


Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 197kB Jun22 10)



Mapping the Deep by Kunzig

Other References

Course website at

General Oceanography --Discussion  

Join the Discussion

Log in to reply

General Oceanography --Discussion  

Join the Discussion

Log in to reply