Astrid Schnetzer: Using Ocean Sustainability in Marine Biology at North Carolina State University
About this Course
An introductory class for non-majors.
Two 75-minute lecture sessions
SYLLABUS_MEA220_2016 (Acrobat (PDF) 240kB Jun27 16)
The course is broken into three units. First, we explore the ocean as a habitat for life, discussing abiotic and biotic factors that impact organisms. Second, we survey specific marine habitats, including the water column and intertidal and subtidal environments. And last, we discuss the impacts of human activities on marine ecosystems and their habitants (e.g. ocean acidification, coastal eutrophication, invasive species). Specific learning outcomes are presented at the beginning of each class period.
The course introduces the students to basic concepts in marine community ecology and biogeochemistry, with a focus on important coastal habitats (e.g., marsh, estuaries or coral reefs). By mid-course they should have gained an understanding of how natural processes alter community structure and function in these habitats. Then they explore anthropogenic stressors and their often irreparable impacts on specific species and ecosystems as a whole. In that context, they will gain an appreciation of their roles in sustaining the oceans on small- to large-scale levels.
A Success Story in Building Student Engagement
I piloted this module in a fairly large class with up to 100 students who have rather strong pre-notions of the subjects to be introduced in a "marine biology" class (e.g., sharks and whales). The additional coverage of chemical and physical ocean characteristics and build up to themes of global climate change and its impact on ecosystems and organisms as a whole "caught some by surprise." A number of students did not welcome the use of active teaching tools right away, but in the end, they all embraced the challenge and were excited about the opportunity to share their opinions. The link that was made between the health of marine ecosystems and our actions (i.e. carbon footprint) left the students with a sense of empowerment.
As one of the students noted that the class, the module: "... gives great motivation for being a bright environmental advocate."
My Experience Teaching with InTeGrateMaterials
The activities were slightly modified to allow their use in a larger class format (i.e, group sizes). Also, several of the activities were modified to be accessible electronically through the course webpage. This allowed the students to complete assessments after additional review of lecture notes and additional material outside the class room when needed.
Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course
The module made up one third of the marine biology course, and the units within the modules were all piloted at the end of the semester. This is certainly not what I plan to do next time around, since the more active style of teaching took some students by surprise after having been in the previous lectures that followed more of a traditional format (lecture, clickers, home assignments etc). Piloting the material at the end of the semester also restricted the time available for reflection and full consideration "of lessons learned" from the previous classes.
The activities in this unit were a bit challenging due to amount and length. Despite that, the students truly enjoyed being engaged and followed the unit content extremely well. In the revised version, more discussion will be possible, which will improve this unit significantly. When I piloted this lesson I had to leave out the third activity due to time constraints, and the students were asked to complete an online version of Activity 3 as homework until the next lesson.
The pre-homework assignment was not doable due to a hang up in the instructions for downloading data. With a bit more time I could have fixed this easily, but I did not realize until shortly before class. This has been fixed in the revised version. I was very happy about how the in-class activities allowed the students to fully grasp the concept of ocean acidification and the ocean carbonate system. I am looking forward to using these materials in varying classes that address carbon dioxide sequestration into the oceans. Some of the instructions (wording) requires editing to avoid confusion for students with lesser marine science background (i.e. use of sinking water instead of downwelling, etc).
Since this is one of the units I designed myself, it went much smoother despite some needed adjustments associated with the activities. A main issue was that the layout of the unit did not allow enough "breathing space," questions from students and follow-up if needed. In the revised version the two activities in this unit are shortened. Especially the pace of a 9-minute documentary video in Activity 2 seemed to challenge some of the students. They were originally asked to review the questions for the documentary, watch and take notes and then write out the answers. Now that they have the opportunity to ask emerging questions while still in class, but can re-watch and answer as part of homework, it will be much easier for individual students to take the time they need to complete the assignment. Overall I felt that the ecology background that was introduced in this unit was easy for some but rather hard for others.
This unit was a lot of fun because of its strong interactive nature. I needed to adjust the format of the gallery walk to accommodate a larger class of students and have them still only be in groups of 5 or 6 as they moved to varying stations. To avoid too much handout material I did some editing prior to class and shortened the instructions for the students. To make this more smooth, the number of stations during the gallery walk could be shortened (revised version), but it clearly was one of the favorite activities for the students.
This might have been the unit I had most difficulty with — mostly because of limited time to prepare prior to the unit, but also because of the large amount of material and very involved activities. I was not able to finish the last activity during class since I ran out of time. The content on marine protected areas, however, interested the students and seemed to allow for a lot of them to link to the content. With less writing required for the activities, the unit will work much easier. What held some of the students back was the amount of writing that was required to finish the activity tasks.
This unit as the final unit took a bit longer to "mature." Only after piloting all units once, it seemed that how to best review and bring it all together in this unit emerged more clearly. More emphasis on reviewing and slowly building on content was achieved in the revision, and in connection with an entirely revised overall assessment it flows significantly better now.
The assessment we used was entirely modified to better challenge students to convey their knowledge. In essence a concept map with fill-in tasks was replaced by the charge to create a fact sheet that requires them to "walk an audience through" the facts and concepts they were introduced to, establish links, and explain and disseminate complex concepts to a general audience. The students are allowed to choose their own specific topic (i.e., temperature increase or ocean acidification) and exemplify how these environmental changes due to human activities affect marine habitats, ecosystem resources, and by extension humans. They were also provided with a guiding rubric to support their approach for the fact sheet.
My expectation and hope was that students would be actively engaged and grow intimately concerned with themes of ocean sustainability. That they would gain an understanding of how their actions affect the oceans, and feel a need to engage and feel empowered to change and convey what they learned. I believe that most of the students had a much better understanding of how abiotic and biotic factors interlink, of how humans affect marine ecosystems and, as a consequence, how ecosystem and human health can deteriorate. Most of the students had no knowledge of ocean acidification or geoengineering, yet they left with the understanding that their personal choices impact the carbon footprint we leave and that they will be the ones to vote on the path that is taken to prevent or mitigate deterioration in ocean health due to global climate change.