Investigating Oceanographic Issues and Solutions

Denise Bristol (Hillsborough Community College), Amy Hochberg (Utah State University), Jennifer Nelson (Indiana University-Purdue University- Indianapolis), Anthony Santorelli (Anne Arundel Community College), and Al Trujillo (Palomar College)


Students explore an oceanographic issue and solutions in a discussion post (text or video), and provide critical analysis.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications

Learning Goals

Content/concepts goals
Analyze the interdisciplinary nature of an oceanographic issue (this really requires a demonstration of knowledge of oceanographic concepts from various areas of a general course).

Higher order thinking skills goals
Examine the two-way ocean-human interaction within an oceanographic issue.

Relate to an oceanographic issue personally when discussing solutions.

Synthesize information about an oceanographic issue through use of resources, including literature and data (NOAA, EPA, etc.) relevant to the issue.

Other skills goals
Investigate an oceanographic issue through good research practices, including literature searches, finding resources, and citing references properly.

Context for Use

Type and level of course
This was designed for an introductory general oceanography course, but the issues can be modified if the course is focused on other geosciences (i.e. geology, meteorology).

Skills and concepts students should have mastered
To analyze environmental issues, students need to have at least competency (if not mastery) of geological, chemical, physical and biological oceanography; perhaps some issues may not require interdisciplinary knowledge, but most likely will.

How the activity is situated in the course
This can serve as a culminating project that allows students to synthesize and apply prior concepts as well as a part of a sequence of exercises that could focus on environmental issues at different stages of an introductory general oceanography course (if certain issues stem from one area of the field).

Description and Teaching Materials

In an introductory oceanography course, students will be discussing anthropogenic (human) impacts to the oceans. They will find many impacts to discuss in their textbooks. Early in the course, they will need to select a specific impact from the following list:

  • Toxic Chemicals and Bioaccumulation
  • Dredging and Beach Replenishment
  • Habitat Destruction (Coastal Development)
  • Whaling
  • Specific Impacts to Coral Reefs (not related to acidification)
  • Ocean Acidification
  • Fisheries (choosing a location or a species)
  • Sea Level Rise
  • Species Endangerment
  • Over-fishing - select a single species to focus on
  • By-catch issues
  • Micro-plastics in the ocean
  • Eutrophication (nutrient pollution; this can result in red tide)
  • Noise pollution
  • Oil pollution (select 1 specific spill to focus on)
  • Other pollution (many sub-types i.e. solid waste, sewage, monofilament)

Or, students can choose their own! (with instructor approval)

For the impact chosen, students will research the impact and write a detailed discussion post or create an informative video and summary. It is important to provide information to students on how and what to include in the discussion post or video.

Students will address the following prompts and the questions below for each:

  • A thorough description of the issue and its impact to the ocean
  • Where in the oceans is the impact/issue occurring?
  • How did the impact originate or manifest itself?
  • What concepts learned in the course are applicable? Some examples include (instructors can plug in a list of concepts as appropriate)
  • How does the impact to the oceans impact humans?
  • A thorough description of how scientists and the public are involved in the problem and solution
  • How are scientists involved in understanding and solving the problem using experimentation/data?
  • What are humans doing to cause the impact?
  • What is/are the solution(s) to the impact?
  • What can the student (and fellow classmates) do about it to reduce or remedy the impact?
  • Utilize proper resources to support the discussion/peer review of the issue and solution

Make sure students parenthetically cite their sources as well as have a Sources/Literature cited section. They must have at least one data source to support the issue discussion or solution.

They must have at least 1 valid scholarly scientific primary source (i.e. journal article or government technical report), 2 valid scientific web sources (scientific non-profit organization or government agency), 1 valid "soft science" secondary source (such as National Geographic, Science, Nature) and 1 news article about the issue. This equates to a minimum of 5 sources.

Students will then conduct a peer review of the discussion of the issue. They can reply to 2 other students' original posts after they have posted their original posts, and critically review their classmate's post. Students must post their original posts prior to viewing any other students' posts within the discussion. Posting a reply or a blank post first in order to read other student's work is not acceptable and will result in a zero for the original post.

A critical review should point out what they found interesting, incorrect or inaccurate/misinterpreted information, spelling and grammar errors as well as a review of their citations (Parenthetical and within the Literature Cited/Sources Section for formatting). In the review, students should add to the subject of their discussion, not just regurgitate something from their original posts. Make sure they cite any sources for their review, also.
Ocean Impacts Discussion Rubric (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 21kB Nov27 17)
FAQ for Discussion Board Posts (Acrobat (PDF) 393kB Nov27 17)

Teaching Notes and Tips

It is likely that students will have issues with citation as well as reputable sources being used. Introducing resources that will aid students in citation (required style is up to instructor) and research, including from their institution's library, early in the semester is strongly encouraged.

Another challenge will be for students to scaffold prior concepts learned in the course to be able to demonstrate understanding of many environmental issues that require interdisciplinary knowledge. Engagement of students to recall and apply previous concepts to what is being discussed later in the course will be important; perhaps discussion of current events when appropriate throughout the course will give students an idea of what they will need to do for this assignment.

Finally, responses in online discussions are always a challenge. They may not be given, or they may not have enough supplement to enrich or encourage further discussion. Clear instructions on what responses must include are very key. The attached FAQs file can be useful for students to see what is required for fruitful online discussion.


Students' success in achieving the goals of this assignment can be assessed through a detailed grading rubric; it is attached as a supporting material.

References and Resources