Marine laboratories are traditionally places that by their nature foster a diverse community of ocean learners. COSEE-PP is capitalizing on that community to enhance ocean education for two historically underserved audiences. We are increasing opportunities in marine science for faculty and students at community colleges. Secondly, we are providing opportunities in ocean literacy and communication for staff and volunteers at informal science education institutions. This will allow us, in turn, to reach large audiences that traditionally have had limited access to an understanding of the ocean. We work to develop partnerships that enhance educational opportunities, provide professional development opportunities, disseminate knowledge about the ocean, and formalize models that can be applied elsewhere.
COSEE-PP is a collaboration between members of the Western Association of Marine Laboratories and community colleges and informal science education institutions (ISEIs) in their regions. In our first year, we have focused on the development of programs and partnerships in Oregon involving the University of Oregon's Institute of Marine Biology, Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center, the Oregon Coast Aquarium, the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve (SSNERR) and several Oregon community colleges. Over the next four years we will engage our partner organizations based out of Western Washington University's Shannon Point Marine Center, Humboldt State University Marine Laboratory, and University of Hawaii's Kewalo Marine Laboratory.
Community College Programs
We began our partnership with the community colleges by learning who they are and what they currently do with regards to marine science, as well as what more they would like to do. In Spring 2008, through face-to-face meetings held at community colleges and participation of COSEE-PP in the Northwest Biology Instructors' Organization (NWBIO) meeting, we conducted a needs assessment with approximately 75 science faculty and administrators from 21 Oregon and Washington community colleges. We learned about what is currently happening at community colleges related to ocean literacy; what interest and opportunities there are for expanding marine science in the curriculum; what type of professional development is best suited to community college science faculty; and what topics/themes will enhance their own understanding of marine science and allow them to include more marine science in their courses.
The meetings were overwhelmingly positive and, surprisingly, each had similar outcomes. Faculty, in general, are very interested in including more marine science in their courses; many are interested in short (one- to two-week) professional development opportunities; and all have very limited time to develop new teaching materials during the school year due to their heavy teaching loads.
This information has guided our plans to develop a series of week-long summer workshops for community college faculty, to be held at marine laboratories. The first of these will be offered at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology in the summer of 2009 and will focus on both marine science content and the development of curricular materials. In addition, we will offer a professional development day for community college faculty, focusing on marine science, at the 2009 NWBIO meeting.
To foster relationships between marine scientists, educators and the community colleges, we piloted the Promoting Research Investigations in the Marine Environment (PRIME) program. In this program four students and two faculty from community colleges conducted research and educational activities with scientists and educators at the two Oregon marine labs, the SSNERR, and at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. The program took place over a two-month period in Summer 2008. The PRIME program will continue during Summer 2009, offering additional opportunities for community college students to interact with scientists and educators.
Informal Science Education Institutions (ISEIs) Programs
A great deal of the general public's knowledge about the ocean comes from visits to informal science education institutions such as aquaria, zoos, visitor and nature centers, or from contacts with volunteers of organizations who interact with the public at a variety of less formal venues. Two COSEE-PP activities that are currently in the planning stage will provide a series of opportunities for the staff and volunteers of these free-choice learning organizations and groups to develop their expertise in ocean science content and public communications research. We are developing a Coastal Master Naturalist Program for adults that teaches about the coast and ocean. This program will help volunteers at a variety of existing coastal organizations to develop their ability to convey this knowledge to diverse audiences. It is designed to engage citizens within their communities to promote understanding and stewardship of coastal and ocean resources, and provide them with skills and opportunities to engage in citizen science. Currently we are conducting a needs assessment, working on potential curriculum for the program, and developing additional funding opportunities. We expect to pilot the first stages of this program in Spring 2009.
Volunteers at many aquariums, museums, zoos, and other out-of-school learning programs often have more opportunities than regular paid staff for initial and ongoing training in marine science content, as well as principles of science learning and interpretation. While many staff members have advanced degrees in marine sciences, combined with years of practical experience as educators and facilitators, they have few chances to continue to develop those areas of expertise through professional development or training. To address this need we are creating professional development opportunities for marine and aquatic educators and husbandry professionals working in informal science education institutions and with free-choice learning audiences. We are currently conducting a nationwide assessment of the professional development needs of educators and husbandry personnel in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredited institutions.
Engaging Our Scientists
The success of all of COSEE-PP activities depends partially on the participating marine science professionals. Many marine laboratory scientists have a tradition of participation in outreach activities but may need additional expertise for new activities, while others may need assistance with their first-time efforts with outreach. Drawing on resources developed at other COSEE centers, in this next year we are planning a series of short workshops for marine scientists at our partner institutions, to engage them in our activities and provide them with assistance to be successful in their outreach endeavors.
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Contributed by Jan Hodder, COSEE-PP Director and Coral Gehrke, COSEE-PP Coordinator
Photos courtesy of COSEE-PP