A Global Classroom for the Ocean Planet
 Underwater glider

In tidewater Virginia, a high school biology teacher tucks her young children into bed, then heads to her desk in the next room to log on to an online workshop on ocean observing systems. She learns that the estuary she has been studying with her class has a series of observation buoys with easy-to-use data and graphs about their study area. She posts a comment about her students' project and adds the data buoys to her project resources.

In South Korea, an earth science teacher in a Department of Defense school earns credit for an online workshop on harmful algal blooms, using his off-duty time for viewing lectures, posting questions, and developing a lesson plan about phytoplankton in the local region.

In Wisconsin, a middle school science and technology teacher shares with her class the answer from a NASA Jet Propulsion Lab scientist to her online question about the new Aquarius satellite. The students discuss ocean technology and they decide to build and test a model remotely operated vehicle.

These vignettes highlight some of the real teachers who participated in the free online workshops offered in 2011 by COSEE-West in partnership with the College of Exploration. In an effort to bring ocean science education to a broader audience than is possible with in-person events, the workshops are designed to provide an expert introduction to a current topic in ocean science, along with plenty of references, visual materials, and teaching ideas for sharing the content with students. The workshops have been popular and well-subscribed from the first sessions offered in 2005, and the ongoing evaluation process has highlighted participants' ideas about "what makes it great." Some of the most important components are:

  • Personal interaction online with scientists and experts
  • Opportunity to access information at any time of day and in any time zone
  • Individual attention and ideas for teaching specific grade levels, locations, and students with special needs
  • Opportunity to earn graduate credit or a certificate of completion
  • Access to lectures and resources online after the workshop is completed
 Map of workshop participant locations

A priority for COSEE-West in offering the online workshops has been to create opportunities for marine scientists and engineers to reach a wider audience. A look at the map of participants for a recent online workshop shows the global scope of the project, and the impressive numbers of participants who joined the event. Scientists who present for these workshops sometimes recruit their graduate students to help with the time-consuming task of responding to individual comments and questions, which may number dozens per day. This has lead to one unexpected outcome of the online workshops; they serve as a useful training ground for graduate students in marine sciences to practice their communication skills. The scientists and their graduate students report that they enjoy the interactions with participants and also get experience using less technical language in their communications than the jargon they share with lab colleagues.

COSEE-West is working to overcome some of the challenges of teaching in an invisible classroom in near-real time. To draw in local participants, several recent online workshops have included a live-streamed presentation by a marine scientist, coupled with an in-person workshop for teachers in the L.A. area. The pre-recorded lectures posted online are divided into sections for bookmarking and viewing in separate chapters, to make the required time commitment for viewers more flexible. New focal areas for teachers of students with special needs and a focus on literacy skills are being built into the resources sections, and more short animations and video clips are being included to help teachers introduce ocean science topics to students.

Teachers and scientists are depending on web-based resources more and more for information and communications. With this continuing series of online workshops, COSEE-West is meeting their needs and helping make new connections all the way around the ocean planet.

Join COSEE-West online for Ocean X Factor: Life Beneath the Deep starting February 27, 2012.

Contributed by Pat Harcourt, COSEE-West Program Manager

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