CAN NINETY-NINE NON-SCIENCE MAJORS DESIGN AND EXECUTE RESEARCH PROJECTS IN AN INTRODUCTORY OCEANOGRAPHY CLASS? USING SIMPLE GEOGRAPHIC VISUALIZATION TOOLS AND REAL-WORLD DATA TO IMPROVE ENGAGEMENT AND ACHIEVE MANDATED LEARNING OUTCOMES
A large lecture format introductory oceanography class for non-science majors was designed to take advantage of online data resources (NASA, NOAA, and others) and free geographic visualization tools (Google Earth and GeoMapApp) to engage students in active learning. Emphasis is placed on understanding how oceanographic data is collected, and analyzing recent data in the context of basic concepts of oceanography. Students are encouraged bring electronic devices to class. Lectures posted online before class include extensive hyperlinks, encouraging students to explore the material on their own, both during class and while studying. Hyperlinks range from primary to tertiary information sources, giving the students practice at evaluating the utility and validity of information presented in different media.
Activities utilizing real world data can be very simple, such as beginning each day with analysis of a relevant data layer visualized on Google Earth, or think/pair/share exercises to reinforce content. Even during lecture, maps, satellite images, charts, and graphs of real-world data are preferentially used to illustrate concepts are used rather than textbook figures. Students also work through more complex in-class and homework assignments in which they formulate and test hypotheses through synthesis of available data. The latter achievement is one of the primary university-mandated learning outcomes of the class, and culminates in an assignment used for assessment each semester.
Despite initial student misgivings about technology, the course is more highly rated than similar introductory classes taught by the same instructor, with exercises based on simple hypothetical problems from textbooks and lab manuals. This approach can be adapted to almost any introductory science class.