Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 27 Issue 04

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Volume 27, No. 4
Pages 13 - 17


COMMENTARY • Assessing an Undergraduate Oceanography Curriculum

By Bradford S. Barrett , William A. Swick , and Dwight E. Smith Jr.  
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Despite being a relative newcomer to the geoscience disciplines, the ocean sciences play an important role in the geosciences: the ocean controls the planet’s energy budget, directly drives or influences all major patterns of weather and climate, shapes the planet’s geologic evolution, and links the planet’s food and nutrient chains. Coupling the ocean’s fundamental importance with an excitement among students to learn about the ocean (Garrison, 2014), a rigorous and well-designed undergraduate degree program in oceanography that engages students in the inquiry-​based learning process (e.g., Hassard, 2005) throughout their undergraduate careers is needed. However, the tools most often used at the undergraduate level, such as lectures, whose delivery is made relatively easy by the utility of Microsoft PowerPoint, and recipe-driven confirmatory exercises, whose outcomes are often known before the task even begins, do a poor job of promoting student retention or independent thinking (Handelsman et al., 2004; Mazur, 2008). Such activities often rate low in promoting critical thinking and can be considered to fall near the bottom of Bloom’s Taxonomy (Bloom et al., 1956; Anderson et al., 2001) or Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (Webb, 1997, 1999). However, inquiry-driven activities, such as assigning think-pair-share questions (Kagan, 1994); asking for critique, evidence, and reasoning of a scientific claim (McNeil and Krajcik, 2008); assigning students to predict, observe, and explain a phenomena (White and Gunstone, 1992); and dispelling student misconceptions (Feller, 2007), fall much higher in critical thinking ratings. These more advanced teaching methods are critical to engaging students in the classroom (Feller and Lotter, 2009) and promote rigorous understanding. At all levels of education, active learning techniques positively impact knowledge retention (National Research Council, 2000).


Barrett, B.S., W.A. Swick, and D.E. Smith Jr. 2014. Assessing an undergraduate oceanography curriculum. Oceanography 27(4):13–17, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2014.99.


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