Reviewing Ocean Tracks at Scripps

In May, I visited La Jolla and Scripps Institute of Oceanography for the first time. Coming from Maine and what seemed like a never-ending winter I was looking forwards to the sun and warmth of California. Of course, I arrived on an unusually rainy day. However, the weather soon returned to its usual splendor and I walked along the shore to the meeting room at Scripps where I was to help work on the undergraduate modules of Ocean Tracks.

I was one of three faculty at this meeting, all of us from different states and very different institutions and student bodies. I teach at Unity College, a small (~600 student) residential liberal arts college that teaches a variety of environmental majors in a sustainable context. Teaching Marine Biology, I had been excited to find the Ocean Tracks modules and integrate them into my course as a beta tester the previous fall. The modules were an excellent place to have my students work with large datasets of real data gathered by tagging several large charismatic marine vertebrates. My students love these charismatic megafauna, so appreciated working with sharks and elephant seals.

Working with the Ocean Tracks team we worked through the undergraduate modules. One of the assets of each module is how it is clearly organized into descriptive and synthesis sections. In a series of lively discussions, we all shared our students’ experiences, problems and successes as they completed a module.

My favorite module right now, although I like them all, is the one that looks at designing a Marine Protected Area (MPA) for Sharks. MPAs are a hot topic right now—within the last few years an increasing number of them have been designated globally. President Obama in 2016 designated a National Marine Monument just off the Gulf of Maine: the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. As a teaching tool, I find the practice of designing an MPA to be incredibly useful for my students. It helps them wrap their minds around the ocean as a three-dimensional space in which the animals (e.g. sharks) cannot be corralled by fences or walls. Instead the MPA has to be designed around the existing movements of the animal(s) that we are trying to protect. Further, the ocean is our larder, our refuse pile, our livelihood, and our playground in various guises. We have to take these interactions and people into account if any MPA is to be successful.

As we worked together through the week to refine these modules, we helped to clarify a few instructions and fix a few non-working links. I especially enjoyed the insight from the analytical team (although everyone was great to work with). I have designed many lab exercises back at Unity and have often gained colleagues’ feedback. However, I have never had the luxury of the type of feedback given by those who specialize in analyzing student and faculty feedback. Overall, it was an exciting few days, and I am looking forwards to using Ocean Tracks modules again in the fall. 

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