Online Oceanography lecture classes have been taught in the Department of Earth Sciences in the Florida International University for the last 3 years. The online course consisted of a prescribed text book and online powerpoint presentations on each lecture. The online course followed the same time table as a conventional on-site course. The students were required to submit an essay type homework assignment and an online quiz twice every week. The course also had two midterms and a final which cumulatively accounted for 60% of the grades. Between 25 and 30 students enroll for this online course every semester.
In the Summer of 2006, we changed over the course contents to the one developed by the American Meteorological Society. The AMS course contains a well written text book, test and question banks and an Investigations manual. Besides the online quiz and the essays the students are also required to answer quizzes for which they have to download real-time oceanographic data from publicly accessible websites run by agencies like NOAA, PMEL, US Navy etc.
For our implementation, we split the AMS course in two viz., the lecture and the lab component. The assignments on the Investigations manual and the online part of the assignments were made part of a new one credit lab course. The quizzes and critical thinking and review questions based on the text book, along with the midterms and the final exams are now part of the lecture course. This was the first time an online earth science lab course was offered in FIU.
The pros and cons of the AMS course, compared to the old format are as follows:
Pros: 1. For the lab course the online teaching is a change of paradigm based on the realization that a large part of modern oceanography depends on remote monitoring and data collection and an understanding of the various sources of these data:-- satellites, shore based, floaters and buoys, submersibles, to name a few. Gone are the days when a single boat used to cross the oceans and coastal water physically collecting samples and data on wind, salinity, water temperature and currents. Arguably, a lab course requiring analysis of remote data streams is more relevant to modern oceanography compared to classic hands-on lab experiments. 2. AMS website posts up-to-date oceanographic news which gives the students a familiarity with the real world and real-time oceanography. For example, the details of the Indian Ocean Tsunami were online even before scientists and journalists had made it to the stricken areas. This helps students better connect their text book learning with the real world. 3. The experience and insight of the people who prepared the course and who are practicing oceanographers of long standing, are evident in the course material. This is invaluable, particularly in the smaller colleges, where the same instructor has to teach a number of courses from various sub-disciplines of the Earth and Atmospheric sciences and thus often lack extensive background in a particular field.
Cons: 1. The course and the assignments are more focused on High school (Grade 12) students and often seemed not rigorous enough for a University level science course. Most of the questions were qualitative. A majority of assignments requires a student just to look at a plot of satellite data and answer simple questions, like the temperature at a point or the direction of a current from the plot. A more advanced approach, where the student has to plot raw data, analyze it and interpret it in terms of oceanographic processes will be more appropriate at the University level. 2. Although this is a totally online course, the course does not take the advantage of computerized grading and course administration. The students are required to email answers to even multiple choice quizzes and the instructor then has to manually grade these and post the grades . This is absolutely unnecessary, time consuming and defeats the benefits of technology in course delivery and assessment. This extra labor might make the online course unattractive from the instructor's point-of-view. 3. Most of the educational institutions in USA use either WebCT or Blackboard as the software for online course delivery. The AMS course does not yet come in a WebCT compatible webpack. The instructor and the students both have to access the AMS website for links, assignments and for answer forms. This is often an extra hassle for course administration.
So, in conclusion, AMS online Oceanography course-- • Provides Excellent integration of real-time data with the course material • Provides Well thought out assignments integrating real world and real time data. • Need to introduce more rigorous assignments for University science students • Needs to integrate automatic and online testing and grading • Needs more integration with WebCT and/or Blackboard.