OCEAN LEARNING COMMUNITIES
OUR PEOPLE
Initiatives and Missions
Beach naturalist interpreters with local citizens learning about the Puget Sound
COSEE-Ocean Learning Communities (COSEE-OLC), based in Seattle, Washington, is working toward the goals of the network by focusing on two missions. The first is to expand social networks by linking ocean science researchers with formal and informal educators, community groups, learning scientists (scholars who study learning), businesses and local government agencies. The second mission builds on the first by cultivating and studying interdisciplinary collaborations, among those in the social network, on educational endeavors related to ocean literacy. Our overall goal is to develop working models of interdisciplinary learning communities through which current research about the ocean is shared with citizens so they learn to be better stewards. COSEE-OLC is currently pursuing three center-mode initiatives to achieve its missions and its overall goal.

Initiative 1: Cultivating a Marine Volunteer Community

Members of the ocean learning community on an OIP research vessel field trip

Groups of people who share common beliefs and values, and who learn together and from one another, have been around for a long time. We at COSEE-OLC are using this community development process to build and catalyze groups of people into ocean learning communities. For example, in the Puget Sound region numerous marine stewardship citizen-volunteer groups and programs separately reach thousands of citizens through the education, restoration, and monitoring work they do. By being able to connect members of this learning community with members of the ocean science research community we are developing extraordinary approaches for introducing the ocean sciences to new and diverse audiences.

Community building with the many marine-related program leaders and volunteers has occurred through a multifaceted process involving discussions, surveys, workshops, community research, and planning meetings. What has emerged from these processes in 2007 and 2008 are events and activities that have been attended by many members of the extended ocean learning community in the Pacific Northwest. These events include an Evening with Sylvia Earle co-hosted with the Environmental Education Association of Washington and attended by 350 volunteers, scientists, educators, and other guests; scientist presentations on hydrothermal vents, spices in the Puget Sound, and polar sea ice attended by 70 to 120 community members; a partnership building workshop attended by over 70 members of the community that included ocean science, science inquiry, technology and field trips on a research vessel (Ocean Inquiry Project) and research on local watersheds; and ongoing opportunities for organizations to network and share resources.

COSEE-OLC continues to develop connections between marine volunteer groups and ocean scientists while developing opportunities to bring local businesses and industry into the learning community.

Initiative 2: Inreach to Researchers, Outreach to Citizens

Evening with Sylvia Earle in the Great Hall at the Seattle Aquarium
Everyone can benefit when ocean scientists talk about research with the public. The public is brought into the research, given the means to interpret and use the findings, and allowed to engage collaboratively and conversationally with scientists. Despite the potential for mutual benefits, a wide gap often exists between the audience and the scientist. On the researchers' end, a frequent roadblock is a feeling of unease about interacting with a general audience. Common concerns are encapsulated in thoughts such as, "I can't explain my work without over-simplifying it, so why bother"; "How will I know if the talk is successful?"; "How would I do it better next time?"; and "What if I say something incorrect?". COSEE-OLC is working to reach in to scientists and help them overcome the potential hesitancy to make contact with a public audience.

COSEE-OLC's approach is to refine participation formats in order to promote interactive dialogues between scientists and lay audiences, rather than one-way formal lectures. We have studied two such formats: large-audience interactive events in which scientists interact with about 100 community members, and smaller moderated dialogues between scientists and a dozen or two community members. Smaller sessions focus on attendee interpretations of "10-minute AGU-ASLO style" scientific presentations, with a moderated discussion on how to transform and present the material to a general audience that has variable expertise. Initial results after six such sessions illustrate the power of dialogues for scientists and lay persons: the scientist leaves the arena having established a common ground and having acquired new tools to help promote the importance of ocean science; the audience enjoys surmounting the (largely artificial) barrier separating cutting-edge science from the general public; and they appreciate the opportunity to have their voice be a part of the conversation. We are just starting to experiment with a third format that brings scientists into K-12 classrooms during inquiry science instruction. In an apprenticeship fashion, the scientist's research serves as a model for how youth can inquire into ocean-related topics.

Initiative 3: Conduct Science of Learning Research Within Diverse Communities

Rick Keil discussing how substances are transferred from homes into the ocean
The third COSEE-OLC initiative focuses on conducting and communicating research on how people learn science. (See the International Society of Learning Sciences for information on this scholarly field.) To accomplish this goal COSEE-OLC learning scientists, who are also associated with the NSF-funded LIFE science of learning center, are pursuing two lines of work. First, they orchestrate formal and informal learning experiences for educational practitioners, citizen volunteers, and ocean scientists on what is known about how people learn and the implications for teaching and educational design. In this vein, COSEE-OLC has arranged keynote presentations, workshops for beach volunteers on inquiry instruction and learning, and ongoing conversations about research on learning with the COSEE-OLC team and with our collaborators.

The second strategy involves conducting learning research and educational design in partnership with practitioners. It is well established that traditional environmental education is failing to reach historically under-represented groups of people, even though the data show that these youth and their families disproportionately live in urban areas in which environmental issues affect their daily lives (Lewis & James, 1995; Agyemon, 2003). To make progress on this issue we are conducting a cross-setting ethnography of how youth learn about ocean literacy and environmental justice, with participants from two settings: a girls' school that is adopting a year-long ocean management focus for their fifth grade curriculum, and a community center that runs an environmental justice afterschool program for Latino/a youth who are living near a hazardous Superfund river site.

One site of the COSEE-OLC youth environmental learning study, a Superfund river site
Specifically, we are developing theoretical accounts of how specific 'places' are constructed for and by the youth - which has a strong influence on how and what they learn - and how educational institutions orient to youth in relation to their class, race, and ethnic group membership. Building on this understanding, COSEE-OLC is partnered with the practitioners in both sites to develop educational curricula and programmatic experiences that engage these youth in meaningful and scientifically rich place-based educational approaches (Gruenwald, 2003).

COSEE-OLC Lead Institutional Partners

· Univ. of Washington College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences
· University of Washington College of Education
· Seattle Aquarium

References

Agyeman, J. (2003). Under-Participation and ethnocentrism in environmental education research: Developing culturally sensitive research approaches. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 8, pp. 80-94.

Gruenewald, D.A. (2003). Foundations of place: A multidisciplinary framework for place-conscious education. American Educational Research Journal, 40(3), pp. 619-654.

Lewis, S. & James, K. (1995). Whose voice sets the agenda for environmental education? Misconceptions inhibiting racial and cultural diversity. Journal of Environmental Education, 26(3), pp. 5-12.

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Story and photographs by COSEE-OLC staff