Melissa Hicks is a professor at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, New York where she teaches introductory courses in geology and oceanography, including a study abroad program in marine ecology of the Bahamas. For the last two years, she’s also been interested in finding ways of incorporating real-world ocean science data into her curriculum.
“Giving my students the opportunity to work with data sets builds important skills, such as analysis and critical thinking,” Hicks said. “When the data are interactive, come from authentic scientific investigations, and they aren’t just numbers in a textbook, it’s much more engaging.”
From June 12 to 18, Hicks, along with educators from nine colleges and universities across the U.S., participated in the “High Dive into Ocean Data” workshop at BIOS. Funded by a grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), the workshop served as the “testing and training” phase for the BIOS DataBytes website, an online resource for educators interested in using ocean data as a teaching resource.
“This workshop was a valuable opportunity to bring educators and data management specialists together to walk through everyday examples of oceanographic and atmospheric data and understand how to effectively organize them for long-term curation by other users,” said Kaitlin Noyes, BIOS director of education and community engagement and co-principal investigator on the grant. “Each educator brought a unique perspective into how we can break down barriers to make data accessible for student-driven queries and discovery.”
DataBytes was launched in late 2020 through a partnership with the Biological and Chemical Oceanography Data Management Office (BCO-DMO), the ocean science data repository of NSF; and Your Ocean Consulting, LLC., owned by oceanographer and science communicator Leslie Smith, who was also a workshop co-lead. The website offers standalone “DataBytes,” each with an introduction to a BIOS research topic, downloadable data files, and supporting multimedia resources, such as interactive maps, photographs, and videos.
“Educators are hungry for ways to integrate real-world data into their classroom, but if they aren’t experts, this can create barriers to access,” Smith said. “The ‘High Dive into Ocean Data’ workshop provided participants with curated data sets, analysis and interpretation skills, and suggestions for how to utilize these new resources and activities.
Over the course of the weeklong workshop, educators attended presentations from BIOS scientists and took part in a variety of field and laboratory activities designed to give insight into how the curated data sets were originally collected. These included a trip to the Tudor Hill Marine Atmospheric Observatory; a demonstration of how autonomous underwater vehicles (or gliders) operate; and a visit to the lab of BIOS faculty members Leocadio Blanco-Bercial and Amy Maas to learn how high-resolution images of zooplankton are created.
Making an Idea a Reality
Blanco-Bercial and Maas, both zooplankton ecologists, are collaborators on the original NSF grant that funded the DataBytes website and the “High Dive into Ocean Data” workshop. Their work on this grant focuses on studying the diversity and abundance of zooplankton in the ocean’s twilight zone (below 650 feet, or 200 meters), and how these vary with latitude and environmental factors, such as temperature and primary productivity. Like other NSF projects, data will eventually go into the BCO-DMO online repository, where it can be accessed and potentially integrated with other data sets and models to support future investigations.
“This grant is really unique in that Leo and I are using samples and data that were collected in 2011 and 2012, and combining them with data already available on the BCO-DMO website,” Maas said. “We are doing new analyses on some of the samples, but also relying heavily on information that is already publicly available. That got us thinking about ways other people might re-use the data, and potential barriers associated with re-use, and it occurred to us that this could be an amazing teaching tool.” Blanco-Bercial and Maas wrote to Danie Kinkade, director of BCO-DMO, to ask if this was something her organization might be interested in collaborating with them on.
In addition to agreeing to host DataBytes modules on the BCO-DMO website, Kinkade offered to contribute data management training to the “High Dive into Data” workshop. Traveling from her base at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Cape Cod, Massachusetts to Bermuda, Kinkade led a team of BCO-DMO specialists, which also included data managers Karen Soenen and Amber York.
“We were excited at the opportunity to collaborate on this win-win idea, not only by hosting the completed DataBytes modules on the BCO-DMO website for reuse by educators, but by providing an introduction to the BCO-DMO data system and training on data management best practices, which are applicable to many oceanographic sub-disciplines,” Kinkade said. “We strive to make our data accessible to a wide array of users, and the High Dive workshop was a great chance to obtain feedback on how we can improve our system and training resources for educators.”
For Matt Semcheski, a faculty member in the marine resource management program at The College of the Florida Keys in Key West, Florida, attending the workshop and learning from data specialists gives him a unique way to differentiate his students’ classroom experiences.
“In our program, I teach the same students for two years, five classes each semester,” Semcheski said. “There are only so many ways you can give lectures and PowerPoint presentations, so being able to bring in the DataBytes website is like having another tool in my toolbox, and it’s a completely different learning style. My students can learn by doing.”
“It’s difficult to say which was more valuable: the interaction with other faculty who teach similar courses, the introduction to data and DataBytes, or the time in the field learning how data are collected,” said Mike Phillips, geology professor at Illinois Valley Community College in Oglesby, Illinois. “All provided information I will be able to bring to the classroom to make oceanography more meaningful and interesting.”