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How local field laboratories can enhance student learning – first thoughts

One of iEarth’s stated goals is to develop “local field laboratories” at at least three out of its four member institutions: UiB, UiO, UiT, and UNIS. But what exactly a “local field laboratory” is, and why it actually should enhance learning, is yet to be figured out. In a discussion with iEarth colleagues yesterday, we talked about many benefits of local field laboratories (a term which, again, isn’t clearly defined yet). I am elegantly skipping over the step 1 of the action plan, which would be to do a comprehensive literature search on the topic, and am just documenting my own thoughts after that meeting.

Let’s start out from what we know is necessary for intrinsic motivation, and hence for student learning, namely continuously feeling autonomy, competence, and relatedness (Ryan & Deci, 2000). How can we use interdisciplinary, local field sites to create conditions in which those are experienced?

— Note: ultimately, whether or not those conditions are created will of course depend on how a course is designed and conducted much more than on where it happens! —

Fostering a feeling of autonomy

A feeling of autonomy means that students feel that they have (some) choice over what they do when and where. This can mean many things, of course, and a couple of ideas are provided here.

How a local field laboratory can help foster a feeling of autonomy

Autonomous access: If the local field laboratory is close to campus, students can access (and leave!) it by themselves, possibly by foot, bike, car, public transport, rather than for example a plane. This means they can – at least to a degree – adapt it to their needs: arrive a bit earlier or leave a bit later. It also means that if that they really want to leave a situation they are not comfortable in, they can do that at any time (and are not stuck in some remote location with whoever makes them uncomfortable).

Depending on the setup, it might be possible to access the local field laboratory outside of normal hours, for example for students to catch up on experiments that they missed because of sickness, or to do extra projects because they are curious. This also gives a lot of flexibility to accommodate students that cannot be present during scheduled times.

Low psychological threshold: Field trips – especially the first one to a new location or with a new group – can be scary situations. If the local field laboratory is located close to campus, students stay in an environment where they are familiar with the general culture, language, … This likely means that they feel more confident, and thus more autonomous, in that setting.

Low financial burden: In a local field laboratory close to campus, students are likely to already have appropriate personal equipment (for example a rain jacket appropriate for local climate) rather than having to purchase it for a new-to-student-and-never-to-be-visited-again location. This lowers one potential threshold for participation, giving the students autonomy.

Accessibility: A local field laboratory close to campus is more accessible than having to hike and carry equipment in difficult conditions. A local field laboratory close to campus is NOT accessible to everyone just by virtue of its location though, but it might be easier to make it such.

How using the same local field laboratory with many different disciplines and courses can help foster a feeling of autonomy

More choice of potential research questions: If the local field laboratory is used by many different disciplines or courses, there will be more equipment available for experiments, and more diverse data from previous experiments (if there is a good data storage system). This makes the potential student research questions more interesting and provides a wider choice (if the teachers are flexible enough to allow it).

Accessibility: As stated above, accessibility does not happen by itself, but needs to be considered and planned for. But if there are many students using the same local field laboratory, there might be more resources invested into making sure that the local field laboratory is actually accessible for everybody, and also teachers can build on other teacher’s experiences and good ideas.

Fostering a feeling of competence

Feeling competent means receiving positive feedback: Either external through teachers, friends, family, or an audience on social media, or just by succeeding at doing something.

How a local field laboratory can help fostering a feeling of competence

Transfer: Learning is always situated in a specific context, and the transfer to other contexts is not easy. If the local field laboratory is located close to campus, students can transfer more easily into their own life as it is the same type of environment they spend their whole lives in, thus re-prompting the topic they learned at in that environment over and over again, making them see the world around them with the eyes of an expert – an experience of competence!

Not only one-off: Since the local field laboratory is so close to campus, students can revisit the lab if they want and either repeat or do more. They can also bring friends and/or family to show what they have learned, and have their expert status confirmed. More training in being in the lab and talking about lab content is always practising both lab and science communication skills.

A local field laboratory close to campus can also be used as a red thread throughout the curriculum: the lab can be visited repeatedly over several courses, each time going into more depth, building more competence.

How using the same local field laboratory with many different disciplines and courses can help fostering a feeling of competence

Relevance & context: In a local field laboratory that is used by other courses and disciplines, students can more easily recognise how their own discipline fits into and contributes to a larger scientific context.

Interdisciplinarity: If the local field laboratory is used as a red thread throughout the curriculum, different aspects of the same site can be explored over several courses (geology, soil, climate, weather, plants, …)), thus building interdisciplinary aspects over time, increasing competence by exploring different facets of the same site.

Fostering a feeling of relatedness

Relatedness is the feeling of being part of a supportive group. That doesn’t mean the group has to be around someone all the time, but they have to know that it is there.

How a local field laboratory can help fostering a feeling of relatedness

Contribution to local community: If the local field laboratory is located close to campus, it is also located in the community where students live. Their research can thus have a direct relevance for their community, which can help them feel more connected both by doing something for the community as well as by sharing their learning with members of that community and getting their feedback.

Reducing the carbon footprint: Doing the slightly less exciting field lab that doesn’t go to an exotic location contributes to lowering our carbon footprint, which students might perceive as their personal contribution to something bigger than themselves.

How using the same local field laboratory with many different disciplines and courses can help fostering a feeling of relatedness

Larger context: If the local field laboratory is set up well, there is an overarching theme of all the measurements that are being taken, so that everybody is contributing to something beyond just doing their laboratory results, but much bigger, beyond their own discipline.

Interdisciplinarity: If several courses are at the field site simultaneously, students get to meet students and staff from other disciplines (formally in course context, or informally over dinner) and build a larger scientific network for themselves.

Other considerations that might be relevant to universities

Of course optimising student learning is not the only consideration that universities have, and it would be naive to assume that it was. So here are a couple of other relevant considerations:

Benefits of local field laboratories

  • lower travel costs
  • lower risks connected with long travel or dangerous field sites that the university might have to mitigate
  • easier logistics because of shorter transport that isn’t going across borders or oceans
  • lower carbon footprint!!
  • the field laboratory can be used for outreach “in the field”, inviting people into authentic research situations

Benefits of using the same local field laboratory with many different disciplines and courses can help

  • synergies: using equipment, buildings, … for multiple purposes
  • easier logistics since everything just needs to go to one place
  • red thread in curriculum: teachers meet (formally or informally), talk more, improve coherence between courses / find more interesting interdisciplinary questions

Is that really the full story?

Of course, many of these arguments are just one side of a coin, and local field sites might be best suited to undergraduate education and less so for advanced courses. Maybe one of the learning outcomes is for students to learn about dealing with logistics in a part of the world where everything works differently from what they are used to, and where they don’t speak the language. Or some things just cannot be taught in a certain area because that process just does not happen there. But then those arguments should be made specifically, and weight against the benefits listed above. But I think it’s definitely worthwhile to consider local field laboratories as an alternative to many established field trips to far-away locations: for carbon-footprint reasons just as much as for all the reasons listed above!

What are your thoughts on local field laboratories? And what references should I start with when I finally will have the time to start reading on the topic?


Reference

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American psychologist55(1), 68.

Reflections on the GeoLearning Forum 2021

On October 21. and 22., I attended the fourth iEarth GeoLearning Forum (GLF). The GLF is an opportunity for geoscience teachers and students from all over Norway to meet up and learn from and with each other. This year, the GLF was organised in a hotel close to Oslo, and attended by more than 100 participants, more than 40 of those students.

Here are a couple of reflections on the GLF, in my favourite continue, start, stop format:

Continue for GLF 2022

There were so many amazing aspects of GLF 2021 that we should definitely continue with! Here is a selection.

Continue inviting inspiring keynote speakers

For me, the highlight of this year’s GLF was definitely the keynote by Ilan Dehli Villanger, who spoke about an approach to communication and cooperation with students by “meeting, seeing, hearing, respecting, and liking (loving)”. This might sound weird at first, but there were so many practical tips and tricks connected to the keynote that we can implement in future communications: Meeting students in a space where we sit at an angle, so that the meeting isn’t confrontational and both parties can look straight ahead into empty space without having to purposefully avoid eye contact. Seeing not just our first impression of students, but questioning our assumptions about what the features we notice might mean, and why we are noticing them in the first place. Hearing students by actively listening and paraphrasing what they say to make sure we understand. Respecting students. And lastly loving — or at least liking (and acknowledging that loving might be too strong a word for some, at least to start out with) — students: Looking for something likeable in everybody, and interacting with the most likeable version of them we can make ourselves see.

The idea of “meet, see, hear, respect, and love” was carried throughout the rest of the GLF and frequently referred to in conversations and other workshops — a sign of the impact it had on us! And it was a great way of kicking off the conference and setting the tone. I don’t know who could possibly follow up on that next year — those are quite some shoes to fill!

Continue mixing students and teachers, both as presenter teams and in small discussion groups

The other big highlight for me were conversations with students that I did not know beforehand, from all four iEarth universities in Oslo, Bergen, Tromsø and on Svalbard. These conversations happened in many of the workshops where teachers and students were paired in mixed groups, but also over meals and coffees, where many people made an effort to mix and talk to new people. We talked about what iEarth meant to them, how they perceived their studies, but also what iEarth means to me and what I do as part of my job. After a presentation that Kjersti Daae and myself gave on our tank experiments and a coffee break with kitchen oceanography, we also talked a lot about connecting disciplinary knowledge to everyday experiences, and how this can make studies more fun.

There were also some great student/teacher teams presenting together: Shout out to Mattias and Guro for a great team work on presenting and moderating!

Continue methods that include many diverse voices and that support transfer

I really liked how at GLF a lot of best practice was modelled: We had a “sharing session” with 3-5 minute lightening talks on different topics, a spontaneous open session where we collected topics participants would like to discuss, that were then assigned facilitators and we were just thrown into the conversations (yes, I continued talking about kitchen oceanography in coffee). At the end of the conference, we wrote a minute paper with our personal take-aways and sealed it in an envelope addressed to ourselves, and we’ll receive it mailed to us in a couple of weeks.

I also really liked the efforts to make the meeting inclusive and welcoming, e.g color-coding lanyards depending on whether people would be ok being photographed, and using microphones throughout to make sure everybody could hear.

Continue making room for fun!

This GLF, we got prizes for the coolest things: The best experiment (which was also the only experiment — but thank you anyway, Kjersti and I feel very honored :-)), and then lots of things that came out of the online form people used to sign up for the conference: The first person to sign up, the last person to sign up, the fastest sign-up, the slowest sign-up, … I had no idea all this data was being stored, but it was very nicely presented and great fun!

Start for GLF 2022

Anything we could start to make GLF 2022 even better than GLF 2021?

Start enquiring about what people want to talk about, and use that to plan the program

One conversation I had with other teachers and students about planning next year’s GLF was about whether we should have fewer sessions, so each would have just a little more time to go in a little more depth in discussions, or whether we should keep the sessions short-ish, in order to cover more different topics. My subjective take on that is that as much as I would love more in-depth discussions, we should keep the diversity — if there had only been four sessions in the whole GLF, I would have been much more likely to look at each session and think about whether each one of them would make the travel and time commitment worthwhile. Whereas now, there was such a broad program that I didn’t look through it in detail but decided to attend, trusting that there would be enough interesting pieces. So I think if we want many people to attend, we need to keep a diverse program with bits and pieces for everybody.

But I think this is a conversation that could be had in advance next time, and more generally also what the topics are that people are really interested in, both on conference level and on the level of individual workshops. Discussions on what topics would make it worthwhile to take two days out of our busy lives to attend GLF? And how can we make sure each workshop is relevant? In the workshop on “improving supervision of Master students”, for example, I was paired up with three Bachelor students. Since they had no direct experience of being a Master student, I could tell them about how I advise Master students (which might have been interesting to hear about, or not), but I felt that the topic wasn’t really the most relevant for either of us. How much better would it have been if the questions we discussed had actually been crowd-sourced in advance? Even if the questions had ended up the same, I feel like willingness to discuss them would have been higher if they had been introduced as something that either students or teachers (or possibly both) really cared about.

Start “quality control”

I’m specifically thinking of one workshop that I think was not well thought out and where the role distribution really pissed me off (think man doing all the talking, young woman being introduced as the assistant and clicking the slides forward), but in general I think it would really strengthen the GLF if there was some type of quality control implemented beforehand to make sure the workshops really serve as best practice examples. Maybe people who want to speak/present/run a workshop should write an abstract beforehand and from that pool, only some get picked? Maybe the workshop concept should be talked through with a student-teacher pair whose job it is to provide helpful feedback? Or two workshop lead teams could be paired up to provide peer-feedback? This would have the added benefit of creating connections between different sessions.

And the technology needs to be tested in advance, that was a recurring theme.

Start creating artefacts

Make contributing to GLF count — by publishing abstracts of presentations and workshops, by giving written acknowledgement on nice paper with the university seal to student contributions, by having the official role as “peer-reviewer for the improvement of workshops” that students can put on their CVs. Maybe we could also award prices for the most entertaining moderation of a workshop, the most well-designed slide, the most cited phrase (this time definitely “meet, see, hear, respect, and love”), the best interaction between workshop lead and participants?

Also I want to do a GLF bingo with all the typical things like innovation, students as partners, culture change, assessment :-D

Start making it easier to find people

For this year’s GLF, the plan was to take pictures of people as they arrived at the conference venue, and have them be projected to the big screen (together with their name, affiliation and an ice breaker like their nerd topic) during breaks to make it easier to find specific people one might want to talk to. This didn’t work out in the end, but maybe next time we could collect all this information right from the start through the form where people sign up for the GLF.

Start thinking about evaluation early on

Mattias and Guro did an evaluation this year, but if we want to improve the GLF longterm, we should set measurable goals and then try to measure whether we reached them. Maybe in terms of numbers of participants, or discussions with different people, or different discussion topics, or fit between interests and what actually happened, or … Maybe this was done this year, too, but if so I’m not aware of it.

Stop for GLF 2022

What should we stop for GLF 2022? The only thing that I can think of that I would stop is planning the meeting in a different week and across the country from other iEarth meetings, that many of the same people would attend. But the devil is in the details, and I’m not sure those kinds of things can be completely avoided, even if it would have saved us some travel…

Thank you Mattias, Thea, Kristian, and everybody else, for a truly inspiring conference!

Giving students choice on what is being discussed in class

Speaking about co-creating learning and giving students choice in what they learn, one thing that I have found to work really well is to sometimes present different options.

For example, in my workshops on university teaching, there are some topics that are always requested, even if they are not part of the planned content for the course:

  • it is very common that participants want to talk about how to actively engage large classes
  • it is equally common that participants complain that they never know whether students actually understood something until the final exam, when it is too late
  • often participants wonder how much students know about a topic and whether they are starting from the right point for a given student group, or if students have certain misconceptions
  • sometimes participants don’t know how to get discussions in small student groups going

I always start my workshops by collecting the topics that are really important to participants, and usually one or several of these come up. Which is perfect, because then we can discuss exactly what participants asked for, while the answer to all these questions is basically the same (and would typically have come under a boring heading like “multiple choice questions” or “audience engagement”, which would not have sounded nearly as relevant to participants as me showing the exact same slide deck about the many uses of multiple choice questions and how to use them in combination with peer instruction in response to their question ;-))

Obviously this is a special case where I know who my audience is and what their big pain points are, so I know they will ask me for a topic that I was planning on talking about anyway. But you don’t have to be as open and ask the open question of what topics they want to talk about, you could also suggest my list above and have them vote (and then talk about the same thing again, just under the framing of the option they chose).

Or, if there are several different examples you could use to illustrate the same point, you could put them up for students to choose between them. For example, in case of my university teaching workshops, talking about feedback: you could put the focus on giving feedback to students, or receiving feedback from students. Many of the relevant points are the same: How to give/ask for good feedback, biases that might influence feedback, … But again, depending on what the current pain points are, the same content might feel a lot more relevant under a different framing!

Lastly, if it doesn’t matter which of several topics you discuss, you could also let students decide. Do you want to talk about good oral exams or how to form small student groups?

In my experience, giving students choice in any of these three ways makes them a lot more motivated and engaged than if I just present what I think is most important under my preferred framing. And in the end, with a little experience, it is not a lot more work to have a couple of slides ready that you might end up not showing, or preparing three different spins on the same topic. It definitely pays off!

Where do you see this in your own life? Asking students to suggest examples

Heat fluxes are a topic that at first seems pretty theoretical, but with which we have tons of experiences in our everyday lives! A quick brainstorm for where we experience different types of heat fluxes gives so many examples:

  • having a lid on a pot suppresses convective heat fluxes beyond the lid!
  • coming out of the water on a windy day feels so much colder than on a non-windy day of the same temperature!
  • getting pasta water to boil on a windy camping trip is a lot more difficult than on a low-wind day
  • standing close to the fire makes one side of you feel toasty while the other side might be getting really cold
  • similarly, when sitting at an outdoor restaurant heated with those gas mushroom heaters, even holding a hand between your face and the heater will make your face feel noticeably colder
  • standing on a metal floor feels a lot colder than on a carpet of the same temperature

Asking students to come up with their own examples to discuss makes discussions a lot more fun and a lot more relevant to their own lives. Suddenly, a theoretical discussion becomes about explaining their own experiences, and possibly informing future actions (like for example with how to best cool a beer bottle on a hike). This works for any topic and opens up a whole new world to students when they suddenly see the topic applied in situations that they, or their peers, have personal experience with!

Learning and Teaching

For all of you who don’t fancy wading though wave watching and kitchen oceanography blog posts in search of those posts on teaching and learning in higher education (I usually summarise articles, podcast episodes or conversations I found useful, post new slides I create, or share methods that I saw, heard about, or tried myself.), here is an overview!

Continue reading

For all of you who don’t fancy wading though wave watching and kitchen oceanography blog posts in search of those posts on teaching and learning in higher education (I usually summarise articles, podcast episodes or conversations I found useful, post new slides I create, or share methods that I saw, heard about, or tried myself.), here is an overview!

Continue reading

Solar eclipse!

The effort that went into today’s solar eclipse is nothing compared to the one in 2015, when we made it the topic of a workshop on how to use PBL in teaching (where the second session was happening exactly at the time of the solar eclipse, so we made it the topic of our case, which resulted in lots of different creative ways to actually watch it).

Today, we “just” relied on the protective glasses we had from last time, and — super cool idea that I first saw somewhere on Twitter — a colander, which gave us many mini suns, each with their own eclipses. #KitchenAstronomy!

Sadly, the pictures didn’t turn out so well — the edge is not sharp at all. But on a #WaveWatching blog, that’s actually not a bad thing: It just shows that light behaves like a wave and that even though it arrives in parallel rays at the colander, it spreads after going through the holes, thus blurring the edges. Diffraction is pretty awesome! And #WaveWatching is still the best way to learn about optics ;-)

A personal story about why I am reluctant to start a class with an intervention

The first lecture I attended as a student wasn’t actually a regular lecture, even though I did not know that at the time. It was an intervention.

Together with about a hundred or so new students, I sat nervously in a lecture theatre in the physics department. I had enrolled in physical oceanography, which was taught together with meteorology, geophysics and physics for the first two years. I didn’t know anyone. Since my dad worked at the same university, I was pretty familiar with how universities work in general (which later turned out to be a huuuge advantage). And I wasn’t nervous about starting university itself, that was just something one did after school. But I was nervous about physics. I had stopped taking physics classes in highschool as soon as that was possible, and I had only taken the minimum required maths (both probably more to do with the teachers than the subjects themselves, but it’s sometimes hard to distinuish). But now, in order to become an oceanographer, I knew I would have to study physics together with people who wanted to become physicists, and who had a much better starting position than I had. Oh well.

The lecture started out with the professor arriving late, and then without any contextualising or welcoming us, or acknowledging that this was our first day at university, just starting going through content that — for all I understood — could have been chinese. He was just standing with the back towards us, scribbling on a blackboard so fast that it was impossible to take notes, mumbling something, and I did not have the faintest clue what was going on. I don’t know for how long it went on, but it felt like forever, and in any case it was long enough for me to feel like I had absolutely no chance to ever succeed there. Then, the professor started making weird and sexist remarks, and I started tuning out. This was not how I was going to spend the next couple of years. Then, at some point, a student asked a question and was rudely dismissed. But then another student spoke up, and another. And at some point — surprise! — we were told that this had not been a real lecture, that the professor was just an older student pranking us, and that also the students speaking up were older students playing a role, and that the whole purpose was to show us that we would have to learn to speak up when things didn’t go the way they were supposed to.

Why am I thinking about this now? In one of the recent iEarth teaching conversations, HC talked about something he had heard about how it was really helping students learn if they were given a really hard exercise right in the beginning. In that case, there wouldn’t be any “smart students” standing out and the not-as-smart students wouldn’t feel dumb, because everybody was equally lost (and the teacher would then help them through it to build confidence and grit and it would be all good, so it’s not the exact same story). But hearing about this triggered that memory of my first ever physics lecture, and I can feel the pit in my stomach now, 20 years later, thinking back to the feeling of definitely not belonging there, in that lecture theatre, in that department. Even though I had not thought about it in at least a decade, I don’t think it’s something I have ever fully gotten over, because even though this was meant as an intervention and the scenario was supposed to be much worse than anything we could ever possibly experience for real, there were many situations later on during my studies that were reminiscent of that experience. Only then, they were not pranks, and there was nobody there to resolve the situation for us, and clearly we hadn’t learned our lesson yet to resolve them ourselves. But each of those new situations seemed to confirm to me that at that very first day, I had been warned, and had ignored it, but that now was the time when I was going to be found out as not belonging. And this personal anecdote makes me feel really reluctant to start out a class with any kind of “intervention”.

P.S.: Looking back, what made me persist throughout all the physics and maths was a) that I REALLY wanted to become an oceanographer, so I just had to do what I had to do (and it turned out to be not as bad as I initially thought), and b) that there were two technicians, Rüdi and Manni, who always ran the experiments for the physics professors. They would be in the lecture theatre before the lectures started, setting up the experiments, and then clearing up after. And they were super friendly and approachable, and me and my friend and this one other guy started hanging out with them, asking them lots of questions, and learning more from them than from all the physics professors combined (or at least that was the case for me). And it’s for the first time today that I am putting together how important Rüdi und Manni were for me to feel like I did belong after all, maybe not to the people who wanted to be theoretical physicists like my friend, and for whom the mathematical derivations were enough (or made that much more sense that they didn’t feel the need for anything else, who knows?); but to a group of people who not only understood the phenomena, but in addition could show that they really existed in real life, could run demonstrations that the professors — despite all their theories — never dared touch. I had found my community, and even though it’s been 20 years and we’ve lost touch, maybe all my #KitchenOceanography goes back to those early experiences with Rüdi and Manni being the teachers the official teachers never were. Thank you! <3

#WaveWatchingWednesday

Here are some recent #WaveWatching pics from my Instagram @fascinocean_kiel. Enjoy! :)

Isn’t it fascinating how some parts of the river reflect the sun and look much brighter, while others are darker, reflecting the trees? From those reflections we can see what the water surface must be like: fairly flat in the darker parts, with waves, i.e. sloping parts, in the bright Vs. In this case, it’s a coincidence that we see Vs: for wakes, we would have a ship or an animal at the V’s tip, and the V being the outer edge of a wake. In this case, there are obstacles on either side of the river, each disturbing the flow and forming a backwater wedge downstream. And then at some point, those wedges from either side of the river meet in the middle, forming the V.
The dark area inside the V is the area where where water is flowing fairly rapidly in the river. On the V, where we see the waves and thus rhe different reflection, the flow changes and becomes turbulent under the influence of the backwater wedges. It calms down again, the surface gets flatter, i.e. darker, and the rinse & repeat for the next V!

Nice waves from a dog jumping into the lake! The owner was very confused why I whipped out my phone when the dog jumped in, but then didn’t point it at the dog

Pretty garden pond! Would you have guessed that its surface area is less than 1m2?

Can you see where the surface area is exposed to the wind and the roughness is therefore high, and where it is sheltered and there are waves propagating in from the higher-wind areas, but no new waves being generated?

#WaveWatching: Wind & sheltering

For my dear friends, who are worrying because I didn’t post any #WaveWatching pics recently: I’m still here, and I’m still wave watching! :)

For example on my lunch time walk with F today: Isn’t this a beautiful pic of how waves build up over both time and distance if the wind is blowing continuously? In the far back, there are hardly any waves because the water is sheltered from the wind, and the water looks dark, because it’s reflecting the trees in the back. As we move away from the trees and onto the open lake, waves grow. We now see the sky reflected in the rougher parts, but in other parts we still see flat areas where there are smaller waves and we notice the reflection of the sky.

The closer we move to the foreground, i.e. downwind, the larger the waves become. Until there are pieces of wood floating in the water that suddenly shelter a small area! Notice how suddenly there are only “longer” waves moving into that area, but all smaller wavelengths disappear, because the wind forcing is gone?

MPOWIR webinar on “career pathways combining education with oceanography”

For all of you who prefer reading a short-ish blogpost over listening to a nervous Mirjam on a recorded video call on “Career pathways combining education with oceanography“: Read the post below to learn my personal story on the prompt “Many oceanographers find educational activities a rewarding part of their career, where education can range from outreach activities aimed at the general public, to undergraduate and graduate teaching, to training in research through internships and graduate advising. Here three oceanographers describe their experiences working in a variety of educational pathways.” That is the talk I wish I had heard many years ago… (But go watch the recording for Kristi Burkholder and Meg Tivey’s awesome contributions, that are very different from mine! You can always stop watching when I come on ;-))

As you see on my introductory slide (above), I stated there that I was an “oceanographer — science educator — science communicator”. And I want to tell you a little story about what that means.

When I am asked about “what I am”, my first response is that I am a physical oceanographer. And that is true — that is what my identity is all about. If you search for my name on the internet, you find two main keywords: One is #KitchenOceanography and the other is #WaveWatching. Those are two hashtags that I use to describe two hobbies of mine: #KitchenOceanography is about creating hands-on experiments that we can use in teaching and outreach to help us understand the ocean and climate system. #WaveWatching is another hobby — wherever I am, when I see water, I see waves, I have to understand what caused the waves, and then I usually take a picture and post it on social media. So I am an oceanographer. But depending on the context, I might also say that I am a science educator or a science communicator, or any combination of those three, and all of those claims are also true.

I started out on my journey into oceanography by doing a Master’s (equivalent) degree in physical oceanography, and then a PhD. After my PhD I went abroad for my postdoc. My postdoctoral work got published in a Nature Geoscience article on which I was the first author, which was quite positively received and got me invited to speak in many places. Over the next several years, I was involved in several super interesting research campaigns with colleagues from my postdoc days, went on research cruises and to the Coriolis rotating platform in France (a 13-m diameter rotating swimming pool!) to conduct tank experiments. The research we did in France resulted in a Nature article that was published last year. And then in January this year, I started as an adjunct associate professor in the oceanography group at the institution where I did my postdoc.

That’s the classical career so far, when we look at it through the oceanography lens.

But we could also use a different lens. During my PhD, I studied for a Master’s of Higher Education, so I learned and reflected a lot on university teaching. During my postdoc, 25% of my time were dedicated to teaching, and I was lucky enough to be responsible for the “introduction to oceanography” lecture as well as for other courses that dealt with either laboratory experiments or training students on research ships. I additionally taught block courses at other universities. I really enjoyed that part of my job very much, so when I left my postdoc position, I took a position as educational developer. I was not working directly in oceanography then, but the study courses I was responsible for were on shipbuilding and coastal engineering, so close enough that I still felt connected to the ocean. From that service position, I moved on to a research position again, but this time in educational research. And I have been working free-lance on educational projects for many years now.

I already told you that I am currently an adjunct associate professor in the physical oceanography group, and that’s true. The focus of my work, however, is not physical oceanography research, but it’s on education. I am part of a large “Center for Excellence in Education”, and I do educational design and I advise a PhD student and Master students on educational research with questions related to how students at university learn about oceanography.

So that’s the second, the education, lens.

But there is a third one, and that’s the science communication lens. And to me, this is really what made my career my career. When I was teaching so much during my postdoc, I started writing a blog called “Adventures in Oceanography and Teaching”. At the time, that was really not a well thought-out project. I had been using a lot of hands-on experiments in my teaching, and I had been sharing pictures of those on my facebook, and I was getting a lot of positive feedback and good discussions from my network. But as it turns out, facebook is not a great tool to organize your own thoughts, and I couldn’t find pictures and related discussions as easily as I had hoped. So really to organize my own thoughts better, I started the blog. And the blog is what started me out on this third stand, the “science communication” part of my identity. For the last 7 or so years, I have blogged about my “Adventures in Teaching and Oceanography” — sometimes describing hands-on experiments that people can use in teaching and outreach, sometimes reflecting on literature on science education or communication that I had read, sometimes showing interesting phenomena I came across on the beach, or on puddles in the street.

The blog is what made it possible for me to transition from oceanography into education, and also from educational research into science communication, because I had built a written portfolio of activities in all these fields. And my blogging and social media were partly inspired by what I was doing in different jobs at the time, but they always stayed focussed on the “Adventures in Oceanography and Teaching”.

About 2.5 years ago, I decided that I would take a part-time position as science communicator to pay my rent, and spend the rest of my free time on the fun projects that had developed both as hobbies and as freelance projects along the way, but without the pressure of having to make a living off of them. So I am currently the program manager of a large science communication project, on a 50% position.

When you search the internet for me these days, however, what you see most prominently are those two hashtags, #KitchenOceanography and #WaveWatching, and that I am someone who works on improving ocean science communication in university teaching and outreach. That is how I see myself, and that’s the image I cultivate through my blog and my social media. Because of that, I have stayed visible to many people at the institution where I did my postdoc, had the opportunity to work on many exciting projects with them while I was working other jobs, and was eventually offered this adjunct associate position. I’ve also been contacted by many people who have hired me to do projects with them or invited me to speak — like today here for MPOWIR.

I want to wrap this up by sharing with you my vision of my ideal job. When I imagine an ideal day, I am doing all the things I am currently doing. I live close to the sea and close to my family (and even though I haven’t talked about that, that definitely influenced my decisions along the way). In the ideal day, I develop hands-on experiments to teach oceanography with, I blog, I talk to my colleagues about their teaching, I work with students, sometimes I lead workshops. I could frame my life right now as “I’m working 50% on a job that is marginally related, and 20% as this, and 30% as that”. But I don’t, because I have this bigger vision for what I want to do and who I am, and that has helped me find my way through many twists and turns to where I am at now.

And now all the small things I do as a hobby, or freelance, or for different employers in different places, contribute to the big picture of my career in both oceanography and education, as an oceanographer, working on engaging others in the wonders of physical oceanography! :)

Watch the webinar below (if you must ;-))