Cynthia Cudaback, PhD
Ocean Consulting

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Ocean Literacy

Given the declining quality of the marine environment, ocean educators have the responsibility to teach not only the science of the ocean, but also the interdependence between humans and the ocean. This interdependence is at the heart of ocean literacy, as recently defined by a national consensus of marine scientists and educators. An ocean-literate person understands ocean science, can communicate about the ocean, and is able to make informed decisions about ocean policy (COSEE, 2005). College level introductory oceanography courses represent one of our last chances to promote ocean literacy through formal education.

There are several ways to define ocean literacy. The best known is the Ocean Literacy consensus, that defines the types of knowledge needed (COSEE, 2005; website and brochure). Tom Garrison, in a column for The Oceanography Society, provides his own list of big concepts, similar to COSEE's. In the context of informal education, the National Environmental Education and Training Foundation (NEETF, 2005)lists three levels of knowledge: environmental awareness, small personal steps, and true environmental literacy.

As an educator, my primary goal is to provide my students with the tools they need to make decisions that affect the ocean. To make these decisions, they must not only understand ocean science, but be able and willing to apply that understanding. My learning objectives are that students should:

I find it most convenient to organize these learning objectives using a 2x2 matrix like the one below.

Science Content Stewardship Content
Science Attitudes Stewardship Attitudes

Defining and Measuring Ocean Literacy