Blending Online and Field Learning To Inspire Young Girls in Science
Op-Ed, Dr. Mikki McComb-Kobza
Ocean First Education
Today, there have been major strides in efforts to increase the use of technology in classroom teaching. As the utilization and embracement of technology in education has increased, as has utilization of online and blended learning in and out of the classroom, imperative for today’s digital native learners and members of the future workforce. As an educator and marine biologist, while many days my classroom is inside, most often it’s the ocean.
The US Department of Education recently noted here that “Online learning opportunities and the use of open educational resources and other technologies can increase educational productivity by accelerating the rate of learning; reducing costs associated with instructional materials or programs.”
In the past, and somewhat today, primary barriers have been access to technology, teacher comfort level utilizing technology, and teacher bandwidth. Today, my role is to promote marine research, education and conservation. In the last 2 years, I’ve worked with 80,000 students in 36 countries through virtual field trips in which students have the chance to learn, interact and ask questions in a personal setting – all toward breaking down these barriers through existing vehicles of technology. As access to technology grows, we’ll see the creation of thriving, excited learners. The ocean impacts our everyday life by moderating climate, producing oxygen, and feeding our communities – providing us the ability to not survive and thrive. These are important tenets, particularly for children and young adults – our digital natives are highly curious information seekers. They’re our future leaders, and whether they choose science as a career or not, this multi-layered process of learning and applying that knowledge as they mature will prove invaluable.
My love for the ocean started early through family vacations, where I developed a deep sense of connection to the ocean. Things shifted when I was seven and saw Jaws and became terrified of sharks. In order to overcome this paralyzing fear, I decided to read about them, and realized they weren’t the monsters we see in movies and TV. I was hooked, and this fascination led me to pursue my dream of obtaining my Ph.D. to study sharks and become an educator.
For the last 14 years, I have devoted my career to teaching students, particularly young girls, about marine science. The amount of young girls that participate in these expeditions is inspiring and makes me hopeful that the current ratio of women in science will change. As is stands, there is work to be done. It’s disappointing that ocean science is not taught in many schools in the US, and this has created a void in our society’s ability to value informed discussions about issues like global climate change, seafood security and plastic pollution – and the role our future leaders will take.
My teaching practice is always changing; some days it might involve a school visit to conduct hands-on presentations on sharks and conservation; other days, I may be in the field, leading a group of high school students on a scientific expedition.
Ocean and marine life evoke a deep sense of connection and curiosity among young people. It’s crucial to connect today’s digital native learners and members of the future workforce to the ocean in order to expose them to meaningful science to build environmental stewardship. Today’s digital natives learn differently and have thus demonstrated a need for varied learning vehicles – again, why my days are never the same and depend on the needs of my students. An ideal solution starts with a learning model hastened by an underlying methodology that combines online and field learning to meld these together.
To bring the ocean and its mysteries to students in novel ways to understand why species conservation is vital, what will breed success is the use of varied methodology – classroom visits to conduct hands-on activities or interactive webinars, viewing 360-degree video or online courses and Skype sessions, and excursions to bring this all to life. These work to remove traditional classroom barriers, carving an open path for passion that science and research can be fun. This path will lead to the notion that young girls, in particular, no matter their preconceptions, can have a rewarding career in science.
For educators, takeaways are simple yet powerful in the continuous cycle of how to teach today’s digital natives and members of our future workforce:
- Understand that today’s digital natives learn via a varied methodology
- Utilize a varied methodology to impart learning
- Explore solutions: see what’s out there in technology to bring your subject home, whatever it may be
- Interact: whether Skype or 360 video or field trips: see how you can supplement textbook and in-class online course learning to enhance an interactive experience that resonates with today’s learners
Mikki is passionate about sharing her love of the ocean, the joy of exploration and the critical importance of science. Sustainability is her cornerstone and she believes that every action and decision, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant, can have a positive impact. Her research focuses on the ecological physiology of sharks, skates and rays. Mikki is a tireless advocate for sharks, developing outreach programs, highlighting their global declines and framing new directions for their conservation. She is happy to share her knowledge and work with Ocean First Education. Mikki has been invited to speak, educate and conduct research at labs and institutions in South America, Africa, Asia and Australia. Her outreach efforts have been documented in film, magazine and radio by the BBC, National Geographic, Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, and CBC National Radio Canada. Mikki has always strived to bridge the gap between research and public engagement and believes deeply in the power of immersing young people in hands on scientific research and discovery. Her current position as Executive Director of Ocean First Institute allows her to do just that. She holds a Ph.D. in Integrative Biology from Florida Atlantic University and is the author of numerous scientific publications.