Developing the Academic Content for Our Course

by Dave Ginsburg and Jim Haw

We created a 4-unit course with a built-in pre- or co-requisite for about 100 hours of dive training, travel to Guam and Palau with four to six hours a day of field work plus the equivalent of a cultural or educational field trip every day. So, what about formal academic content? For a lot of traditional or established university courses the selection of textbooks and other readings is straightforward. Consider undergraduate chemistry courses: for multiple-section courses the text is generally standardized for all sections, and the individual instructor conforms to whatever consensus is in place. When choices can be made there tend to be three to five broadly adopted texts (with very similar content) in any given year for each lower division chemistry course.

But what about this course? We spent many days reading (or skimming) candidate texts, and it was some time before we were satisfied.

We got lucky when we found The Biology of Coral Reefs by Sheppard et al. (published in 2009). It may be the only textbook that provides a balanced overview of reef ecosystems at a level appropriate to undergraduate generalists such as our Environmental Studies students. At $45 (paper) it is decidedly affordable relative to other textbooks, and it’s a great read. Most importantly it explicates the theories and principles that will guide our diving transects in Guam and Palau. We took advantage of Reef Check’s Indo-Pacific coral reef monitoring procedure to give us a peer-reviewed transect method with reef-health indicators appropriate to Micronesia. This also gave us access to lecture materials that dove-tailed very nicely with the Sheppard book. The combination of Sheppard et al. and the Reef Check materials gave us integrated lecture book and lab manual for our investigations of coral reef ecosystems. But what about cultural content?

An easy choice was Destiny’s Landfall: A History of Guam by Rogers (also very affordable at about $22). Guam has a long exciting history, and it’s all here: pre-European Chamorro civilization, conquest and colonization by Spain, America, Japan, followed by America once again, and its current status as a U.S. territory with elected governor and legislator and non-voting representation in the U.S. House of Representatives. We also recommended Oliver Sacks’ The Island of the Colorblind as a quick and lively read on medical detective work in Micronesia.

In addition to lectures on Micronesia, basic ecology, coral reef ecosystems and monitoring, we developed a few specialized lectures on topics such as ocean acidification and field experiences on topics such as the effects of warfare on the environment (with the assistance of the U.S. Navy). It’s looking like we are getting tremendous assistance from a number of local entities in Micronesia, but we should not anticipate too much of that academic content here.

Finally we should not slight the academic content associated with the AAUS (American Academy of Underwater Sciences) Scientific Diver Training. The students have already done a NAUI Open Water course heavily supplemented with additional AAUS-mandated content. Next week they are getting the NAUI nitrox (oxygen-enriched air) course, and there is quite a bit of chemistry (partial pressure and gas law calculations) and dive physiology in that curriculum. They are also getting additional lectures on decompression physics and physiology plus in-water transect training.

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