The University of Southampton

Spotlight on…Building sustainable engagement programmes with Discover Oceanography

One of the key issues arising from the project is finding ways that partnerships can be maintained when a key individual leaves either the university or a particular school. This can be a significant problem and is largely due to the fact that involvement in projects of this nature tend to be on a voluntary basis rather than a specific part of a job role. This also causes difficulties in communication between individuals who already have extremely busy workloads, which can make arranging face to face meetings or agreeing the content of a given activity very difficult.

Pupils identify the plankton they have collected from Southampton Water.
Pupils identify the plankton they have collected from Southampton Water.

 ‘The benefits to mixed-ability pupils in terms of their motivation and self-esteem are clear. The first group that were involved over a year ago still talk about it now…they got to see science in a different light and thought being out on the oceanography boat was amazing.’

Teacher from local school

Discover Oceanography has been running at the University of Southampton (UoS) Waterfront Campus based at the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) for several years. The programme involves going out on a research vessel with university staff to collect samples of plankton and other marine organisms as well as measuring the environment in which they live using secchi disks, temperature and salinity probes, and sediment grabs. This programme has been extremely successful in enabling pupils and teachers to gain a real insight into the research that happens at the UoS Waterfront Campus as well as providing a memorable learning experience relating to a local environment which cannot be replicated in the classroom.

One of the schools involved through the Talk to US! project put together a scheme of work based on the activities that pupils carry out on the boat and was keen to implement this across Year 8. Unfortunately, in the first year there were some teething problems because the material covered on the boat trip did not entirely fit the content of the scheme of work that was written. However, in the second year, responsibility for coordinating and developing the Discover Oceanography programme was formally included within the role of a Senior Research Assistant, who had been involved with the programme from the beginning. This led to a shared vision and enabled the teacher involved in planning the scheme of work to thoroughly discuss the content of the lessons and boat trip with a member of academic staff who understood both the science behind what was being covered and the practicalities involved in taking school pupils out on the boat.

Traditionally, Discover Oceanography sessions have often only included the sampling techniques on the boat, but schools have requested that visits last for a whole day to justify the admin involved in organising bringing pupils out of school. Planning these extra sessions had been a bit ‘hit and miss’ in the past, but having an internal contact who was familiar with the rooms, sessions and expertise available proved invaluable.

Several different sessions including plankton identification, aquarium food web activities, a lecture on the nature of oceanography and other practical activities have been planned and can be offered to schools to supply a tailor made visit for each school. This also enables classes to be split between the boat and onshore activities, improving the pupil experience. Having time to think about and execute ideas has also led to further extension of the project, including the production of a Discover Oceanography online teachers’ toolkit made available to teachers who have been on the boat trip which uses materials from the scheme of work, boat log and teacher workbook.

As the permanent appointment of the Senior Research Assistant is independent of the project, any resources or planning that happen as part of Talk to US! will be sustainable after the funding has finished, particularly with the online teachers’ toolkit. If this individual leaves their position then their replacements will have a clear framework to continue this work and an incentive to do so. With the exception of LifeLab, and the co-ordination of Dragonfly Day which is managed by the university Outreach & WP team, Discover Oceanography is the only project working with Talk to US! with dedicated staff and independent funding streams. However, if the desired culture change is achieved then it is more likely that appointments of this nature will be made in other departments.

School pupils examine the mud samples they have taken from Southampton Water on board R.V. Callista during a Discover Oceanography day.


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