Oceanography, Artistry, and Service Learning: Techniques to enhance student engagement in introductory courses

Jennifer L Beauregard, Berklee College of Music, Boston, MA, United States
Introductory-level science courses can be challenging for non-science majors. New terminology, intangible concepts, and the multidisciplinary nature of the topics are often difficult for students to grasp. These issues may cause students to disengage from the course, leading to further issues with learning. Additionally, the topics covered in introductory Oceanography courses, including climate change and marine pollution, may be overwhelming to students, making them feel helpless to affect these issues and further disengaging them from the course material. A first step to increasing student learning, then, is to keep the students engaged in the course.

To increase student engagement in science classes at Berklee College of Music (Boston), I have tried to connect with the students’ everyday interests as well as involve them in the community by using a service-learning project. Service learning is where students apply course concepts to a project that addresses a community need. For my introductory Oceanography classes, we partnered with the Massachusetts chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, an environmental group dedicated to keeping beaches clean. Our joint project was a concert and clean-up event at a local beach. The students were tasked with writing and performing music that showed the general public why they should care about the oceans. They covered concepts such as climate change, plastic and oil pollution, and life cycles of marine animals in their songs. The goal of the event was to use the music to connect with the general public on the beach, and hopefully convince them to stay and participate in the beach clean-up.

In this presentation, I will discuss the benefits of using this type of assignment, as well as the potential challenges. I will also highlight the students’ original compositions and discuss future plans to continue the collaboration between Berklee Oceanography students and the MA Surfrider chapter.