Developing the ocean literacy of individuals of all ages from all countries, cultures, and economic backgrounds is essential to inform choices for sustainable living in the future, but how we reach and represent diverse voices is a challenge. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) offer a possible tool to achieve this goal, as they can potentially reach large numbers of people including those from lower and middle income regions. The number of MOOCs themed around ocean science and/or literacy is growing rapidly, and here we share experience of developing and delivering a MOOC entitled “Exploring Our Oceans,” which has run ten times in the past 4 years with around 40,000 participants worldwide. The “Exploring Our Oceans” MOOC incorporates a blend of online teaching techniques grounded in both instructivist and constructivist theories, thereby emphasizing contributions from a global community of learners and encouraging individual, independent action in relation to ocean citizenship. The impacts of this MOOC include evidence of changed awareness and attitudes to ocean issues; increased applications and participation in undergraduate and postgraduate programs; development of communication and outreach skills in the postgraduate community and partnership building with Nelson Mandela University, South Africa. These impacts, and vignettes of learner experiences in the course, are discussed in the context of the effectiveness of MOOCs in developing global ocean literacy.
Communication and Education
Ocean Literacy (OL) has multiple aspects or dimensions: from knowledge about how the oceans work and our impact on them, to attitudes toward topics such as sustainable fisheries, and our behaviour as consumers, tourists, policy makers, fishermen, etc. The myriad ways in which individuals, society and the oceans interact result in complex dynamic systems, composed of multiple interlinked chains of cause and effect. To influence our understanding of these systems, and thereby increase our OL, means to increase our knowledge of our own and others’ place and role in the web of interactions. Systems Thinking has a potentially important role to play in helping us to understand, explain and manage problems in the human-ocean relationship. Leaders in the OL field have recommended taking a systems approach in order to deal with the complexity of the human-ocean relationship. They contend that the inclusion of modelling and simulation will improve the effectiveness of educational initiatives. In this paper we describe a pilot study centred on a browser-based Simulation-Based Learning Environment (SBLE) designed for a general audience that uses System Dynamics simulation to introduce and reinforce systems-based OL learning. It uses a storytelling approach, by explaining the dynamics of coastal tourism through a System Dynamics model revealed in stages, supported by fact panels, pictures, simulation-based tasks, causal loop diagrams and quiz questions. Participants in the pilot study were mainly postgraduate students. A facilitator was available to participants at all times, as needed. The model is based on a freely available normalised coastal tourism model by Hartmut Bossel, converted to XMILE format. Through the identification and use of systems archetypes and general systems features such as feedback loops, we also tested for the acquisition of transferable skills and the ability to identify, apply or create sustainable solutions. Levels of OL were measured before and after interaction with the tool using pre- and post-survey questionnaires and interviews. Results showed moderate to very large positive effects on all the OL dimensions, which are also shown to be associated with predictors of behaviour change. These results provide motivation for further research.
Assessment of environmental literacy and ocean literacy focus on increasing knowledge and awareness. The goal of ocean literacy initiatives is ultimately to enable behavior change (whereby citizens take direct and sustainable action) to achieve sustainable solutions to marine environment issues. The application of social and behavioral research methods provides powerful tools for assessing if ocean literacy initiatives are effective at increasing participant's knowledge and awareness of an issue, its causes and consequences and behaviors or actions required to enable sustainable solutions. Social and behavioral research methods also provide a means of assessing changes in attitude, a key predictor of behavior change, and ultimately a means of assessing changes in a participants intended and reported behaviors. We present a framework to integrate social and behavioral research methods within assessment of the effectiveness of ocean literacy initiatives. The before and after assessment we undertake develops existing environmental literacy and ocean literacy assessment approaches by integrating social and behavioral research methods to assess key predictors of behavior change. We structured the assessment methodology within a Theory of Change logic model, to provide a protocol for systematic evaluation of ocean literacy initiatives and tools. Specifically those aimed at promoting specific behavior change objectives for pre-identified actors. Assessment of educational training courses for professionals entering the shipping industry (targeting behaviors to reduce the spread of invasive species), and educational workshops for school students (aged 11–15 and 16–18), on problems related to marine litter and microplastics and potential solutions were assessed using the framework. Through before and after surveys, an increase in awareness, knowledge and an increase in attitudes supporting action to reduce impacts on the marine environment were reported by participants, after interaction with sets of tools developed by the Horizon 2020 Ocean Literacy project ResponSEAble. Results supported the importance of targeting specific audiences with tailored ocean literacy tools and the importance of informing actors of issues and solutions within the context of wider ocean literacy principles.
As a crisis sector, marine conservation needs continuous public scrutiny to maintain much-needed transparency, accountability, and to secure public trust. Such opportunities for public scrutiny can be ensured through independent, objective and critical journalism (Johns and Jacquet, 2018). However, mainstream media and other journalistic platforms often rely on communication professionals working at marine conservation groups for information and expertise related to marine conservation issues. It is therefore crucial that communication professionals at conservation groups have a professional code of conduct that encourages dissemination of objective truth about conservation efforts and does not prevent journalists from carrying out their duties to serve the public interest...
Rocky intertidal habitats in urbanized settings, such as in southern California, USA, are heavily perturbed by human visitors (tidepoolers) through the deleterious activities of collecting, handling, and trampling. To protect rocky intertidal biota, certain locations have been designated as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), yet MPA status can be ineffective when public knowledge of regulations is low and regulations do not protect flora and fauna from the impacts of handling and trampling. To help reduce detrimental activities of visitors, propagate environmentally-safe tidepooling behaviors, and increase public knowledge of MPA regulations, two outreach tools were instituted in southern California, USA: 1) an education program whereby trained educators are on-site, interacting with the public and educating visitors about MPA regulations, and 2) the ISOpod (Interactive Sealife Outreach pod) vehicle, a mobile tidepool exhibit parked near the site for visitors to observe organisms in a controlled setting and where MPA awareness is emphasized. To determine if these tools were effective in reducing deleterious activities, visitors were discretely observed at two sites, counted, and placed into behavior categories under four scenarios based on combinations of the presence and absence of both the ISOpod and educators. A questionnaire was conducted at one site to determine if MPA regulation and conservation knowledge increased with public interaction with outreach programs. The ISOpod and, in part, educators were effective in reducing the frequency of individuals engaged in detrimental activities. This occurred despite high MPA awareness of visitors, which was further increased by public interaction with the ISOpod. Results from this study suggest that outreach programs focused on conservation education can be effective options to assist with protection of coastal ecosystems.
Cultural ecosystem services (CES) are defined as the non-material benefits that arise from human-ecosystem relationships. Such benefits contribute to quality of life and positive sentiment towards protected areas but are difficult to quantify, especially at large spatial scales. Building on recent studies, we assess CES in Brazil's largest marine protected area (MPA) using user-contributed georeferenced photographs from a popular image- and video-hosting website. In total, we assessed 1,984 photographs taken by 207 users between 2010 and 2016. The most represented CES categories were landscape appreciation and social recreation, clearly reflecting the obvious attractions of this tropical beach location. Artistic/cultural expressions and appreciation, and nature appreciation where also highly represented, though no photographs depicting educational engagements or scientific research were identified. Engagements with CES had clear spatial and temporal patterns relating to user behaviour and reflecting the biophysical and infrastructural characteristics of different sites within this MPA. The broad spatial coverage and high spatio-temporal resolution of the data makes this approach ideal for identifying CES hotspots/coldspots and, despite limitations, holds great potential to monitor the impact of management interventions on CES provision. Our study highlights how the analysis of high volumes of digital photographs extends the methodological tool-box available to researchers and provides a powerful new means to quantify and map CES at broad spatial scales.
Several calls to action urge scientists and science communicators to engage more with online communities. While these calls have been answered by a high percentage of scientists and science communicators online, it often remains unclear what are the best models for effective communication. Best practices and methods for online science communication can benefit from experimental and quantitative research addressing how and when users engage with online content. This study addresses with quantitative and predictive models a key question for the popular, but often-ignored in science communication, social media platform Facebook. Specifically, this study examines the impact of imagery through quantification of likes, comments, and shares on Facebook posts. Here, I show that a basic quantitative model can be useful in predicting response to marine organism imagery on Facebook. The results of this online experiment suggest image type, novelty, and aesthetics impact the number of likes, shares, and comments on a post. In addition, the likes, shares, and comments on images did not follow traditional definitions of “charismatic megafauna”, with cephalopods and bony fishes receiving more interactions than cartilaginous fishes and marine mammals. Length and quality of caption did not significantly impact likes, comments, or shares. This study provides one of the first quantitative analysis of virality of scientific images via social media. The results challenge previously held conceptions of social media scientific outreach including increasing emphasis on imagery selection and curation, notions of which taxa the public connect with, and role of captions for imagery.
Effective science communication requires assembling scientists with knowledge relevant to decision makers, translating that knowledge into useful terms, establishing trusted two-way communication channels, evaluating the process, and refining it as needed. Communicating Science Effectively: A Research Agenda [National Research Council (2017)] surveys the scientific foundations for accomplishing these tasks, the research agenda for improving them, and the essential collaborative relations with decision makers and communication professionals. Recognizing the complexity of the science, the decisions, and the communication processes, the report calls for a systems approach. This perspective offers an approach to creating such systems by adapting scientific methods to the practical constraints of science communication. It considers staffing (are the right people involved?), internal collaboration (are they talking to one another?), and external collaboration (are they talking to other stakeholders?). It focuses on contexts where the goal of science communication is helping people to make autonomous choices rather than promoting specific behaviors (e.g., voter turnout, vaccination rates, energy consumption). The approach is illustrated with research in two domains: decisions about preventing sexual assault and responding to pandemic disease.
Twitter accounts have already been used in many scientometric studies, but the meaningfulness of the data for societal impact measurements in research evaluation has been questioned. Earlier research focused on social media counts and neglected the interactive nature of the data. We explore a new network approach based on Twitter data in which we compare author keywords to hashtags as indicators of topics. We analyze the topics of tweeted publications and compare them with the topics of all publications (tweeted and not tweeted). Our exploratory study is based on a comprehensive publication set of climate change research. We are interested in whether Twitter data are able to reveal topics of public discussions which can be separated from research-focused topics. We find that the most tweeted topics regarding climate change research focus on the consequences of climate change for humans. Twitter users are interested in climate change publications which forecast effects of a changing climate on the environment and to adaptation, mitigation and management issues rather than in the methodology of climate-change research and causes of climate change. Our results indicate that publications using scientific jargon are less likely to be tweeted than publications using more general keywords. Twitter networks seem to be able to visualize public discussions about specific topics.
The Ocean Literacy movement is predominantly driven forward by scientists and educators working in subject areas associated with ocean science. While some in the scientific community have heeded the responsibility to communicate with the general public to increase scientific literacy, reaching and engaging with diverse audiences remains a challenge. Many academic institutions, research centers, and individual scientists use social network sites (SNS) like Twitter to not only promote conferences, journal publications, and scientific reports, but to disseminate resources and information that have the potential to increase the scientific literacy of diverse audiences. As more people turn to social media for news and information, SNSs like Twitter have a great potential to increase ocean literacy, so long as disseminators understand the best practices and limitations of SNS communication. This study analyzed the Twitter account of MaREI – Ireland’s Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy – coordinated by University College Cork Ireland, as a case study. We looked specifically at posts related to ocean literacy to determine what types of audiences are being engaged and what factors need to be considered to increase engagement with intended audiences. Two main findings are presented in this paper. First, we present overall user retweet frequency as a function of post characteristics, highlighting features significant in influencing users’ retweet behavior. Second, we separate users into two types – INREACH and OUTREACH – and identify post characteristics that are statistically relevant in increasing the probability of engaging with an OUTREACH user. The results of this study provide novel insight into the ways in which science-based Twitter users can better use the platform as a vector for science communication and outreach.