Ocean Tracks addresses a world that is rapidly changing. Over the past few decades, the amount of digital, sharable scientific data has grown exponentially and this trend shows no signs of slowing. Analyzing data, spotting patterns, and extracting useful information have become gateway skills to full participation in the workforce and civic engagement of the 21st century. Yet classrooms are falling short in preparing students for this world. Perhaps more importantly, they are missing a widely recognized opportunity to harness the power of big data to transform student learning in exciting ways. Ocean Tracks is at the forefront of a movement defined by a broad desire to raise a generation of students with a greater understanding of science and scientific practices, and with the skills to take full advantage of their unprecedented access to rich, interesting “big” datasets. Recognizing that the promise is great but the associated challenges are real, Ocean Tracks aims to build a comprehensive, state-of-the-art educational tool that employs technology to reach broad student populations, while at the same time developing a concrete model for the field of how to bring data into the classroom in productive ways.
The Ocean Tracks interface was designed based on guidelines in Visualizing Oceans of Data: Educational Interface Design, with a goal of enabling students to engage in the critical scientific practices of developing questions, planning and carrying out investigations, and analyzing and interpreting data. Using the interactive map and data analysis tools, students can explore and quantify patterns in animal tracks by taking measurements, such as speed and diving depth, to support hypotheses about marine animal behavior. The interface then supports students in relating these behaviors to fluctuations and trends in physical oceanographic variables, such as sea surface temperature and ocean currents, using environmental data from Earth-orbiting-satellites and ocean drifter buoys. These interface features allow students to engage in investigations with the data that model those currently being conducted by scientists to understand the broad-scale effects of changes in climate and other human activities on these important top predators in ocean ecosystems.
The Ocean Tracks interface is being developed as a collaborative effort between EDC and Stanford, with key contributions from EarthNC (our web developer) and the Lifelong Learning Group at the Center for Research and Evaluation. The work has been funded by the National Science Foundation.