Alaska Native Pedagogies in Introductory Marine Field Work

By David Scheel

David Scheel Poster

Context of the Inquiry

The course "Marine Field Work" is structured around 3 core ideas:

  • get students into the marine environment;
  • require students to conduct all stages of a marine biology investigation, from data collection to reporting; and
  • introduce students to scientific record keeping, including: metric units, scientific illustration, species identification and data base concepts

This study uses the Marine Field Work course to look at effects, on measurable aspects of student performance, of changes in teaching method developed from Alaska Native pedagogies.

Focus of the Inquiry

Alaska Native pedagogies were described as nature and place-based, with attentiveness to experience.

Issue 1. Attention to detail in identification of marine species. Aspects of species identification are strongly place based, and require close attention. Students will improve their ability to attend to multiple cues in solving a problem, and commit fewer errors such as mis-identifying a species.

Issue 2. Role of learning method. The course provided a mix of educational styles, from observational studies to computer-driven data analyses. Contrast between traditional and electronic medium tools was used to explore the role of delivery method in learning.

Course Design and Implementation

Students were required to draw organisms they identified. Students in a previous year (2008) were required to collect and identify but not to sketch specimens.

A short survey allowed students to report their own satisfaction and perceptions
of learning with several aspects of the course.


Findings 1: Use of Graphics in Posters

Students analyzed a data set and prepared a poster of findings. Use of data charts and drawings increased while use of photos declined from 2008 to 2009 (Table). Errors paralleled use of each graphic type. Species identifications decreased but errors did not change. Mention of site-specific details was low in both years. Students used clip art rather than scientific illustrations or their own drawings. Most clip art did have an explanatory purpose (in both years).

Findings 2: Student Survey Responses

Students reported learning a lot by drawing and almost as much through data-driven assignments. However, students felt they learned less by making charts in Excel, although this was part of the analysis required in data-driven assignments (from which they felt they learned).

Students reported a similar pattern for how much they enjoyed assignments. The drawing assignment was well liked, while chart-making was hated to disliked. However, about equal numbers of students disliked as liked data-driven assignment.

Students reported that their interest in identifying organisms was increased by being required to draw them, but that charting in Excel had little effect on their interest in patterns of abundance. They reported an increase in interest about marine processes for most students (5 of 9 responding) from data-intensive assignments.

Course Artifacts


Eight of ten students responded their interest increased from drawing species, compared to only 3 of 10 for Excel charts and 5 of 10 for data assignments. Activities designed with Alaska Native pedagogies did more than other assignments to increase or maintain student interest, without necessarily resulting in greater subject knowledge or its use in completed work. This raises questions about relative roles in education of motivation versus gaining and practicing knowledge. The former may be needed in proportion to the difficulty of the latter; thus, Alaska Native pedagogies may be most useful whenever student motivation flags 

Acknowledgements: Support provided through grant from the Alaska Space Grant Program and the At-Sea Processors Pollock Conservation Cooperative.

Course Artifacts

Faculty Contact

David Scheel

Alaska Pacific University