Monthly Archives: March 2013

Cottesloe Fish Habitat Protection Area

Today I am teaching my first tutorial in the second year unit ‘Marine Systems‘, which will introduce students to their major project, which is centred around a field trip to the Cottelsoe Fish Habitat Protection Area (CFHPA).  I’m pretty excited to introduce a few of my new ideas into the class this year, that will hopefully increase student motivation.  So I thought this would be a perfect time to write an introductory post about the CFHPA and the project I want the students to complete!  Enjoy!

The Cottesloe Fish Habitat Protection Area
Cottesloe Beach is one of Perth’s landmarks, well known and much loved amongst locals and tourists alike.  What many people don’t realise is that there is more to Cottesloe Beach than white sands and beautiful sunsets.  Cottesloe Reef sits just offshore Cottesloe Beach, and is home to a thriving coastal ecosystem with an abundant and biodiverse set of flora and fauna. For example, diverse seagrass and algae populations allow for the presence of the Weedy Seadragon, and many species of fin-fish are also present on the Reef.  All in all, a really dynamic ecosystem!  What makes the ecosystem at Cottesloe Reef extra special is the proximity to Perth itself – very rarely does a major city have a flourishing and unique ecosystem so close to it.  However, this proximity to Perth also places Cottesloe Reef at an increased vulnerability of negative anthropogenic influences such as overfishing, wastewater discharge and damage from boat-related activity.

As a result of the combination of high social importance and elevated vulnerability to human disturbances, much of Cottesloe Reef was declared a Fish Habitat Protection Area in 2001, with a principle aim of preserving aquatic biodiversity in the area.  To achieve this, many potentially damaging activities like jetskiing, spearfishing and anchoring were prohibited in the area.  The original plan that implemented the CFHPA underlined the fact that community involvement would be central to the success of the CFHPA in maintaining biodiversity.  This has been underlined by groups such as Cottesloe Coastcare Association being highly involved with raising public awareness about the protection of the Reef.  They even helped to get the Weedy Seadragon listed as a protected species in 2011 (and were even endorsed by a certain Sir David Attenborough!)!  Pretty cool to see the difference that can be made through hard work and a passion for our oceans….

The Cottesloe Ecosystem Research Project
Since 2007, undergraduate students from The University of Western Australia have conducted an annual field trip to study different components of the Cottesloe Reef Ecosystem as part of the “Marine Systems” (previously Intro to Marine Science) unit.  Students are usually split into several groups that all study one component of the ecosystem.  Students either focus on:

  • the benthic primary producers (seagrasses and macro-algae)
  • the invertebrate community (everything from nudibranches to anemones)
  • the fish community (including the Weedy Seadragon and Port Jackson Sharks)

Students then collate their data and write up a report detailing the distribution of flora/fauna across the Cottesloe Reef ecosystem.  This has essentially resulted in a series of reports benchmarking the type of organisms present in the area.  However, the really exciting thing we will be doing this year is to give the students access to all the data from previous years, creating a central Google Docs folder that the students can edit all data from.  This allows some really cool ecological questions to be asked, that have a temporal nature to them (i.e. how is the Cottesloe Reef Ecosystem changing over time!).  This project is really driven by the students, and they are completely free to investigate any question of their choosing, but I am hoping to see varied topics that include students thinking about the impact of environmental events (e.g. the ‘marine heatwave of summer 2010/11) or linkages between different sets of organisms over time (e.g. is there consistent links between primary producers and fish species that may suggest habitat dependency).  Hopefully the students will also get a feel for some of the difficulties associated with sharing data with different people over time.

Seagrass and benthic invertebrates

Students may investigate linkages between seagrasses and invetebrate communities

Obviously with limited resources and the students having many other commitments, really deep ecological questions linking cause and effect aren’t really possible,  but the students should still be able to pick apart some really cool patterns from the data!  As part of the assessment the students will not only write up a scientific report, but also a short press release to go along with the report, all of which will be posted on this website. This will hopefully spark some public interest (seeing as how Cottesloe is much loved in Perth!), and may even go a long way to influencing decision making in the area.  Most of all, hopefully the students will be very engaged, and feel as if they are doing real science instead of just ticking another box needed for getting their degree!

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Reflections of a postgrad lecturer-in-training: Part 1

In a previous post, I mentioned that I was beginning a stint as postgraduate teaching intern at UWA, and that part of the internship involved keeping a reflective journal.  So I’ve decided that instead of merely writing down my thoughts (and possibly becoming lazy about it as the year goes on) I will share my journal on this blog!  To my mind this has numerous advantages, including transparency (including the students I teach), holding myself to accountability and killing two birds with one stone!
Part 1 will be about my thoughts on the first two days of the professional development part of the course, but before this I think it would be worthwhile to discuss what this academic journal will be about (after all, I will be adding to it consistently over the next year, and you all need to know where to pull my up on from time to time!).

The scope of the reflective journal
This reflective journal is NOT meant to be a simple description of my teaching methods and experiences. Instead, I should aim to make this journal a place for honest and critical evaluation of my teaching and learning experiences, with space for reflectance on how I may make changes in similar situations in the future. In addition, the journal should display facets of my teaching philosophy, and is a place to discuss my preconceived ideas on teaching, and how the change during the course of the year.

My pre-conceived notions
As I said in a previous post, I already have goals that I have set myself that I believe I can reach over the next year.  In short, the theme of these goals are centred around motivating students and instilling them with a passion about the environment around them.  I believe I can do this by conveying my passion to the students at all times, and by using technology to allow them to become more interactive with the subject matter in all aspects of the course: from lectures, to tutorials, to assessments. So now that we are all on the same page, let’s start looking at what I have learnt during the first couple of days!

Professional Development days 1 and 2 – The value of a key strategy

Day 1 started by giving us a real foundation in the theory and philosophy of teaching and the learning process.  There was constant reference to the importance of a cycle involving planning, acting and reflecting on our teaching, which I hope this journal will fit in nicely to!  Another aspect that really stuck with me was the difference between an instructivist and constructivist approach to teaching,  I really see myself as wanting to take a constructivist approach to teaching i.e. helping students to reach answers and solve problems on their own through active engagement, instead of the traditional knowledge transmission that only leads to rote learning and not proper understanding.  In addition, the idea of motivating students also came to the forefront during the first day, with repetition of the formula M(motivation of student) = V (value of outcome/process) x E (expectation of success).  I love the idea of keeping this in mind when designing lectures and assignments, and I really feel like this fits in well with my idea of designing an assignment that will be later put into the public domain.  I really hope an assignment like this will be highly valued by the students, hopefully increasing their overall motivation and the final quality of the assignments!

Given the nature of the subject discussed in the first day (based on teaching philosophies), I was slightly concerned that there was too much focus on our thoughts and feelings about teaching instead of actual strategies about how to make lectures and tutorials more interactive.  I thought there was slightly too much emphasise on this side of the development course.  However, more strategies were provided during day 2, dealing in both large and small classes.  Whilst these strategies were undoubtedly useful, I felt that there was not enough focus and discussion around them.  On the plus side, I have a stack of reading on strategies that could increase interactions in both small and large classes.  In addition, I found out about a new resource called Poll Everywhere that I really hope to use during my upcoming lectures.  Basically, I design questions before the beginning of a lecture (they could be to check students understanding, prior knowledge etc.) and work it into my powerpoint at a specific point of the lecture.  I then ask the students the question during the lecture, and they can answer the questions using their computers or mobile phones.  Within a matter of seconds, the class results are shown on the powerpoint, and we can start a debate, go over key concepts again or just chat about the results as a class!  I really feel this will help students to stay engaged without the fear of giving wrong answers in front of 70-80 of their classmates.  Students also struggle to keep taking information in after about 15 minutes of a lecture without a change of pace, so I feel that proper timing of the questions during my lectures may help students to retain more of the take-home messages in my lectures.

I admit that I already have fairly deep set views as to how I can further the learning process for the students that I will be teaching.  As a result, I found myself really agreeing with certain suggestions at some points during the first two days, and questioning the effectiveness of other suggestions elsewhere.  Not that I think this is a bad thing though; all teachers teach differently, and a one-size-fits all approach definitely does not apply in this situation.  Instead, I see the professional development component as supplying us with a diverse set of tools (some generic, some specialist), which we will pick and choose from based on a wide range of factors such as background, class sizes, teaching subject and (probably most importantly) personal preferences and experiences!

Quick wrap-up of day 3 of the professional development course to follow soon!