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The Trans-Atlantic Slocum Glider Expeditions: A Catalyst for Undergraduate Participation in Ocean Science and Technology

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Results of Office of Naval Research (ONR)- and National Science Foundation (NSF)-sponsored collaborative coastal science experiments using underwater gliders were reported at the E.U./U.S. Baltic Sea conference in 2006. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recognized the parallel educational potential and issued a trans-Atlantic challenge—modify one of the coastal gliders and fly it across the Atlantic, entraining and inspiring students along the way. Leveraging the experience of the NSF Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence, a needs assessment process guided the development of a new undergraduate research program based on the cognitive apprenticeship model. The generalized model was applied to the specific opportunities provided by the trans-Atlantic challenge, involving students in every aspect of the missions. Students participated in the modifications and testing required to increase glider endurance and in the development of the mission planning tools. Scientist and student teams conducted three long-duration missions: (1) RU15’s flight from New Jersey to Nova Scotia to test the lithium batteries and ruggedized fin technology in storms, (2) RU17’s first attempt at the Atlantic crossing that provided the lessons learned, and (3) RU27’s successful trans-Atlantic flight a year later. Post-flight activities included development of new intuitive glider data visualization software that enabled students to analyze the glider data and compare it with ocean forecast models, enabling students to create their own new knowledge. Lessons learned include the significant gains achieved by engaging students early, encouraging them to work as teams, giving them the tools to make their own discoveries, and developing a near-peer mentoring community for increasing retention and diversity. The success has inspired an even broader vision for international glider missions, that of a glider-enabled global classroom to repeat the track of the HMS Challenger and its first scientific circumnavigation of the globe.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2011

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  • The Marine Technology Society Journal is the flagship publication of the Marine Technology Society. It publishes the highest caliber, peer-reviewed papers on subjects of interest to the society: marine technology, ocean science, marine policy and education. The Journal is dedicated to publishing timely special issues on emerging ocean community concerns while also showcasing general interest and student-authored works.
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