Online Marine Science Program Hooks Students Through Diving

adsit80By John Adsit
Editor, Curriculum & Instruction

The annual convention of the Dive Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA) will be held in mid-November, and at that meeting a new kind of hybrid online education program will be announced. It contains aspects of distance education that have never been tried before. In the interest of full disclosure, I should make it clear that I have been a part of this project from the start.

A new organization called Ocean Classrooms has created a class that will combine scuba instruction with marine science, physics, and physiology. It will be very complete – it is four semesters long. In each semester, students combine study of some aspect of these sciences with scuba instruction and experience. All the science material is delivered online. Scuba instruction has three phases: academic study, instruction in a pool, and experience in open water. In the first semester, students will gain initial diving certification as a part of the class, with the academic portion of the diving taught online via the eLearning program of the Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI), the world’s largest dive instruction agency. (PADI is cooperating fully with the development of this program.)

The hybrid part of the class involves the pool instruction and open water dives. Students can, of course, learn the online academic material anywhere in the world, but what about the actual diving part? For this, they will have to enroll with local PADI dive shops, which are available almost anywhere in the world. Students need only send information to their online course instructor that they have completed the pool and open water instruction to receive credit for it in their classes.

It is this built-in partnership with people in remote locations who can provide the physical instruction for the course that is the most innovative part of the program. If the program is successful, many dive instruction facilities will become partners with a program they did not even know existed until the student contacts them for instruction. This should not be a problem since it will be understood from the start that students will have to pay the local instructors for their certification just as they would if they were not taking the marine science class. Thus, this will only serve as a benefit to the local instructors who would not otherwise have gotten those students, and the only thing expected of them is a confirmation that the students have completed training.

Each succeeding semester teaches new science and requires students to obtain higher levels of diving certification. The courses attempt to tie the science in with the diving instruction as much as possible. For example, in the third semester, dive training focuses on rescue skills, and students are required to get first aid (with CPR) training as well. In that semester, the science portion focuses on physiology.

One exciting use of technology involves the use of underwater webcams. Several are already in place, with more planned. This will allow students who are thousands of miles from the ocean to view live video of underwater action at any time of the day or night.

Ocean Classrooms has been piloting the course in a Colorado private school classroom. Feedback has shown that the diving experience has greatly hooked the students into the science of the course. Revisions are currently being made based on that pilot, and the courses should be available to the general public next year. The organization will make its website available to the public for the first time at the DEMA presentation.

5 Responses

  1. This is the future of “blended learning.”

    It blends experiential learning–learning that uses the world and its settings and activities as pedagogy–and online learning:what I and others have been calling “ee-learning.”

    On “ee-learning,” see:

    Click to access Reschooling_Society_and_the_Promise_of_ee-Learning-__An_Interview_with_Steve_Eskow.pdf

    Jim might want to reprint this article in ETC: John’s entry makes the issue of ee-learning timely.

  2. Steve, I remember this article! It was a landmark in the change movement. Re reprinting in ETCJ: That’s a terrific idea! Would you be willing to revise it a bit by adding comments or additional material? We could then consider it an updated version of the original. -Jim S

  3. Jim, I’ll work on that article.

  4. John,

    I need to drive down and take a look. Having created one of these 5 years ago for SSI out of Ft. Collins, I am curious if you emulate dive computers, offer simulated on-line table instruction, offer mental models for nitrogen absorption and release at pressure, provide Cartesian diver game examples of buoyancy, etc. Do you offer mixed gas training as well? Adding the PPO experience to the nitrogen model of EAD is important given that most dive operators are offering some level enriched air to their customers. A game I designed but never completed included both buoyancy and nitrogen absorption in a single animated diver avatar with a full emulated dive computer display. I would also like to see your methods of on-line assessment and provisions for determining student confidence in their response. Authentic assessment was a huge part of the measurement process that is typically a difficult on-line experience.

    I remember the thing I told new students to start practicing the very first day was exhaling through their nose with their mouth open. Any diver can do it. It saved me hours with the mask clearing skills in the pool and panicked bolts to the surface in open water. It was an exmple of how teaching on-line I had to find new ways to build the same skills without the water.

    Let me know if there is time that would work.


    • I would welcome the input. The primary academic focus is on the marine science, but we of course want to enhance the scuba instruction as much as possible as well. To answer some of your questions: 1) The online scuba instruction is contained within the new PADI eLearning materials. Students use the eRDPml for what you are referring to as table work, and, yes, there is a Flash program that allows them to work their way through dive planning online. The PADI materials are very interactive, and the pilot students liked them a lot. 2) In the first semester, students learn the issues related to nitrogen ongassing typical to OW instruction. In the second semester we go far beyond that, with students learning the gas laws (Boyle’s, Dalton’s, Charles’, and Henry’s) and applying them to diving. 3) They will not only learn about EAN, EAD, etc., they will become nitrox certified. 4) They will go far more deeply into decompression theory, including dual phase models rather than simple Haldanian single phase decompression theory. 5) Mixed gas diving (I assume you mean Helium mixes) will be introduced as a concept in the fourth semester. Students may opt in that semester to begin the training that using helium mixes for decompression diving demands.

      Authentic assessment is the real challenge, I agree. We envision a lot of ways of dealing with that. Being able to have students conduct actual dives will be a part of that. For example, when our pilot group of students is completing their OW certification in Key Largo this weekend, they will also have reef ecology projects to do while in the water. The use of underwater web cams in the future will open a lot of possibilities for us, since we will be able to put students “under water” while they are in a bedroom in rural Kansas.

      I have a flexible schedule. Just let me know.

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