Curious Minds

Faculty Members Are Producing Innovative Research

Two examples include coral reef conservation research by Professor Daniel Gleason, director of the James H. Oliver Jr. Institute for Coastal Plain Science, and Professor Trent Maurer’s in-depth look into the importance of using reading guides to help improve student performance in the classroom.

Georgia Southern magazine caught up with both professors to find out more about the issues they are exploring.


SPRING16curious-minds-1Daniel Gleason, Ph.D.

Director of Institute for Coastal Plain Science

What is the principal objective of your research?
Coral reefs throughout the world have declined significantly over the last several decades. We are investigating whether these reefs have the potential to recover through natural reproductive processes. Reproduction in tropical corals results in small, swimming larvae that can be dispersed long distances by ocean currents. Coral reefs can only be sustained if these larvae locate a suitable reef and cement themselves to the bottom, a process known as recruitment. The principal objective of our research is to determine how coral recruitment varies across years, regions and habitat types along the entire Florida Reef Tract.

What kinds of things will you document?
In this study, we will use a combination of methods to compare coral recruitment rates and juvenile survival at 30 sites along the Florida Reef Tract, 18 in the Florida Keys, and 12 in southeast Florida. At each site, 30 terracota tiles (900 tiles total) will be attached to the reef by drilling into the reef rock with a pneumatic drill and then securing the tiles with stainless steel bolts. Settlement tiles will be deployed annually in three separate years. These tiles will remain in the field for approximately eight months so that they can accumulate coral recruits. Once collected, juvenile corals will be revealed by bleaching the tiles and scanning them under a dissecting microscope. Each recruit found will be photographed and identified to the lowest taxonomic level possible using skeletal characteristics. At this young age, coral recruits of different species can look very similar so we will also develop methods that can use coral genes to confirm species identities. Finally, other biological and physical factors, such as the condition of existing adult populations and water temperatures, will also be evaluated at all proposed research sites. These factors have an impact on recruitment success and juvenile survivorship and will provide valuable data for existing reef restoration efforts in Florida.

Who will be able to use your research?
Establishing this database will enhance our understanding of a process that has long been considered to be a bottleneck to coral reef recovery and will allow resource managers to target their actions toward particular species and regions more precisely. For example, regions of the Florida Keys exhibiting poor coral recruitment are less likely to be sustained or recover naturally after disturbances such as hurricanes and ship groundings, and thus may be candidates for coral reef restoration programs. On the other hand, areas identified as “recruitment hotspots” may be considered for more specialized conservation or protection strategies because of their ultimate potential as larval sources. Thus, information we garner will be used by scientists with the National Marine Sanctuary Program and NOAA, and will ultimately benefit the tens of thousands of recreational users who flock to the Florida Keys each year. Further, the funding provided by this project will support the master’s theses of at least two Georgia Southern graduate students.


SPRING16curious-minds-2Trent W. Maurer, Ph.D.

Child and Family Development Professor, College of Health and Human Sciences

What is the focus of your research?
When I assigned textbook readings to students, they would claim they had done the readings, but would bomb the in-class quiz. They would be unable to meaningfully participate in class activities that used the content of the readings as a starting point. I realized that many students weren’t accustomed to doing reading for academic learning, so when they read, they didn’t get out of it what they should have gotten out of it. This study was an attempt to find out if there was a way that I could help my students get out of the readings what they needed to. I designed reading guides full of questions for the students to answer as they did each assigned reading from the textbook.

What was the outcome?
Students who received the reading guides for the course performed significantly better on the in-class quizzes than students who didn’t receive the guides. Since I have implemented the reading guides, I have gotten a lot of positive feedback from the students about how helpful they are, even though they require students to spend significantly more time studying for this class every week.

What did you find most interesting?
I think the most interesting finding was the way the students reacted to the introduction of the reading guides. Although a small number complained bitterly about how much extra work they were, most students quickly realized that the reading guides were there to help them learn. Once they realized that — and the corresponding insight that there are no shortcuts to learning — they were willing to put in the study time necessary to get out of the readings what they needed to. As a result, I can now do far more with them in the classroom because they are so much more prepared for the intellectual “heavy lifting” we need to do there.

What did you learn?
I learned that although many students may not initially want to put in the six-to-nine hours of study time per week required for a three-credit hour course; if you give those students the tools to succeed, explain to them how to use those tools, show them that using those tools really works in boosting not only performance but also learning, and support them as they struggle with rising to meet college-level expectations, they will do the work, which enabled me to have an absolutely transformative impact on their education.

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