Since the early 1990s, the Rutgers Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences' revolutionary method of studying the ocean has been attracting leading marine scientists from around the world to study long-term ocean trends. In 2001 Rutgers was awarded a U.S. Navy grant to encourage student interest in oceanography. With growing international collaborations, more and more media and government attention focused on oceans, and ever-present fundraising needs, the Institute, which had been oceanography's best-kept secret, needed to take its communications program to the next level.
Blue Iceberg was selected to create a new identity that would translate in multiple media. Using proprietary technology, we conducted an online survey to assess needs and perceptions of Rutgers stakeholders around the globe and on research vessels at sea. We considered the Institute's existing identity, its organizational assets, and its peer institutions. Our research revealed that the new identity needed to underscore the study of both ocean and coastal waters, to accommodate future evolution of the Institute's name, and to emphasize the university. "The Wave," a Clyde Lynds sculpture which welcomes visitors to the Institute, provided the inspiration for the new Rutgers MCS logo, which suggests ocean, earth and atmosphere and incorporates the Rutgers University identity.
The Rutgers approach was already known as "COOL"-- an acronym for Coastal Ocean Observation Laboratory. To fulfill the Navy grant, we needed to position studying oceanography online appropriately for the audience, so that it didn't talk down to middle and high-school students, or go over their heads. The "COOL Classroom" had to be engaging and fun.
We began by adapting the science curriculum for the web. We needed to explain Rutgers' approach, oceanographic concepts, the Rutgers labs, instruments and research so they could be grasped by an audience of predominantly middle-school students. We conducted interviews and developed multimedia content to engage viewers. COOL Facts about the ocean draw students into the site. Background material explains the Rutgers approach and scientific concepts in plain language. We adapted lesson plans in Biology, Earth Science and Physics to work in the medium of the web and developed interactive tools so students are challenged to use real-time COOLroom data (not canned data), educational games and interactive quizzes to apply their knowledge of oceanography. A series of COOL Cards like "baseball cards" show how COOLroom scientists work closely as a team to study the ocean, and teachers' guides help educators understand how to teach marine science with using the COOL Classroom.
Since its launch, the COOL Classroom has attracted attention and interest beyond the borders of New Jersey, helping Rutgers fulfill the mission of its Navy grant and exceeding expectations. The COOL Classroom's innovative approach enabled Rutgers to be selected for a $1.5 million National Science Foundation Grant to create a national oceanographic education center.