Why we do what we do

Not everyone can make their way to the coast to experience the ocean, and most people will never venture beneath the waves.


That is why we founded OLLIE: Ocean Learning Lab and Immersive Experiences, to bring the ocean to schools and the public wherever they are. To create powerful, underwater immersive virtual experiences (IVE) for all people, regardless of education, resources, or ability to travel. Our goal is to foster curiosity and compassion for the ocean, and to help our audiences address the challenges we face due to climate change and degraded ocean health.


We see a need for more engaging ocean STEM learning experiences that are available to everyone. Experiences that engage learners in two-way conversations with ocean STEM professionals and in activities about the state of the ocean, about how researchers explore and discover, and about how our society’s future is inextricably linked to a healthy ocean.

At OLLIE, we seek to address three major challenges:

1. We must improve ocean literacy among teens, millennials, and adults in order to change our relationship with the ocean.

Our society has a limited understanding of the critical relationships between the ocean, climate change, and humanity, yet our economic and policy choices have important consequences for future climate change and human adaptation.

- We depend on a healthy ocean, and the health of the ocean depends on us. The ocean provides more than 160 million tons of food every year and untold novel compounds that help us fight cancer and other diseases. It provides energy, minerals, and other valuable natural resources. The ocean provides between 50-75% of the oxygen we breathe. And it regulates our climate, controlling global temperature and absorbing a quarter of our carbon dioxide–roughly equivalent to all land plants combined (Scripps, 2016).

- The ocean, like the climate, is changing quickly, and changing lives. Human influences are dramatically altering this source of abundant natural resources. Changes in ocean ecosystems are altering what and how much we eat. Climate-changing greenhouse gases are contributing to warming, which will likely raise sea level by several feet by the end of the century — and with 40% of the US population living near the coast, coastal properties and economies stand to be heavily impacted by sea level rise.

- Ocean literacy is more than appreciation — it’s understanding. True ocean literacy requires a grasp of complex and abstract scientific concepts, such as climate change, the value of biodiversity, and the compounding effects of seemingly unrelated human activities (Ocean Literacy Network, 2015). Ocean literacy leads to increased public support for policies that help keep the ocean healthy (Steel et al., 2005), and greater support for scientific exploration and research. OLLIE seeks to broaden and deepen public ocean literacy so that we can collectively make better decisions as consumers, voters, and citizens.

2. We need powerful learning experiences that lead to positive behavior change.

When it comes to changing behavior around nature and conservation, in-person connections to natural places are powerful teaching tools (Kudryavtsev et al., 2011). However, the ocean presents numerous challenges to in-person field trip; relatively few Americans have access to a boat, only about 1% of Americans are SCUBA-certified (DEMA, 2015), and inviting the public aboard a submarine for an ocean adventure isn’t logistically scalable. Books, blogs, television and livestreamed research dives can be far-reaching ocean education methods, but they are passive learning experiences. With the continual improvement of computer and video technology, however, researchers have demonstrated that IVEs can be even more powerful tools in changing behavior around the environment (Ahn et al., 2014). Combining IVEs with hands-on tools and collaborative, active learning serves to magnify learning experiences, promoting further learning and behavior change, particularly for underserved communities (Parkinson et al., 2003, Haak et al., 2011).

3. More communities need access to these powerful learning experiences

Geography, socioeconomics, culture, and education present significant barriers to widespread ocean literacy in many communities. Most existing in-person, hands-on ocean education is restricted to communities with access to the coast, marine science centers, and aquariums — but even those resources require time and money that can be barriers to many. We and other educators have met many students, including those from urban coastal communities, who have never actually seen the ocean — one of the keys to fostering curiosity of the marine world.


Online tools, including videos and livestreamed dives from remote research vessels, can broaden access to ocean. However, traditional teacher training does not prepare most school teachers to interpret these resources effectively (Boggs, 2013), and many schools and communities lack the equipment to create sufficiently powerful ocean-related STEM learning activities.

Improving widespread ocean literacy for all communities demands an innovative approach that serves both urban and rural resource-limited audiences, effectively connects with underserved learners, and supplements formal science education with modern teaching tools.


OLLIE seeks to meet all these challenges by traveling to audiences regardless of coastal access or resources, delivering powerful ocean IVEs and hands-on activities, and changing how people understand and connect with the oceans. With your help, we can improve ocean literacy and help society make better choices for the health of our ocean, ourselves, and our future.

Ahn, S.J., Bailenson, J.N. & Park, D. (2014) Short- and long-term effects of embodied experiences in immersive virtual environments on environmental locus of control and behavior. Computers in Human Behavior 39, 235-245.

Boggs, B. (2013) “The Science of Ctizenship”. Orion Magazine, Nov/Dec 2013 https://orionmagazine.org/article/the-science-of-citizenship/


The Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA) (2015) “Fast Facts: Recreational Scuba Diving and Snorkeling." http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.dema.org/resource/resmgr/imported/Diving%20Fast%20Facts-2013.pdf

Haak, D.C., HilleRisLambers, J., Pitre, E. & Freeman, S. (2011) Increased Structure and Active Learning Reduce the Achievement Gap in Introductory Biology. Science 332(6034), 1213-1216.


Kudryavtsev, A., Stedman, R.C. & Krasny, M.E. (2011) Sense of place in environmental education, Environmental Education Research 18(2), 229-250.

Ocean Literacy Network (2015) “The Ocean Literacy Framework” http://oceanliteracy.wp2.coexploration.org/ Accessed 10/1/2016


Parkinson, T.M., Force, J.E. & Smith, J.K. (2003) Hands-on Learning: Its Effectiveness in Teaching the Public about Wildland Fire. Journal of Forestry 101(7), 21-26.


Scripps Institution of Oceanography (2016) “The Keeling Curve: How Much CO2 Can The Oceans Take Up?” https://scripps.ucsd.edu/programs/keelingcurve/2013/07/03/how-much-co2-can-the-oceans-take-up/ Accessed 9/30/2016


Steel, B., Lovrich, N., Lach, D. & Fomenko, V. (2005) Correlates and Consequences of Public Knowledge Concerning Ocean Fisheries Management. Coastal Management 33, 37–51

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