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New beginnings for UCAR's global change modules project

This spring marks two new beginnings for UCAR's Global Change Instruction Program: a new NSF grant to expand its series of innovative teaching materials and a contract with University Science Books of Mill Valley, California, for commercial publication of the materials.

The GCIP materials are in the form of printed modules, some accompanied by computer software, on selected aspects of the broad topic of global change. They are written by experts in the respective fields for undergraduate nonscience majors. Eight modules, produced in Phase 1 of the project, are already being used by faculty around the country; the new grant provides $266,505 over the next two years to produce six more modules and a videotape. Climatologist Tom Wigley of NCAR and the UCAR Walter Orr Roberts Institute is principal investigator for Phase 2; Lucy Warner and Louise Carroll, both of UCAR Communications, are co-PIs.

The GCIP Advisory Committee met in late November 1994 to select the six new topics and authors. They are

Energy Use by Humans, Arthur Few, Rice University

Ozone Depletion, Margaret Tolbert, University of Colorado and Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences; and Ann Middlebrook, NOAA

Biogeochemical Cycles, Fred Mackenzie, University of Hawaii

The Carbon Cycle, Elizabeth Sulzman, NCAR

International Environmental Law and Policy, Armin Rosencranz, Pacific Environment and Resources Center

Changes in Weather Associated with Climate Change, Kevin Trenberth, NCAR, et al.

The videotape, a brief introduction to the use of computer modeling in understanding and predicting climate change, will feature some of the colorful and instructive animations that scientists have generated on NCAR supercomputers in the course of their research. The animations show, for example, ocean circulation patterns associated with El Niño, seasonal variations in sea ice cover, and changes in vegetation as a result of increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide. The video will include explanations by some of the scientists working with the models and will compare simulations based on actual observational data with those generated by mathematical models.

Phase 2 will also undertake classroom evaluations of the modules. Carroll is coordinating this part of the program and has been recruiting "test campuses" to participate. A preliminary list of those that will be involved includes Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania; Clark Atlanta University and Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia; Michigan Technological University, Houghton; Navajo Community College, Shiprock, New Mexico; Umpqua Community College, Roseburg, Oregon; University of Alaska at Fairbanks; University of Colorado at Boulder; University of Hawaii at Manoa; the University of Iowa, Iowa City; and a cooperative effort between the University of Washington and Seattle Central Community College.


A group of scientists headed by John Firor of NCAR and John Winchester of Florida State University started the GCIP in 1989. The number of college courses on global change, environmental science, and related subjects was growing rapidly and there was a desperate need for curricular materials to teach them, especially for nonscience majors. Global change is a complicated interdisciplinary subject and the unique approach of the GCIP is to break it down into more manageable subtopics that can be taught in a week to a month of classroom time. This means the materials can be used in traditional disciplinary science classes--earth sciences, biology, physics, astronomy, chemistry, meteorology, and the social sciences--as well as in broader courses on environmental science or global change. The modules are intended for students who may not have much background in mathematics or science but whose curiosity is aroused by concern for the environment.

The modules produced so far have found widespread use by more than 200 professors at 90 institutions, and one, on system modeling by Arthur Few, received a 1993 EDUCOM award for curriculum innovation. An informal survey in the spring of 1993 found that the modules are actually being put to even wider use than anticipated. Though aimed at undergraduates, they are being used in classes from high school through graduate school and by science and engineering majors as well as nonscientists. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of global change and the fact that scientific training has become increasingly specialized, courses in the subject are often taught by instructors with a narrower disciplinary background. In fact, the survey revealed that 64% of respondents were using the GCIP modules for their own background information as well as for classroom instruction.

A GCIP home page for the World Wide Web is under construction and will be linked to the UCAR home page. It will contain more details on current and planned modules and the complete results of the 1993 survey of modules users. The survey materials include textbooks being used, disciplinary backgrounds of professors teaching global change, and an inventory of colleges and universities offering global change courses. For further information on the project, contact Lucy Warner (lwarner@ncar.ucar.edu; 303-497-8602). If you are teaching a course that might use the modules and would like to participate as a test campus, please contact Louise Carroll (lcarroll@ncar.ucar.edu; 303-497-8611).

GCIP Advisory Committee

Arthur Few, Rice University
John Firor, NCAR
William Moomaw, Tufts University
Ellen Mosley-Thompson, Ohio State University
Jack Rhoton, East Tennessee State University
John Snow, University of Oklahoma

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Edited by Carol Rasmussen, carolr@ucar.edu
Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall
Last revised: Mon Apr 3 17:49:41 MDT 2000