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The COMET probram goes international

The whole point is leveraging, says Brian Heckman.

He's talking about the philosophy driving the new international initiatives of the Cooperative Program for Operational Meteorology, Education and Training (COMET®): taking what has been developed for use in the United States and extending it worldwide. It's all part of the COMET New Products and International (NPI) Program, established last fall and headed by Heckman.

The COMET Program was established to provide professional development-training in the latest techniques, tools, and concepts-for U.S. weather forecasters, hydrologists, and other atmospheric scientists. With NOAA and Department of Defense funding, the program has developed a variety of computer-based learning materials, including a highly successful series of interactive modules on CD-ROM, for distance learning. It also offers courses, symposia, and workshops in its high-tech classroom in Boulder, Colorado, and sponsors collaborative research efforts between the academic and operational meteorological communities.

Among the COMET Program's international activities are efforts to help the World Meteorological Organization's regional training centers improve their products, services, and communications. The centers are strategically located around the world to provide a focus for the WMO's outreach to developing countries. (Map by Peter Bockenthien.)
"What the COMET Program has done over the last six or seven years is to develop a certain level of expertise in the marriage of instructional design, scientific content, and graphic art," says Heckman. "Now we're trying to apply what we've learned and developed to the broader needs of the international community. In the work we've done so far, for the NWS [National Weather Service] and the DOD, the main focus has been to produce materials. In the international arena, we do that, too, but primarily we're helping people develop their own capabilities."

The NPI Program's current projects and initiatives include:

  • The Caribbean-Latin American Meteorological Education and Training (CALATMET) Initiative. CALATMET is a cooperative project with the Caribbean Meteorological Institute of Barbados, West Indies, the University of Costa Rica's Department of Atmospheric Sciences, and the [U.S.] NWS.

  • A World Meteorological Organization (WMO) distance learning course on wave analysis and forecasting.

  • An NWS/Federal Emergency Management Agency hurricane preparedness course.


    CALATMET is the first step in what may become a broader effort to help the WMO's Regional Meteorological Training Centers (RMTCs) and the national meteorological organizations they serve improve their products, services, and communications. Many meteorological services around the world have undergone, or are in the process of, modernization. Such efforts generally have focused on improvements to observational technologies, communication infrastructure, numerical weather prediction techniques, and human resource allocation. What have often been lacking are the education and training critical to the effectiveness of these improvements.

    There are some two dozen RMTCs strategically located around the world to provide a focus for WMO outreach to developing countries. The center in Barbados, for example, offers courses to 18 English-speaking nations in the Caribbean. Another RMTC, serving Central America, is located at the University of Costa Rica. "We decided it would be most efficient for us to work through these centers, instead of trying to reach each country individually," notes Heckman. "We plan to work with the RMTCs-help them improve the effectiveness of their programs, transfer knowledge and skills, and provide tools. RMTCs offer a variety of courses, but generally through traditional classroom lecture and laboratory methods. Currently, a continuing education program does not exist. Applying computer technology-computer-aided learning (CAL), Internet communications, and possibly, as technology advances, videoconferencing-to the existing courses should make it possible to offer the courses to many more people at reduced cost."

    There is the possibility that the 18 Caribbean nations will be linked with state-of-the-art ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) videoconferencing technology. "The nice thing about building video interactivity from scratch," says Heckman, "is that the latest technology can be implemented immediately. Countries that have no infrastructure may be better off, in some ways, than countries like the United States that have to deal with upgrading antiquated technology."

    As Heckman sums it up, there are three intertwined phases of CALATMET, not in any fixed sequence.

    One phase will be to train faculty, integrate technology into their curricula, and adapt COMET modules to the academic setting. In some cases, says Heckman, "we'll be translating our materials into other languages. We have identified a module to convert to Spanish, for example."

    Another phase is what Heckman calls capability-building. "We work with faculty to transfer knowledge, skills, and tools that help them build the capability to develop their own multimedia and distance learning tools. At that point we fade out of the picture. Our role is to serve as a catalyst, to show examples of what we've done and provide tools to help them do it themselves."

    "The third phase, which is very exciting to me, is helping the RMTCs develop content to reach out to the public, to political decision makers, or to students in the areas of environmental awareness and disaster preparedness and mitigation."

    Course development

    The first demonstration of COMET high-tech tools for a WMO class took place last December in Boulder. The COMET Distance Learning Program was finishing its CAL module on ocean wave analysis and forecasting, and presented it in a week-long course on the topic to international meteorologists. "What they really did," says Heckman, "is design a course. We'd never done it that way, where students worked on CAL as part of the classroom instruction." The participants (most of them operational meteorologists from Russia, Argentina, France, Ireland, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, India, Ethiopia, and several other countries) split up into pairs, each working on a different section of the module. These sessions were broken up with lectures, for either review or enhancement. Marine meteorology expert Steve Lyons, of NOAA's Tropical Analysis Center, used the module as part of his lecture and to answer questions.

    This use of multimedia, in Heckman's view, is a significant step forward. Students also participated in two lectures using Picturetel videoconferencing equipment. One was conducted from the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (Camp Springs, Maryland), and the other from the Tropical Prediction Center (Miami, Florida).

    The course was judged a great success by the participants. One request, however, was for more time to work on the module. The next workshop will take place in April 1997 at the National Hurricane Center and will be revised based on the results of last December's course.

    And beyond . . .

    Negotiations are under way for an African version of CALATMET. The COMET Program is working with the German government and EUMETSAT, the European satellite program, on a similar project in Kenya and Niger. If all goes well, a module on satellite meteorology will be developed jointly with the RMTCs in those nations. Four satellite meteorologists, two from each nation, will come to visit the COMET Program for six to nine months to adapt the current satellite module for African audiences and African weather. The final product will be in both French and English. The visitors will become part of the production team, thus serving to build the knowledge and skill needed in their home services.

    The COMET Program is also hosting seminars, workshops, and courses (much like those the domestic program has been conducting in its Boulder classroom over the past five years) for international groups. In this effort they are working through the NWS and with its counterparts in other nations. The South African Weather Bureau is scheduled for a class in August, while a similar course is planned for representatives of the Spanish meteorological service in October.

    A lot of the international activity is coming under the umbrella of the COMET Educational Resource Center. "This was created to address the needs of domestic universities," says Heckman, "but more and more it appeared it could do the same for the international community. As we evolve, we see this umbrella covering more and more activities." The number of ways the COMET Program can serve the international community may, in the end, be as great as the need.

    For more information, contact Heckman (303-497-8498 or heckman@ucar.edu), or visit the COMET Program's Web site at http://www.comet.ucar.edu/

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    Edited by Carol Rasmussen, carolr@ucar.edu
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    Last revised: Tue Apr 4 09:33:26 MDT 2000