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.
The NPI Program's current projects and initiatives include:
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."
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org), or visit the COMET Program's Web site at http://www.comet.ucar.edu/