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Summer 1997

UOP starts a new PAGE

A new UCAR educational initiative may help college teachers get students out of the lecture hall and into more active modes of learning in the geosciences. The Program for the Advancement of Geoscience Education (PAGE) hopes to offer educators the tools they need to create interactive, real-world-based curricula.

Mary Marlino

Although PAGE is brand new, the idea behind it "has evolved over quite a period of time," according to William Pennell, director of UOP, "and it has a lot to do with COMET [the Cooperative Program for Operational Meteorology, Education and Training]." COMET training materials for weather forecasters offer just the kinds of hands-on materials and realistic applications that are lacking in too many undergraduate science classes. Even lab classes, Pennell points out, tend to "follow the cookbook" to expected outcomes rather than give the more unpredictable results scientists are used to. And the teachers who create interactive materials often have no easy way of disseminating their work beyond their own campus.

UCAR members have asked both COMET and Unidata staff to get involved in the problems of undergraduate science education. But "that issue is not directly within the mandate of either program," points out Mary Marlino, director of PAGE. In a joint meeting last summer, both programs' advisory bodies recommended that the programs begin looking for a way to help teachers make a real change in how science is taught. At last October's meeting, the American Meteorological Society/UCAR Heads and Chairs of Programs in Atmospheric, Oceanic, Hydrologic, and Related Sciences passed a resolution that UCAR assist universities in developing and advancing the use of multimedia educational materials in improving college-level geoscience education.

Now, "we are trying to put a face and a personality on this general request for help," says Marlino. To do this, UOP has submitted a proposal to NSF to fund a series of regional workshops for community colleges, four-year colleges, and universities. "We're asking several geographically strategic institutions that have traditionally been stars in using technology in geoscience education to host the meetings." The meetings will be run by the universities rather than UCAR, she adds, because "we believe that faculty learn best from other faculty."

The workshops would focus on determining what kinds of assistance teachers want--for example, data, teacher training, and evaluation services--and on how PAGE could be structured and integrated with existing multimedia resource centers on campuses. "We want to leverage the exemplary programs that are out there and look at issues of sustainability and transferability," Marlino explains. "We're especially interested in reaching community colleges and other constituencies that haven't been traditionally served by NSF programs." If funded, the workshops would begin in the late summer.

Marlino notes that NSF has pinpointed four focus areas for the coming years: development of intellectual capital, especially among groups and regions that have not participated fully before; strengthening of physical infrastructure; integration of research and education; and development of partnerships among a variety of constituencies and agencies. "We believe that this initiative is right in sync with their strategic plan," she says.

"We are committed to replicating in this activity the spirit of community ownership that exists within Unidata," Pennell says. One of the features he feels is most important to that sense of community is Unidata's strong university-based governance committee. Pennell has already created a governing board for PAGE, to be chaired by Susan Avery (University of Colorado at Boulder).

For more information, contact Marlino (303-497-8350 or marlino@COMET.ucar.edu).


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