The courses are a key part of COMET's thriving International Program, headed by Brian Heckman since its establishment last fall. The program was spun off from COMET's original Distance Learning Program, formed in 1989 by Brian and Dwight Owens. The DLP provides some staff support for the new program. Brian, Dwight, and other colleagues (including Roberta Gold and visitor Geoff Rudder) have met with the WMO and lined up several opportunities to show COMET's stuff and test its applicability outside the realm of U.S. forecasting.
One route COMET is exploring is through the WMO's 22 regional training centers for meteorologists, most in developing countries. For example, the WMO center in Barbados, West Indies, offers courses to 22 English-speaking nations in the Caribbean and northern parts of South America. Brian and Dwight went to the Caribbean Meteorological Institute in Barbados last month to meet with faculty from that institute and the University of Costa Rica. In addition to providing those institutions with CAL capability, there is also the possibility that 16 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 Brian, 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."
Once communications links are in place, an international training course could take place entirely in a distance-learning mode, presumably saving money for the WMO while providing training for many more meteorologists from poorer nations. "Most of the current WMO courses bring in about 20 students and two to four lecturers to a regional center. They spend all their funds on travel and they're left with nothing tangible to take home and work with," says Brian.
The first demonstration of COMET's high-tech tools for a WMO class took place in December at the Foothills Lab (see photos). Last year, COMET's Distance Learning Program was in the process of finishing its CAL module on ocean wave analysis and forecasting. Brian recruited Peter Dexter, director of the ocean affairs division at WMO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, to come to Boulder and lead a week-long course on wave analysis for international meteorologists using the new module.
The class itself resembled a mini-United Nations. Most of them operational meteorologists, the students came from Russia, Argentina, France, Ireland, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, India, Ethiopia, and several other countries.
"The students liked having the ability to sit and work on the modules at their own pace," says Brian of the post-class evaluations. Also given high marks was the structure of the modules, which included animations, live action, and interactive tests. Still, there will remain a place for traditional modes of teaching, says Brian. "In no way would we ever suggest getting rid of lectures entirely."
COMET is now working on proposals for a similar wave-analysis class at the Barbados center. Should all go well, Brian hopes the course can also be offered at WMO centers in Argentina and Brazil. "Ocean forecasting is extremely important for many parts of the world. Our objective with this course has been to open a window for the WMO on how they can conduct their education and training electronically. I think we've accomplished that." --BH