The COMET Program: 20 Years of Innovative and Evolving Education and Training for the Atmospheric and Related Sciences

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Tuesday, 19 January 2010: 2:00 PM
B214 (GWCC)
Timothy Spangler, UCAR, Boulder, CO; and J. Lamos

The COMET Program was established in 1989 to educate and train operational weather forecasters during the period of modernization of it's primary sponsor, the National Weather Service (NWS), This was a collaborative effort between the operational community through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the academic community through the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), a consortium of 75 universities offering doctoral degrees in the atmospheric and related sciences. COMET is funded by multiple agencies, including NOAA (NWS, NESDIS, NPOESS), and the Department of Defense (Air Force Weather, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command), and the Meteorological Service of Canada. Recently, COMET has added the National Environmental Education Foundation as a partner.

Initially, COMET consisted of a residence classroom program, a distance learning program, and an outreach program, the latter of which funded collaborative applied research between university PIs and weather forecast offices. In the early years, education and training was aimed at 7,000 operational forecasters in the United States, an audience too large to accommodate solely by means of classroom instruction. Although COMET established a residence training classroom, it's cornerstone was a distance learning program that has experienced remarkable growth over the past two decades. Distance learning has several advantages over traditional classroom methods in that it can address large student populations at a much lower cost, enabling efficient dissemination of new ideas with a consistent training approach. To date, COMET has produced nearly 600 hours of distance training in various topic areas, and continues to add about 50 hours of training per year to the MetEd website. Since establishing an on-line registration system in 2007, COMET has amassed over 100,000 registered users from 200 countries world wide. The audience has expanded from the originally targeted base of operational forecasters to include the K-12, university, and emergency management communities, as well as the private sector, most notably broadcast meteorologists.

COMET has evolved over 20 years providing leadership to our community in the application of sound instructional design and the use of educational technology. This evolution has enabled enhanced productivity for the program, allowed greater instructional effectiveness, and provided a model for the meteorological community to use in design of other similar programs. For its innovative instruction, COMET has won numerous awards, including the Brandon-Hall Gold Medal for Excellence in Learning (2004) and the American Geophysical Union Excellence in Geophysical Education Award (2006).

As we enter our third decade, COMET will continue to pursue opportunities in conjunction with the emergence of new advances in educational technology. We hope to promote realistic on-line simulations through the use of situational learning with case-based simulations. Just-in-time training will utilize specific information and conceptual models through performance support systems at forecast offices. Some of the on-line learning will delivered by means of mobile devices that will involve repackaging COMET training into formats suitable for these platforms. Collaborative tools such as Web 2.0 and wikis will need to be exploited to promote a better sense of community among distant learners. Increased accessibility to university education will be accomplished by means of on-line degree programs, many of which will use COMET distance learning materials for instructional support.