Increasing climate science awareness of non science majors: How to get their attention through online climate studies?

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Monday, 3 February 2014
Hall C3 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
David Quesada, St. Thomas Univ., Miami Gardens, FL

The study of Meteorology and Climate as part of the General Education requirements in many Colleges and Universities very often constitutes great challenges for instructors. Despite of the efforts put forward by AAAS, NSF, AMS, UCAR, NASA, and NOAA, as well as many regional organizations, many students non interested in STEM fields find these courses challenging and not related to their future professions. Thus, many of them approach to Meteorology and Climate as painful classes they have to overcome. A similar situation occurs when students choose to take other mathematics and physics-based courses such as Astronomy or Earth Science. Students tend to feel more comfortable with Biology related General Science classes, which are generally more descriptive in nature with almost no use of numbers. Additional challenges to students posed by math and physics-based science courses include: 1. the language used in many science classes is part of the typical vocabulary used by STEM motivated students, but is not the language non science majors are accustomed to; 2. The connection between History, Art, Economics, Psychology, Political and Social Sciences, and Language is relegated to the background; and 3. Hands-on activities included within these courses usually start from a physics problem statement instead of a motivational topic from any of the non science liberal art disciplines which later on might be discussed in terms of physical laws. It has also been observed that STEM oriented students expect more traditional forms of delivery due to the structured nature of science even though they might be open to non formal ways of learning. On the contrary, non-science majors are more open to non traditional forms of learning, operate more on beliefs than on factual information, and are very receptive to the bombardment of contradictory information from the media of mass communication. Getting the attention of this large body of students is crucial from many points of view, thus, the question is: how to get there? Online education offers some hope in terms of time management and the type of activities students may be invited to do. However, there are challenges also with this approach, especially the uncertainty surrounding student work and performance. Introduction to Meteorology has been offered by the St. Thomas University School of Science, Technology and Engineering Management for about six times in both ways, face to face and online. In both cases, the adopted agenda followed the traditional approach found in textbooks like Ahrens (Essentials of Meteorology), Danielson (Meteorology), or Moran (Weather Studies) with student projects at the end of the semester focusing on particular relationships with their areas of interests. Starting in summer 2012, a different management style has been piloted within the online offering, which begins with topics and a language often found within non science liberal arts careers. These include psychology and mood disorders influenced by weather conditions, agricultural market dynamics and the prices at supermarkets, dawn and growth of civilizations, death rates and weather conditions, weather influence on athlete performance, cliodynamics or weather influence on political events as well as many others. Students have responded better but still not to the level instructors might wish. Some possible reasons include large numbers of students (around 69 %) enrolled in remediation courses in both English and Mathematics, students coming from high schools that did not expose them to regular science classes, and some students being part of the Dual Enrollment programs, therefore having no previous College experience of online education. Starting from the fall term 2014, Climate Studies will be introduced into the curriculum as a continuation of Introduction to Meteorology, and it will be offered online only, for now. A possible template for the course management is included in this presentation, which follows the same principles as the piloted style for the last two online weather offerings. It includes new experiences borrowed by the instructor from the AMS Climate Studies Diversity Workshop and will follow the book of Moran about Climate Studies. Even though it does not represent a final solution to the teaching of science to non science majors, it provides some options to those environments sharing many of the demographic and academic features found within St. Thomas University student's body.