85th AMS Annual Meeting

Tuesday, 11 January 2005: 3:00 PM
Web-based distance learning at Penn State University: Beyond shovelware
Lee Grenci, Penn State Univ., University Park, PA
When book publishers first began to use the CD-ROM as a platform to distribute existing books and encyclopedias, reviewers ascribed the pejorative term, shovelware, to insinuate how content was merely “shoveled" from one communication medium to another. In 1999, Dr. Alistair Fraser, now a professor emeritus in the Department of Meteorology at The Pennsylvania State University, cautioned educators about the pitfalls of applying the model of shovelware to distance learning via the World-Wide Web (Chronicle of Higher Education, Section: Opinion & Arts, Vol. 48, Page: B8, Aug. 8, 1999).

The E-education Group in the Department of Meteorology at Penn State University sprang from the seeds of this ethos. Meteorology 101: Understanding Weather Forecasting, a completely online general-education course that earned the 2003 Meritorious Course Award from the University Continuing Education Association, moves beyond the approach of shovelware by supplementing the course material with an array of interactive tools. For example, students can tactilely manipulate and explore simulations of Skew T / Log P diagrams and infrared satellite images. The pay-off for introducing such a tactile approach to Web-based learning is that students from all walks of life gain a much deeper understanding of how the atmosphere really works. By the end of the course, students are able to access relevant computer forecasts from the World-Wide Web and to create their own forecasts for a given location.

Using interactive tools to more effectively convey the mental models of meteorology only solves part of the e-learning puzzle. Indeed, once the content is created, quality distance learning on the World-Wide Web boils down to issues related to communication and customer service. Examples of the effective use of discussion boards and real-time interaction in chat rooms will also be addressed.

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