The COMET Residence Program at 15: the changing face of classroom education
The typical COMET residence class pairs lead university and operational instructors to facilitate the transfer of recent research results to the operational community. This advanced-level training employs a case study approach with practical lab exercises specifically designed to reinforce concepts from lecture presentations. Over the years, the COMET classroom has evolved to ensure that we have always employed advanced computer and communications technologies. For many years the classroom has used the technology to occasionally include live videoconferences with remote presenters to augment presentations given by live instructors. The facility is currently equipped with co-located lecture and laboratory areas that can accommodate up to 27 students for a single course offering. The past year has seen two substantial upgrades to the hardware that supports classroom operations. The first upgrade modernized the nine laboratory stations which now each consist two Intel-based dual-boot (Windows/Linux) PCs. Each PC station has three monitors capable of running AWIPS, GARP, and other analysis and display packages for a variety of applications including running real-time local mesoscale model simulations. The second major upgrade integrated the numerous display options, streamlining the instructors' capability to switch between media sources for large screen display to the classroom audience. The upgrade to these features as well as the addition of more microphones, an enhanced sound-system, and an annotation tablet also allows presenters to easily present live lectures to students in remote locations.
From time to time, tight sponsor budgets have occasionally restricted travel and residence classroom schedules. Future budget uncertainty has caused the NWS and other sponsors to look increasingly to distance learning options to help control the overall cost of training. The Residence Program has used a recent break in the classroom schedule to work on redesigning the classroom Website (http://www.comet.ucar.edu/class/index.html). Additionally, the recent upgrades to the instructor workstation and audio system have ideally prepared COMET to embark on offering aspects of the residence program to students without the expense of having to travel to Boulder. Plans for adding virtual courses and individual key live lectures to remote audiences are in the works. Meanwhile, we continue to conduct traditional residence courses, albeit at a reduced pace, and thus are able to use Web technologies to make classroom lectures of wide interest to the community available through our MetEd Website (http://www.meted.ucar.edu). We have already published over 30 Webcasts that provide expert lectures from our classroom on demand to learners worldwide. Despite the specter of a reduction in future residence course offerings, the COMET classroom operation is poised to exploit these innovative alternative delivery methodologies as a cost-effective means to meet the training needs of the operational community.