The majority of students enrolling in 'The Atmosphere' have minimal interest in science, and many have difficulty with scientific concepts and are unfamiliar with the scientific vocabulary that is part of any introductory science course. In many ways, the online course provides a more inviting environment for inquiry because the vehicle of delivery (computer/Internet) offers greater flexibility in a more relaxed setting. Students are much more comfortable interacting with the instructor and other students through the bulletin board and chat rooms, asking questions or responding in ways and with a frequency that would never occur in a large-enrollment classroom. We are currently designing an assessment tool that will try to ascertain differences in the levels of cognitive achievement between the online and on-campus versions of this course. This assessment tool will be employed experimentally during summer for the online course and lab, and again during the fall 2002 for the traditional on-campus lecture and lab courses.
Recently, an online laboratory component was added, which will be first taught in summer 2002. Similar to the 'The Atmosphere,' the lab uses WebCT as the software portal to a series of online lab exercises covering fundamental concepts in meteorology. The online lessons include a series of useful figures, diagrams, tables, animations of dynamic concepts, and related links.
This paper will cover the features and utility of this course, and will also discuss the results of student learning in comparison with the traditional lecture course based, in part, on information gathered using the assessment tool.