Excellence in Geophysical Education Award

Excerpted from the AGU Website:

"Excellence in Geophysical Education Award is awarded yearly to recognize and honor an individual, team, or group of individuals who have exhibited a sustained commitment to excellence in geophysical education. Such a commitment may be evidenced by:

  • a specific program or project that has had a major ongoing influence on geophysical education
  • outstanding teaching or training of individuals over a number of years
  • long-lasting professional service related to geophysical education that has had a long-lasting positive impact"

AGU AwardCitation

I am most pleased and honored to present this citation to the COMET Program for the 2006 AGU 2006 Excellence in Geophysical Education Award for their outstanding efforts to provide and improve access to quality science education materials worldwide.

Over the past 15 years, the COMET Program has served as the conduit between internationally recognized experts in various geosciences and those tasked with protection of lives and property around the world. COMET was originally created in 1990 to help educate U. S. operational meteorologists to apply the latest science of weather forecasting, and to incorporate new sources of data, such as Doppler radar and advanced meteorological satellites. COMET now also reaches university faculty and students, emergency managers, broadcasters, and the general public with its ever expanding list of educational materials on a variety of topics in geophysical disciplines. Over 400 universities and colleges have accessed the COMET training website.

Dr. Tim Spangler, COMET Director and John A. Orcutt, AGU President

Dr. Tim Spangler, COMET Director and John A. Orcutt, AGU President

From its inception, COMET has engaged learners by using a unique, holistic approach in developing training. This approach not only incorporates sound science, but it also uses creative instructional techniques and embraces the most current technology in both the development and delivery of training. The exceptional quality of COMET materials is the result of hard work by the accomplished instructional designers, scientists, programmers, graphic artists, and support staff who make up the COMET team.

The successful training development model that has evolved at COMET involves working with scientific experts to capture their knowledge in rich, engaging, multimedia learning modules that apply key scientific concepts to case study examples. Through COMET online learning materials, anyone anywhere in the world can learn science directly from the experts, free of charge. COMET has become internationally recognized as a leader in computer-based training and shares their best practices and lessons learned with other training agencies worldwide to assist them with their own development activities.

Over the past 15 years, technology has evolved, and COMET training has taken advantage of these improvements. In the early 1990s, their computer-based training modules were delivered via laserdisc, which later evolved to CD and now are delivered exclusively via the MetEd Website (http://meted.ucar.edu). In addition, to support case study development for both their computer-based training and their classroom courses, COMET developed software to help emulate the operational forecasting environment and then developed a data archive and targeted case studies to support it.

Community outreach is also a focus of COMET. To support professional development and education in government, the private sector, and at universities, COMET provides the MetEd Registration and Assessment System that administers quizzes, tracks scores, and issues completion certificates for students using the COMET modules. A Multimedia Database provides access to training media developed by COMET that can be used freely for educational purposes. The program’s Case Study Library provides comprehensive meteorological datasets for classroom use or research activities. For international users, COMET has a growing body of materials that have been translated into Spanish, French, Korean, and Russian.

COMET has also made great strides to bridge the gap between the academic and operational meteorology communities by providing funds for applied research conducted jointly by operational forecast offices and universities. These partnerships have advanced scientific knowledge and improved forecasts. At the same time, they have resulted in a better understanding between the two groups and have helped form long-time collaborations.

COMET is a very important part of the atmospheric science enterprise, and I’m very happy to see the program recognized with this award.
Jack D. Fellows, UCAR Vice President, Boulder, Colorado


Thank you very much, Jack, for this generous citation.

As the COMET Program Director and on behalf of the COMET staff, our parent organization (the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research), our program sponsors, our community of users, and the many experts who so generously work with us, I want to thank the AGU for this great honor.

In the late 1980s, NOAA through its National Weather Service approached UCAR with the idea of setting up a university/NWS scientific training program. The purpose was to re-engage the university community in advancing the weather services of the nation, especially as the weather services were being modernized. In 1990, COMET began actively producing materials used to train thousands of forecasters without requiring them to leave their duty stations for days at a time. Although distance education today is commonplace, at the time we began, this was blazing new territory. We promoted the idea of combining distance training with onsite train-the-trainer courses. We were also among the first to develop computer-based instruction that applied sound instructional design principles that include the use of audio, video, animations, and interactive exercises that simulate real-world forecasting tasks. And while our focus is mainly on meteorology education, we have expanded into other geosciences such as oceanography and space physics. Over the last 15 years, our methods have evolved to keep pace with ever-changing technology, which is a continuous challenge. In that time, we have created over 550 hours of interactive multimedia instruction, offered over 300 weeks of courses, and have funded over 250 collaborative research projects involving more than 70 different universities and 100 weather forecast offices.

Of course, these accomplishments are possible only with the support of our sponsors. In addition to the National Weather Service, we have had long-term support from NOAA-NESDIS, the Air Force Weather Agency and the Navy Meteorology and Oceanography Command. We have also received support from six other federal agencies:

• FAA – Federal Aviation Administration
• NASA – National Aeronautical and Space Administration
• FEMA – Federal Emergency Management Agency
• FHWA – Federal Highway Administration
• NSF – National Science Foundation
• US Army

In addition, we have also received funding from six international organizations:

• The World Meteorology Organization
• The Australian Bureau of Meteorology
• The Meteorological Service of Canada
• The German Foreign Aid Program
• The Taiwan Weather Bureau

The vision, support, and commitment of these agencies and the NOAA National Weather Service are also rightly commended by this award. I would also like to thank UCAR and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, which have hosted COMET since its first day and provided facilities and scientists for the program. I would also like to recognize the staff of COMET for their outstanding talents and dedication to the advancement of weather forecasting. I am continually in awe of what they do and how well they do it, and without the staff, the program is nothing. Finally, my acknowledgements would be incomplete if I did not also recognize the thousands of hours spent by university and government scientists in providing scientific expertise, teaching our classes, recording audio, reviewing graphics and scripts, participating in collaborative research projects, and providing program oversight. Their generosity and dedication truly exemplifies what excellence in geosciences education can accomplish.

Over the last 15 years we have all seen huge changes in technology, and the ability to train professionals and educate students anywhere in the world has expanded dramatically. However, technology is just a means to an end. It does not by itself address how to teach effectively. Poor classroom instruction does not improve by making it available on the Web. Issues in the news such as hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, and global climate change point to the need for improving geosciences education at all levels, but especially for decision makers and the public. This requires that all of us who teach (and in one way or another, that includes everyone) continually think carefully about what people really need to know and how they can best learn whatever it is we want to teach them. And we must all work to inform policy makers that quality geosciences education must be an important component of all scientific activities.

Again, on behalf of our program I’d like to thank the AGU for this great honor.
Tim Spangler, Director of the COMET Program, Boulder, Colorado