Filling the Role of Staff in Flexibly Delivered Atmospheric Science Practicals

Peter K. Love


Atmospheric Science at Macquarie University is taught within Physical Geography. Five undergraduate units are taught: two second year and three third year. There are also Atmospheric Science components in two first year units. To this core, students can add units in earth sciences, mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics and computer science to obtain a BSc with a major in Atmospheric Science. However, only 20 to 25% of the students in second year are majoring in Atmospheric Science. The five core units are each one semester in length and have a pattern of two one-hour lectures per week and one three or four hour practical per week. Traditionally, the practicals have involved a variety of activities including field exercises, computer-based sessions, plotting and interpretation exercises, and application problems. The practicals have also served as tutorials.

Material based on the hypertext markup language (HTML) was first introduced into the programme in 1994 with the development of a four week component on remote sensing in one of the third year units. In late 1996 the Atmospheric Science group was awarded a 1997/98 Macquarie University Flagship Grant to broaden the individual and varied developments that had occurred within the units in the programme since 1994. The aim was that at the end of the two year project the five Atmospheric Science core units, with the exception of essential third year fieldwork, would be deliverable in a flexible mode using Internet technologies.

The on-line material that has been developed for each unit follows a similar pattern and includes: standard unit information (course schedule, assessment details, etc.); lecture material (ranging from overheads to detailed notes); practical material (including HTML interfaces to real-time data, research data, simulation software and complex research models); discussion facilities (mail, bulletin board); and a resource section (including glossary, acronyms, library access, textbook errata, reading list and some World Wide Web links). The two second year units also include on-line summative assessment in the form of multiple choice quizzes.

The delivery of the practicals, which also serve the role of tutorials, in a flexible mode presents particular challenges. In addition to the need for interactive material involving simulations, models, visualisation and animation, the role played by a tutor or demonstrator needs to be filled. These staff provide feedback, guidance and checking of student progress throughout a practical. This paper outlines some examples of these and how the absence of staff has been addressed in the flexibly delivered material.

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