Learn, Design, Develop: My Summer with Unidata AWIPS

Rhoen Fiutak
Rhoen Fiutak

This summer, I worked with Unidata AWIPS (Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System), contributing to educational resources for and outreach within Unidata's user community. Unidata AWIPS supports two visualization frameworks for rendering meteorological and geographic data: CAVE, a graphical user interface (GUI) application, and Python-AWIPS, a programmatic application programming interface (API) for EDEX. Users can learn about each through multiple resources, including blog posts on topical updates and tutorials via AWIPS Tips, eLearning courses like Learn AWIPS CAVE, and examples of data plotting with Python-AWIPS.

Instructional design process
Creating an eLearning module for Python-AWIPS (click to enlarge)

I was motivated to not only contribute to these educational resources being offered, but also to gain experience in the process of designing these learning tools for users, from interviewing professors or working with subject matter experts to delivering a finished resource. I have always loved exploring today’s problems in the Earth and environment through the lens of numbers. During my time teaching mathematics to high schoolers or tutoring intro physics while an undergraduate, I realized how much I enjoyed sharing those interests. However, I found myself wanting to reach a wider audience and contribute to communicating the research that was occurring at a higher level. I am currently pursuing a degree in Computational Applied Mathematics through Colorado School of Mines. This internship has given me the opportunity to explore how to bridge the gap between my interest in STEM and my interest in education through instructional design. Unidata AWIPS serves a large University community of professors and students interested in using visualization tools, like CAVE and Python-AWIPS, in the lab and classroom. Our mission at Unidata is to provide those tools as well as the services to support them.

AWIPS eLearning module
From the AWIPS eLearning module

Coming into this internship, I had little to no experience in Python coding, Jupyter notebooks, creating a pull request through git on Github, and much more. However, with the help of existing resources supported by Unidata, like Pythia Foundations tutorials, and thorough documentation, I was swiftly brought up to speed on foundational skills. Additionally, I had very little knowledge of meteorology. Going through our eLearning course on AWIPS CAVE gave me a better idea of displaying meteorological data as well as the presentation of information through interactive lessons, challenge activities, and assessment in the course.

As an introductory student of these resources, I offered feedback in my experience of the course in CAVE and acted as a troubleshooter for new functionalities in CAVE, helping with new development for the next release. In addition to troubleshooting from the user perspective in CAVE as well as the data plotting examples in Python-AWIPS, I contributed new material to existing resources as well as creating some that were entirely new.

  • I formatted sections of a data plotting example notebook and made changes using markdown and html, ultimately creating a pull request that was merged with Unidata/python-awips for the METAR Station Plot with MetPy example notebook.
  • I created a video and drafted the blog post for Using Drawing Properties with WWA Display in CAVE , walking users through a new properties window added to AWIPS CAVE for customizing Watches, Warnings, and Advisories displays.
  • I took the lead on creating a new eLearning module for working in Python-AWIPS, working with Unidata’s educational designer and AWIPS subject matter experts throughout the process from understanding who our learners are to designing learning objectives to developing the lesson blocks themselves.

I am grateful for the opportunity to create these resources and contribute to ongoing development of these tools and services. My mentors — Shay Carter, Nicole Corbin, and Tiffany Meyer — guided and supported me through every step. They made me feel I was more than a summer intern, but a team member contributing to work that would continue past my internship. The most influential takeaway from this experience is the significance of community outreach and working with our user groups. We must understand what resources are needed and who needs them the most to have the greatest impact in increasing access and use of data tools in the geosciences.

It was a wonderful summer of learning, designing and developing with Unidata AWIPS. I would highly recommend this internship. I look forward to applying the skills learned here in my future career.

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