As part of its mission, the Unidata Program Center (UPC), working closely with the Unidata Users Committee, holds summer workshops every three years on topics of interest to a broad community of users in the geosciences. Seven such workshops have been held over the past two decades on wide-ranging topics. In addition to providing a forum for addressing notable issues in enhancing teaching in the atmospheric and related sciences, the triennial workshops have been an important venue for the community to come together to share ideas as well as course materials, and engage in in-depth discussion on ways to improve student learning.

Building on the techniques employed in previous Users workshops, in June of 2009, Unidata hosted "Using Operational and Experimental Observations in Geoscience Education," as its triennial Users workshop. Observations and their analysis are critically important in model evaluation and development. With an increasing emphasis on modeling in the physical sciences, it is essential that students educated in our field retain a connection with physical observations, and the challenges and limitations of data collection and analysis.

The main objective of the 2009 workshop was to expand the use of instrumentation and observations in geoscience education. Through a series of hands on, interactive sessions with educators in the geosciences, the goals of this workshop are to:

  1. Instill the view that classroom engagement between students and faculty can be enhanced through the use of instrumentation and observation
  2. Make the case that in addition to graduate students, participation of undergraduate students in geoscience research can be complimentary to course specific goals
  3. Demonstrate that fundamental concepts in several areas of geoscience can be taught through the interrogation of observational data
  4. Provide a venue for educators to discuss, collaborate, and disseminate course materials
  5. Highlight community service and broader impact opportunities data collection activities provide
  6. Facilitate the development and dissemination of educational materials in emerging areas such as data assimilation, remote sensing, and unmanned in-situ observing platforms.

Meteorology faculty, researchers, and observing systems developers and observing facility providers presented an array of educational and instructional sessions showcasing real-world applications of data and instruments that would be useful in the classroom. This year's workshop attracted 81 participants, four from foreign institutions, 32 universities (foreign and domestic), and 3 US government labs. There were a total of twenty different presentations spanning topics from simple Web applets and their use in introductory meteorology courses to advanced topics in four-dimensional data assimilation.

The feedback during the workshop and in the exit surveys were highly positive about the value of such educationally oriented workshops that allow educators to come together and exchange ideas and share instructional materials.

Anne Case Hanks, assistant professor at the University of Louisiana-Monroe wrote of the workshop:

I can say that it was very insightful -- between the demonstrations and ways to incorporate data into the classroom, I now have a cache of creative ways to engage students and get them thinking about data, its importance, and its role in atmospheric sciences (Students sometimes forget this!). I also feel that IDV will become a key player in our atmospheric science program. Its 3D ability gives the student a new perspective and allows them to view atmospheric processes in a new way. I was also very grateful to meet some wonderful people and they were gracious enough to share ideas and knowledge with me.

Among the benefits afforded by 2009 Unidata Triennial Workshop was not only the sharing of the tools that the community has developed, but participants were also inspired though the exchange of ideas with other educators, and established a lasting discussion and a close network that facilitates sharing of materials and pedagogical ideas on how to most effectively educate students in the geosciences.