Meteorological Training in the Digital Age: Blueprint for a New Curriculum

The middle decades of the twenty-first century will be a critical time for the meteorology profession. The effects of climate change will be clear and progressing in most regions (Hawkins and Sutton, 2012). The likely concurrent increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events (IPCC, 2012) will place meteorological forecasting in a critical societal position. There will be opportunities for meteorology to provide new and exciting benefits to society through continued improvements in the accuracy of weather forecasts (Bauer et al., 2015). The growth of an efficient renewable energy sector (Frei et al., 2013), for example, would require accurate forecasts for a range of timescales from days to seasons ahead.

Increasing computing power and new technologies – such as quantum computing (Debnath et al., 2016) and dense, real-time environmental sensor networks exploiting Internet connectivity – will offer opportunities for improving forecasting and our understanding of the atmosphere. But making the most of these opportunities, and addressing the challenges, will in part depend upon how well we train the future meteorological workforce. The meteorological community has developed a great deal of excellent, innovative practice; however, the time is right to look again at the nature of the meteorology training curriculum.

The prescribed skills and attributes for meteorologists are often defined separately for university courses and for continued professional training (usually defined by meteorological services and other providers). A fundamental opportunity to define and deliver a coherent training programme across all forms of meteorological education is being missed. To address this disconnect, we – the University of Reading and the Met Office – have worked together to develop a blueprint for the meteorological training that a complete educational programme should provide. The skills and attributes are relevant to all forms of training in meteorology, for students at university, for those undertaking continuing professional development (CPD) and for those learning via open online courses.


A shared blueprint underpinning meteorological training

Our blueprint of meteorological skills takes the form of 14 key principles, which we believe should underpin training for students entering the field over the next ten years. A curriculum that follows these principles should help to develop the skills and attributes needed by meteorologists as they begin their professional careers and grow into leadership roles. The flexibility of future careers for meteorologists and the need to provide training that is portable, generic and easily upgradable are important motivations for the blueprint. (Space constraints here mean that it is not possible to expand upon the team’s discussions and need for training in these 14 areas. An extended version of this article with detailed discussion in each of the 14 areas is freely available online by searching for the DOI: 10.17864/1926.78851)

Meteorological training should prepare meteorologists to:

  1. Move between roles that involve research and development, operational delivery, consultancy or a combination of all three
  2. Be comfortable discussing and thinking about weather and climate over a range of timescales, from days to decades
  3. Be responsible for their own continuing professional development and facilitate personal development of colleagues
  4. Be resilient to a changing working and resource environment and confident in embracing new challenges
  5. Be able to critically evaluate scientific literature
  6. Be aware of the benefits and opportunities of open distribution of scientific knowledge, software and data
  7. Be able to develop transparent, robust and well-documented scientific software
  8. Be able to work in teams that develop scientific models and modelling systems that produce estimates of the real-world impact of meteorological variability
  9. Be able to appreciate and evaluate information available through observations and measurements
  10. Be competent in designing statistical tools and applying statistical thinking to the atmosphere
  11. Be able to ensure that operational standards and quality are maintained within increasingly automatic systems
  12. Be able to effectively understand and communicate risk and uncertainty
  13. Be clear in expressing their work in the context of contradictory forecasts or interpretations
  14. Be able to interpret their work in the context of a changing climate.

It is unrealistic to expect that each of the skills could be covered to the same depth and breadth at every stage of a student’s education and training. There would not be the time or expertise to do so. This increases the need for recognition of the shared and distributed nature of training for meteorologists and a common set of training principles for all education and training providers. The professional accreditation offered by learned meteorological societies can and will play an important part in this integrated training approach. The blueprint does not focus on the essential meteorological, mathematical and physical content of training in atmospheric sciences. This is already covered extensively in, for example, the Guide to the Implementation of Education and Training Standards in Meteorology and Hydrology (WMO, 2015) and similar publications by the American Meteorological Society and the Royal Meteorological Society.


Achieving the principles

We believe that developing meteorological curricula consistent with our blueprint is feasible, beneficial and enjoyable for students and staff of all institutions, albeit with some changes to teaching practice. The increased use of enquiry-based teaching approaches could be used to combine teaching of the underpinning skills in the blueprint with the teaching of meteorological fundamentals. A mixture of these approaches with lecture and vocational teaching is expected to be optimal and effective for most training providers.


Why enquiry-based learning?

Enquiry-based approaches involve students learning through their own, self-directed enquiries or investigations into a problem. The role of the teacher is crucial. The design of the learning intervention must address the required learning outcome. But it must also allow enough flexibility to tackle broader goals such as encouraging personal responsibility, interest and exploration of a problem.

Past experience of delivering enquiry-based modules has shown that providing students with authentic, meaningful problems is particularly important. A range of formal and informal assessments should be used, and students should be provided with bridging activities that allow them to move from the role of consumer to creator of information.

This enquiry-based, active learning approach is an effective way for students to learn specific-subject content and the broader skills identified in the blueprint (Hmelo-Silver et al., 2007; Deslauriers et al., 2011).
The University of Reading's enquiry-based approach to studying the Hadley cell offers an example. Students are encouraged to use the Held and Hou model (1980 to develop experiments for understanding the role of the seasonal cycle in determining the cell width. While developing their knowledge of atmospheric dynamics, students also get the chance to critically evaluate the original scientific paper (blueprint principle 5), develop robust and transparent code (blueprint principle 7) and facilitate personal development of colleagues by providing and responding to peer feedback (blueprint principle 3).

There are some challenges in implementing enquiry-based learning in meteorology (Edelson et al., 1999). These include: student motivation, the accessibility of investigation techniques, the varied background knowledge of each student cohort, student inexperience of the management of long-term activities, and practical and logistical constraints. However, experience has shown that support provided by a tutor, line manager or mentor is critical to the success of enquiry-based learning and can overcome these barriers.



This article is intended to encourage debate on how new meteorologists can be best prepared for the digital age, and we would welcome further discussion of our ideas. Together, as a University department and professional training provider, we have discussed and developed a blueprint for the atmospheric science curriculum for new meteorologists entering the field at undergraduate, graduate and professional levels which we hope provides useful food for thought for other training providers. Measured against this blueprint, our own programmes require development to meet our own aspirations and the needs of students. By continuing our work together, we hope to further enhance and align our individual training programmes. We welcome opportunities to learn from and collaborate with other training providers across the globe through WMO initiatives like the recent Symposium on Education and Training held in Bridgetown, Barbados, in October 2017.



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Andrew Charlton-Perez, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Reading, Berks, UK. Corresponding author, Lyle Building, Department of Meteorology, Whiteknights, Reading, RG6 6BB, UK

Sally Wolkowski, Met Office College, Met Office, FitzRoy Road, Exeter, Devon, UK.

Nina Brooke, Center for Quality Support and Development, University of Reading, Reading, Berks, UK.

Helen Dacre, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Reading, Berks, UK.

Paul Davies, Met Office, FitzRoy Road, Exeter, Devon, UK.

R. Giles Harrison, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Reading, Berks, UK.

Pete Inness, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Reading, Berks, UK

Doug Johnson, Applied Science and Scientific Consultancy, Met Office, FitzRoy Road, Exeter, Devon, UK.

Elizabeth McCrum, Vice Chancellor’s Office and Institute of Education, University of Reading, Reading, Berks, UK.

Sean Milton, Met Office, FitzRoy Road, Exeter, Devon, UK.

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