ECMWF Newsletter #164

ECMWF training – responding to new challenges

Sarah Keeley
Anna Ghelli
Iain Russell

 

ECMWF’s training courses in 2020 have been and will continue to be very different from previous years, mainly because of the need to run them virtually. Despite this, ECMWF has continued to deliver its training programme. Learning activities in the first half of 2020 took place either as blended courses or completely online, providing training to 270 people. Two thirds of the participants came from Member and Co-operating States. 

NWP courses

At relatively short notice this year, we took the decision to run the numerical weather prediction (NWP) courses virtually due to the COVID‑19 pandemic. The situation changed dramatically within the six-week window in which the NWP courses were run. The data assimilation course was run virtually and face to face to allow those who did not wish to travel to stay at home; the subsequent satellite data assimilation and numerical methods courses were given virtually from the classroom at Shinfield Park, so the lecturers were in familiar surroundings; and finally, the predictability and parametrization courses were run from everyone’s homes, with some lecturers having to give lectures in cramped conditions to avoid interruptions from the smallest members of their family! We made the difficult decision to postpone the newly created course ‘A hands-on introduction to NWP models: understanding and experimenting’ until we can run this course face to face. There is such a large amount of practical work, including getting into the details of running code, that we felt the online experience would not allow participants to meet their learning objectives. Face-to-face discussion with experts and practical work seemed essential to this task.

Online training.
Online training. In 2020, many courses have been delivered virtually for the first time.

For the virtual NWP courses, this meant a big component of the learning and networking in the course was lost; often the practical sessions are where participants consolidate their learning and have an opportunity to query things one on one with the lecturers. The lecturers tried to recreate this as best as possible and took time to answer individuals’ questions after lectures. The question sessions often ran into the coffee breaks as people had so much to ask. The online experience has highlighted the value face‑to-face training provides in terms of opportunities for early-career scientists, or those new to the field, to build their own network and gain a deep understanding of the training material. The informal conversations where random connections are made, or a new idea is sparked, over lunch or a drink at the end of a long day, were sorely missed by lecturers and participants alike. This is very hard to recreate online. However, this year the Using ECMWF’s Forecasts meeting (UEF) has explored new innovative ways to host a networking event online, and the article by Becky Hemingway, Anna Ghelli and Esperanza Cuartero in this Newsletter showcases what is possible.

Learning management platform

Participants can now log their learning through our new learning management platform. This allows us to track pre-course learning to make sure everyone has a similar level of background knowledge before attending a training event, and it enables learners to study at their own pace. It is a great central hub for all our learning resources. Registered users can access the learning management platform here: http://learning.ecmwf.int/.

For details on all training courses, visit: https://www.ecmwf.int/en/learning/training.

Other courses

ECMWF has a tradition of offering virtual learning events. These happen throughout the year, with a recurrent appointment for a computing and software online training week in the spring. The current pandemic did not significantly disrupt the Metview training plans as for the second year running two webinars were given. This year, the topics were the interactive analysis of data and the processing of ensemble data. The sessions were recorded and Jupyter notebooks with Python source code made available. 

In the second half of 2020, the traditional Use and Interpretation of ECMWF products course will take place. This is a blended course, but this year it will need to run completely online. The practical activities will be run using virtual classrooms where participants, in groups of five or six, will explore the use of ECMWF products in real‑life case studies supported by a trainer. We are looking forward to this course and the opportunities it offers. We will be able to provide training to a wider audience than before as in the blended version we have an upper limit of 25 participants. 

Feedback from participants

Despite the many changes at short notice the feedback from the participants in NWP courses has been great: they have really appreciated having something else to focus on than the lockdown and the pandemic. It was clear from the comments that the lectures were still well received. Here is a selection: 

“I don’t remember having ever visited a course with so many outstanding lectures. Thank you so much!“

“I was impressed with how well the virtual course was put together. It’s a shame we weren’t able to take part in the practical aspects of the course but given the circumstances I think it was very well done.” ​

“Under the circumstances, I was extremely impressed with the quality of online lectures. I did encounter some technical issues, but the overall quality was well above any video conferencing/large groups I have previously taken part in. The lecturers were all brilliant and coped very well with lecturing online.”​