TRAINING AND EDUCATION PLAN. Early in LBA, we realized that the availability of environmental modelers in Brazil was low. Of course, during our research projects, we have been training our own graduate students in environmental modeling, and teaching graduate courses on modeling at UFV, but this assists only a few students per year. We also contributed to two short-term courses on environmental modeling, the first in Cachoeira Paulista in July 2000, and the second in Angra dos Reis in April 2005 (Summerschool on Environmental Modeling in Amazonia). These week-long courses, where several teachers and all students gather at a teaching location, have advantages and disadvantages: The advantages include getting together a number of international researchers as teachers, and providing good results for students who already have some background in modeling. The disadvantages include the high cost (~around $35k to train 30-40 students, or roughly US$1,000 per student), limited hands-on experience (availability of computers), and inability to build critical mass in institutions (usually one or two students come from each institution).
Because we felt that training more students in environmental system dynamics and modeling was important for creating critical mass in each institution, especially throughout Amazonia, we developed a low-cost traveling modeling course, where one instructor (Prof. Marcos H. Costa) takes a portable computer lab (13 notebooks, one computer projector, and one wireless hub, which fit in 3 suitcases and are easily taken anywhere in the country) to selected institutions. The course, Dynamics of Environmental Systems, explains how and why environmental systems are changing rapidly. Selected examples are deeply explored, and the students spend half the course time actually modeling them, one student per computer. This course framework allows a deeper assimilation of the concepts, through hands-on practice, increases future use of modeling techniques, and creates a critical mass of at least 12 students in each institution. So far, we have taught this course in six cities in Brazil (Viçosa-MG, Manaus-AM, Cuiabá-MT, Rio Branco-AC, Ji-Paraná-RO and Belém-PA), training about 100 students, at very low cost (~US$2.5k per course, $15k total, or $150 per student). The demand for such courses was much higher than anticipated (in some courses, additional local computers were added to the lab, to allow increased participation), and we received excellent evaluations in all courses. We have also used this portable computer lab to teach a 3-day course on Vegetation Dynamics in the Context of Climate Models, at CPTEC, training another 12 students from Minas Gerais and São Paulo. Other courses using the computer lab may be taught in the future.
In addition to the traveling modeling course implemented in Brazil, our group has experience developing and implementing online courses. Humans and the Changing Biosphere has now been offered twice, primarily to upper-level undergraduates at the University of Wisconsin. LBA graduate student Erica Howard has assisted with course development and assessment by reviewing current literature on effective practices for online teaching and learning in the sciences, and working with the course instructors to implement some of these best practices. One of her prime contributions has been to incorporate an online discussion component that promotes student-student and student-instructor interaction (mitigating the potential problems of isolation) and provides opportunities for students to achieve and demonstrate higher-level learning. We hope to leverage these findings regarding effective online teaching during development of the Brazilian environmental modeling curriculum proposed below.
CONTEXT. In the past 7 years, we have been deeply involved in training students in Brazil, through mentoring, teaching graduate courses, teaching localized extension courses, alone or with other teachers, and teaching itinerant extension courses. After these multiple teaching experiences, we arrive at some conclusions about capacity building of environmental modelers in Brazil:
• There is a strong need for environmental modelers in Brazil. At present, there are only a few dozen environmental modelers working in the country (most of them at CPTEC, plus a few groups at universities and other research centers);
• The demand for modeling training is enormous. We expected a demand of about 50 students for our Dynamics of Environmental Systems course, but we had a demand from at least 300. Also, we recently had 230 applications for only 40 positions in the Summerschool on Environmental Modeling.
• There is also great demand for learning recent advances in computing technology, especially skills for implementing helpful computing technology like clusters, vector and parallel processing, etc;
• Even at CPTEC, the most advanced center of environmental modeling and prediction in South America, there is a widespread feeling that the formation of a “complete modeler” – one that understands computer science, the model itself, the relevant science, and numerical methods – is something that is achieved at mid-career, typically when the scientist is in his/her mid-thirties.
OUR PROPOSAL FOR A TRAINING AND EDUCATION PROGRAM. We propose a program that may promote significant advancement toward the training of environmental modelers in Brazil.
Training graduate students through traditional mentoring, although providing a solid background, is slow and insufficient for the country’s need for modelers. Week-long short courses, although being able to train perhaps 100 students in a year, are very limited and can only provide an introduction to the topic, or complement previous training.
We propose a training system that will help provide the necessary background that modelers need, in the quantity Brazil needs. We propose to develop a set of six web-based environmental modeling courses that could be taken by advanced undergraduate students during their period in college, or by scientists that are seeking modeling training, without leaving their institutions. These courses are designed to provide the necessary knowledge to start a career in modeling, while preparing the students for deeper studies in graduate school or technical work at environmental modeling centers. The courses are to be taken initially by 3rd year undergraduate students (most undergraduate programs in Brazil last for 5 years). If the students feel they cannot complete the courses during their undergraduate years, they can interrupt the training for as long as they wish, and resume training whenever they are able, before or after graduation. Graduate students, professionals and established scientists should have little difficulty following the program.
We propose two basic courses (#1, #2), three intermediate-level courses (#3, #4, #5), and one advanced course (#6) where students will learn how to use complex, state-of-the-art numerical models:
1. Dynamics of Environmental Systems. This will be a web-based course of the highly successful course we have been teaching through Amazonia.
2. Introduction to Scientific Programming: Unix & Fortran. This course will be prepared by professors of the UFV Computer Science department, and will be aimed at teaching the necessary file management, shell scripting, text editing and additional knowledge needed to process files in Unix. The Fortran part of the course will go beyond basic programming and data structuring concepts, and move into more advanced concepts like common blocks, memory allocation and recursivity.
3. Analysis of spatial data and acquisition of satellite products. How to use publicly available visualization software like Grads and NCview, and analysis tools like NCO and NCL. Acquisition of publicly available satellite products (MODIS, TRMM, etc.) using the NASA DAAC Giovanni interface and other acquisition tools.
4. Advanced Scientific Computing. Numerical methods, code optimization techniques, parallel and vector programming, including concepts of parallelization techniques like OpenMP and MPI, strategies to better use arrays of scalar processors and others.
5. Modeling fluxes between the biosphere and the atmosphere. We have developed an intermediate-level model specifically for this course. SITE – Simple Tropical Ecosystem Model (Santos and Costa, 2004) is a simple model that teaches the basic concepts of transfer of mass and energy between a canopy and the atmosphere. It is available as a well-documented, 1200-line Fortran code, and we are also preparing a spreadsheet version.
6. Advanced biosphere-atmosphere interaction. Building on course #5, but using a complex model. Students will learn how to use two sophisticated models, IBIS and SiB2, which are the main atmosphere-biosphere models used in Brazil today. We believe that the student taking courses #2, #3, #4 and #5 will have little difficulty learning how to use these models. This course will be focused on calibrating and validating such land surface models, including acquisition of MODIS products to be used as input and validation data.
These courses will be implemented through CEAD, the Center for Distance Learning at UFV (http://www.ufv.br/cead). This center already has several years of experience in preparing and offering courses on-line for distance learning, with about 500 students enrolled. They offer administrative, academic and development support. We plan to use their experience on our endeavor, although we may need to contribute with additional hardware, especially for courses that require Unix login for the practical part of the course. We plan to implement these courses at the rate of one course every 6 months, which will take 3 years to complete.
OTHER TRAINING AND EDUCATION ACTIVITIES
Students Trained at the Federal University of Viçosa. Silvia N. M. Yanagi - Sc.D. student (current), Marcos P. Pereira - MS student (current), Hewlley M. A. Imbuzeiro - MS student (current), Marcia Biajoli – undergraduate (current), Claudeci Varejao Jr. – undergraduate (current), Meire L. C. Berbet (MS student), Mônica C. A. Senna (MS student, on related project), Gleidson Baleeiro – undergraduate (current, on related project), Carlos H. C. Oliveira (undergraduate), Thiago R. Bustamante (undergraduate), Fabrício A. Silva (undergraduate), Ricardo G. Andrade (undergraduate)
Students Trained at the University of Wisconsin. Erica Howard – Ph.D. student (current), Jeff Cardille – Ph.D. student, Aurelie Botta – postdoc, Christine Delire – postdoc (on related project), Gemma Narisma – postdoc (on related project), Peter Snyder – Ph.D. student (on related project)