Difficulties associated with the teaching of complex subjects such as the atmospheric sciences create obstacles to learning and lead to relatively high rates of student attrition. An exploration of the role of mismatches between student learning styles and that implicit in curricular design was conducted at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee (UWM), with the objective of identifying methods for improving student learning and retention.

Open-ended interviews were used to elicit the opinions of past and present students and faculty. These data are analyzed to meet the study objectives. Key findings include the following: attrition rates in the program are high, but consistent with published rates across the United States in engineering; the predominant learning styles of students and faculty diverge substantially; curricular design is consistent with faculty rather than student learning styles; among students, undergraduates show the largest negative responses to existing modes of operation and the most interest in change; faculty also show considerable discomfort with existing modes and substantial support for change, although their rationale for this support may differ from that of students; support for a radical reorganization of the curriculum toward a case-study-driven learning process is weak, particularly among undergraduates; increased emphasis of physical examples and case studies within the existing curricular framework is supported, both for upper-level undergraduates and graduate students. Methods for addressing these limitations within atmospheric science curricula are presented.

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Atmospheric Science Group, Department of Mathematical Sciences, University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin