Hydrological Sciences

Open teaching to navigate hydrology: how ready are we?

Open teaching to navigate hydrology: how ready are we?

Around a year ago, I all of a sudden had to find a quick solution to do online teaching. The timing was perfect: start of the semester, start of online teaching, video conference infrastructure unavailable, three kids at home and me, a hydrology teacher who has never produced any kind of video exceeding a 20s cell phone video.

Being the kind of person who always has to find a solution, I produced for the first class a written text for the students to read at home. This gave me time to find out other possible solutions for the rest of the course.

While going through the web searching for additional material, I noticed how difficult it is to find freely available hydrological teaching material. That was the moment when I came across the videos shared by Alberto Montanari, current EGU president and professor at University of Bologna, who runs a youtube channel. Alberto is a strong supporter of the open teaching principle that states that accessibility is more important than video or presentation quality for teaching (see also slide 14 in this talk), which is particular true in times of COVID19 and recovery thereof where teaching plays a fundamental role.

Yes, of course!

But still, I cannot get fully used to it. It kind of bothers me to know that students will download videos of my lectures and then that old lectures of mine might circulate freely for many, many years. Why is that so?

Perhaps it is simply because I am never entirely happy with my course material or how I present it. I feel that what I know about hydrological processes still evolves fast enough so that my hydrology class constantly evolves.

Some concepts are still heavily debated, such as e.g. “physically-based model” (Beven and Young, 2013). Besides, hydrology terminology is at times confusing. Hydrologists seem to use stormflow, interflow, lateral flow, subsurface runoff, transient groundwater, or soil water flow interchangeably (Weiler et al., 2006). Some terms have radically evolved such as the central term “runoff”: have you ever noticed that runoff evolved from being “That part of precipitation that appears as streamflow” (WMO, 1992) “ to “That part of the precipitation which flows towards a river on the ground surface (surface runoff) or within the soil (subsurface runoff or interflow).” (WMO, 2012)?

In such a context, what is more natural than wanting to strictly control what is shared out there and, who knows, for how many years? This is especially an issue of concern for scientists who are used to quality control via peer-review!

While writing this blog post, I am getting aware that my very arguments against open sharing of teaching material – in fact – underline how important sharing is: if concepts are confusing, the next generation can only benefit from freely available teaching material. It is in lectures that we share personal view points, which are much needed to navigate hydrology.

In this sense, I will personally try to make a tremendous effort to overcome my apprehension and leave my comfort zone – something for which we have a very nice saying in German: I will try to jump over my own shadow.

Maybe at some point you will stumble upon one of my lectures online and hopefully will appreciate it!



Bettina Schaefli
Bettina Schaefli is a professor for hydrology at University of Bern (Switzerland). She was the head of the Catchment Hydrology Subdivision of EGU from 2016-2019 and was an editor of Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (2008-2022). She has been the lead editor of the Hydrology Blog since 2018.

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