The 360° Laboratory

A student looking at a teaching film.

The project aims were to trial 360° and first person-perspective videos to enhance undergraduate confidence in the teaching laboratories. The main focus was Y1 students, many of whom have come from schools with very limited laboratory experience. The three primary aims were to:

  1. Improve intellectual understanding and enjoyment of laboratory experiments by introducing students to technical aspects and common mishaps before they enter the laboratory
  2. Drive new research-led teaching approaches by bringing real-world and research environments to life throughout the undergraduate curriculum.
  3. Improve the transition from school to University by familiarising students with the laboratory environment.

Snapshot

Start/end date: 01/08/18-01/12/18
Beneficiaries: UoB undergraduates and UK A-Level pupils
Theme/focus: Videos for enhancing laboratory learning
Discipline: Chemistry
Cohort size: 150

Abstract

A laboratory is a daunting place where students have to contend with new concepts, complex techniques and numerous hazards. This is particularly the case now that reduced funding and resources in schools mean that many students arrive at University having only performed the simplest practical experiments. This presents an enormous challenge to university departments across many science and engineering fields. This project developed 360° and first person-perspective videos for the Collaborative Teaching Laboratory and also videos on thin layer chromatography for A-Level students. We have shown that videos are an invaluable tool for laboratory confidence. We have also extended the project to show that they are a useful way to communicate complex research concepts.

What we did

The Collaborative Teaching Laboratory (CTL) was opened in October 2018 and our initial efforts were to produce videos to aid the integration of undergraduates into the CTL environment. We used a GoPro camera to produce an induction video for the wet laboratory, including information on safety and locations of key facilities. This was uploaded to Canvas and viewed by the students before entering the CTL. We also produced 360° ‘tours’ of the CTL laboratories using a Ricoh Theta-s camera (available on the University Youtube channel) for use by the admissions teams.

We also produced first person-perspective videos on key experimental techniques and CTL equipment, such as IR spectroscopy, thin layer chromatography and rotary evaporation and were made available to students on Canvas. A second version of the thin layer chromatography (TLC) video was also produced, pitched at A-level students and hosted on www.chembam.com (a national chemistry education initiative that was launched in Birmingham in 2017). TLC is a challenging concept and an expensive experiment to carry out in schools but is a key part of the national curriculum. Recently, we have used the video technology to produce a video for a whole UG experiment, integrating safety, technical and theoretical considerations. We will trial this as a pre-lab activity in early 2020.

What we achieved

In a survey of undergraduate students during their first laboratory session, 97% had watched the induction video and 95% of those said it increased their confidence going into their first University laboratory experience. 86% also said that the video helped them to find apparatus or facilities that they needed.

In a free-text section of our survey, undergraduates were asked what over videos they would like to have to help their studies. Nearly 50% said that they would welcome more videos on specific practical demonstrations and this is something we will be trialling during the Y1 experiment on reductive amination in early 2020.

In our activities focussing on A-Level students, our chromatography resources have been welcomed by both teachers and pupils, with our online ChemBAM chromatography resources reaching nearly 10,000 clicks and our Youtube chromatography videos having nearly 700 views. In addition to the specific tours of research laboratories in the School of Chemistry, we have also produced videos on the general research themes of the School. This has been critical in raising the research profile of the School and helping to promote Birmingham as a centre of excellence for studying and researching chemistry. We included a wide demographic within our videos, from undergraduate students to the Head of School to showcase the excellent research and teaching environment at Birmingham.

What we learnt

In an environment where many schools do not have funding to provide significant practical laboratory experience it is critical to ensure that all students are integrated and confident in the University teaching laboratory. We have shown that first person-perspective videos are a valuable tool for achieving this and also for familiarising students with new instruments that they will be using. We have also shown that first person-perspective videos are very popular with teaching complex A-Level topics. Through this, we are reaching out to the national audience of A-level pupils and showcasing Birmingham as a centre for teaching innovation. 

More broadly, 360° videos are extremely useful in portraying laboratory environments. This can be used to showcase the facilities at Birmingham and to illustrate the environment of a research lab. Our videos have been used widely by the admissions teams. Many staff members also include links to videos of their research in proposals e.g. in pathways to impact.

Looking ahead 

Since the end of the EEF funding, the School of Chemistry funded our video technician for a further 12 months, allowing us to expand the remit of our project. We aim to test a video of a full undergraduate experiment early in 2020 and write up the results of this for publication. We also aim to showcase broader research environments such as the Diamond Light Source synchrotron, where many of our researchers spend time, for the ChemBAM project.

References

www.chembam.com/online-resources/videos/thin-layer-chromatography/
www.chembam.com/online-resources/videos/360-degree-tours/
www.chembam.com/online-resources/videos/nobel-prize-2019/
www.chembam.com/online-resources/videos/ctl/

 

For more information, contact the projects office on hefi.projects@contacts.bham.ac.uk, quoting reference CSLP194.