*NOW* is the time to include more TV material in your teaching

A new version of Box of Broadcasts (launching in Jan 2014) will be a powerful tool for teaching and research

A new version of Box of Broadcasts (launching in Jan 2014) will be a powerful tool for teaching and research

The pedagogic merit of TV has a noble tradition. For people of a certain generation (my generation) this may conjure up images of Open University lecturers in tweed jackets talking about non-euclidean geometry at 5am. Although this model very definitely had its place (My mother is one of many thousands who studied for an OU degree in this way), this stereotype massively underplays the educational potential of broadcast media.

TV footage (and, to a lesser extent, radio recording) can be utilised in a variety of engaging ways across all academic disciplines. Significant changes taking place at the start of 2014 are going to make access to thousands of hours of material very straightforward. I’m going to be as bold as to say if you are not buying into these resources for your students, then you are selling them short.

In particular, the first week of January will see the roll out of version 3 of Box of Broadcasts. BoB (as it is known to its friends) is like a giant “on demand” service offered across the UK Higher Education sector. But this is only to scratch at the surface of its potential. I’ve seen a demo and I am very excited about this resource. In particular I can see BoB playing a significant role in moves towards a “flipped classroom”, not least through the potential to develop “viewing lists” to offer to your students alongside the more traditional reading lists.

I’m probably not at liberty to say too much more ahead of the official launch (you can see some details in this BUFVC press release) but I mention this now because BoB is one of a range of multimedia tools that we will be demonstrating at a day conference in Leicester on 14th January 2014.

The programme for the day (draft) looks like this:
10.00    Registration and refreshments
10.20    Welcome and introduction
10.30    “But we’re not a media course” – the relevance of broadcast materials to bioscientists (and others!)
11:00    Copyright, the Educational Recording Act and all that – you can legally do more than you think! (Murray Weston, former Director of BUFVC)
11:30    Refreshments
11.50    Television and Radio Index for Learning and Teaching: making the most of TRILT to know what’s on and when
12.20    Looking for resources? “BoB’s your uncle!” – an introduction to the Box of Broadcasts (Dr Sandy Willmott, University of Lincoln and member of the national BoB user group).
12.50    Lunch
13.30    Swap shop: Delegates will have the opportunity to demonstrate their use of multimedia in their teaching. Already offered:
Critical reviews of TV science documentaries (Prof Jon Scott, University of Leicester)
14.45    Refreshments
15.00    Setting up TRILT alerts (a hands-on computer session)
16.00    Reflections and close

This event is particularly geared at colleagues from STEM disciplines (and the examples used will primarily be drawn from the biosciences). However, the central principles will be applicable to academics from any subject area. If you are interested in attending, please book via this link. If you would like to offer a 7 minute description of your current use of moving image content, please email me.

Feedback on exams: how much of an issue is it?

In keeping with other universities, Leicester is thinking through the best way to offer feedback to students on their exam performance. Several different models are under consideration, each of which involves significant logistical difficulties, and no firm decision has been made about the approach to take.

We do not (yet) offer students in bioscience the opportunity to see their marked scripts themselves. At various times in recent years I have acted as “broker”, looking through the exam answers of personal tutees in order to suggest ways that they might improve their future answers.

In truth, the findings of this distinctly unscientific study are not earth-shattering. There are three or four key explanations as to why students fail to achieve the mark they desire:

1. Not answering the question asked – lowest marks, and those that come as the biggest surprise to the authors, are for answers in which they have significantly missed the thrust of the question. There is not much that can be done to counsel against this, except the old mantra “read the question carefully”.

2. Not offering enough detail – The most common error in exam answers is a failure to include sufficient detail to be worthy of the mark the author anticipated. This issue can be addressed in practical ways, e.g. by making the expectations overt and by exposing students to real essays written by previous students (as we do in this exercise).

3. Unstructured “brain dump” – This can be a manifestation of error #1, possibly leading to #2 (in the sense that a lot of time and effort has been spent on material which is not strictly relevant). Essays of this type are frequently characterised by flitting back and forth between different issues as the author thinks of them. For the examiner it comes across as either a lack of true understanding about the topic in hand, or as a lazy student essentially saying “I recognise this word in the question, here’s a random collection of things I recall from your lectures, you work out whether any of it is relevant”.

Encouraging students to take a few moments to sit down and plan out their answer before dashing off into the main body of their response will help to reduce this mistake.

4. Illegible handwriting – I speak as someone whose hand-writing is not fantastic on a good day and which gets worse under time constraints. Nevertheless, regardless of weaknesses in the marker, the old adage “we can’t award credit for it if we can’t read it” remains true.

Scripts that are completely undecipherable are rare, but they do exist. In the past we were able to offer some glimmer of hope in the form of the opportunity to call in the student and, at their expense, to employ someone to write a readable version as the original author translated their hieroglyph. This back-up position has now been removed, apparently because a student at a different institution significantly embellished their original version whilst it was being transcribed [note: does anyone have chapter and verse to show that this is not an urban myth? I’d like to know the details].

Given that other mechanisms for capturing an exam answer exist (e.g. use of a laptop) it ought not to be the case that someone gets to the point where they discover after the event that their legibility was inadequate. It is therefore important both that we have the chance to see some hand-written work (preferably early in a student’s time at university) and that a culture is engendered in which it is acceptable to comment on poor handwriting, even if the hand offering the rebuke is not itself ideal.