Introducing BiologyOnTheBox

Today I am officially launching my latest project. BiologyOnTheBox is a website for sharing recommendations regarding broadcast media programmes and clips that might be useful in the teaching of bioscience. The majority of links and reviews relate to TV shows in the UK, though some relate to radio. is a site for sharing recommendations regarding TV and radio resources for use in teaching bioscience is a site for sharing recommendations regarding TV and radio resources for use in teaching bioscience

Recommendations on BiologyOnTheBox can, in principle, be used by anyone with access to copies of the original programmes. It is, however, intended to dovetail particularly closely with the fantastic Box of Broadcasts resource. I’ve enthused previously about Box of Broadcasts (BoB), including here (TES Opinion) and here (this blog). However having had a lunchtime conversation recently with a number of colleagues who had no idea what BoB was, here’s a brief intro. If you are already familiar with BoB feel free to jump down to the section on BiologyOnTheBox.

Box of Broadcasts has been developed by the BUFVC in conjunction with Cambridge Imaging Systems and Bournemouth University

Box of Broadcasts has been developed by the BUFVC in conjunction with Cambridge Imaging Systems and Bournemouth University

BoB is an online archive of over 2 million TV and radio programmes for use in education. About 60 different TV and radio stations are recordable, including some you might not think of; I’ve been surprised, for example, by how much good science there is on Al Jazeera. Programmes are not automatically transcoded into BoB, but as the service has grown so has the percentage of material captured. This is in part a reflection of the “five a day” facility – every staff member and every student at subscribing institutions  can initiate five new recording each day. Accessing the service *does* require an institutional subscription, but over 50% of UK Universities are now members. There is a standard 30 day window after broadcast in which a recording can be ordered. A special arrangement with the BBC enables their programmes as far back as 2007 to be ordered back. Programme from other channels within the British Universities Film and Video Council archive back-up service can also be added (with authorisation from the user’s home institution). Box of Broadcasts has a number of features that make it an attractive pedagogic tool:

  • Materials are streamed so you don’t have to scrabble around trying to find your copy (or remember who you lent the DVD to last year). Your students can watch the same episode on and off campus in their own time, so there is genuine opportunity for you to set the students to watch an episode as homework and/or as part of a “flipped classroom” approach.
  • You can make clips of just the section(s) you want, you don’t need to fast forward through the DVD to find the right place. You can even link different sections together into one clip.
  • Programmes in BoB (at least the more recent recordings) have both transcripts and frame search facilities to help you get straight to the section of interest.
  • Search tools let you look for keywords either in programmes or in user-generated playlists
  • These are legal! Recordings in the Box of Broadcasts are cleared by the Educational Recording Agency, those on YouTube are usually not.

Why BiologyOnTheBox? One of the weaknesses of BoB is re-discoverability; you *can* tag programmes within the tool, but I’ve found this unsatisfactory. I’ve therefore started a separate blog for teachers and lecturers of biology as a forum for sharing good examples of biology-related resources within BoB. BiologyOnTheBox has been live for a little while, and I’ve occasionally linked to resources there via Twitter, but I didn’t previously feel there was enough content there to make a more general “splash”. I think, however, that we’ve now reached sufficient critical mass to share the vision a bit more widely. There is a growing collection of recommendations there already, but we are adding more all the time. The majority of posts thus far have been written by me. However, with the support of a teaching development grant from the University of Leicester’s Student Experience Enhancement Group I’ve also been able to fund some current students to write reviews and recommendations. These too are starting to make it onto the site. Reviews come in a variety of styles which is, in part, a reflection of the different sorts of materials that are being recommended. Unsurprisingly, various episodes of Horizon are popular choices (particularly for the student reviewers) and other documentaries also feature prominently. Some links, however, go to shorter news items or a specific couple of minutes from within a longer programme. The plan is to add more reviews from drama and fiction as well. Please have a look and see if it is something that might be of value for you. If you are already a user of broadcast programmes in your teaching, I’d love to hear recommendations from you (even better if you want to join in the project and add reviews of your own directly).


  1. Looks very good Chris, I will enjoy using it as a resource

    • Hi Wafa – great to hear from you. Unfortunately for copyright reasons Box of Broadcasts is only available in the UK (to subscribing institutions). However I hope some of the materials on Biology on the Box will be useful anyhow.

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