Putting the moving image to work in biochemistry education

The December edition of the Biochemical Society magazine The Biochemist has historically taken a slightly less serious look at some aspect of the subject. This year the focus is Biochemistry on Screen. Articles include discussion of Star Trek, Jurassic World, Contagion, Spiderman and others. I contributed a piece about the different ways that use moving image (especially TV) can be used in Biochemistry education. A copy can be accessed via this link.

Update: the article is now also mirrored on the website of ERA, the Educational Recording Agency (accessed via this link).

The December 2015 edition of The Biochemist focuses on screen representations of Biochemistry

The December 2015 edition of The Biochemist focuses on screen representations of Biochemistry

Television as a teaching tool

My Opinion piece on use of TV for teaching was published in the 28th August edition of Times Higher Education

My Opinion piece on use of TV for teaching was published in the 28th August edition of Times Higher Education

Regular readers of The Journal of the Left-Handed Biochemist will know of my enthusiasm for exploiting multimedia in teaching. Back in January 2014 I hosted a conference on the theme, and it is also the raison d’être for two other blogs that I run Bioethicsbytes and the new Biology on the Box.

In August, Times Higher Education magazine published an opinion piece in which I discussed some of the ways that TV footage can be used in teaching and to try to dispel reservations that might be stopping colleagues from making more of this rich resource. The article can be freely accessed, so rather than repeating myself here can I encourage you to read the original piece via this link.

Making the Most of Broadcast Media (Conference summary)

On 14th January 2014, the University of Leicester played host to a day conference on Making the Most of Broadcast Media in your Teaching. The event was organised on behalf of the Higher Education Academy STEM network, and we are grateful for the financial support that enable the meeting to take place.

The purpose of the day was to promote the use of television programmes and clips in bioscience education. There has always been huge, but often untapped, potential for use broadcast media in teaching. However, several recent developments have made it very much easier to identify appropriate materials and/or obtain copies in an easily usable format.

Slides from all of the presentations on the day are available below. The intention was to combine these with audio recordings from the day. Unfortunately Slideshare have recently announced that they are withdrawing their Slidecast facility and so, at present, only the images are available.

“But we’re not a media course!”: the relevance of broadcast materials to bioscientists (and others)

To start the day, I gave a presentation outlining some of the ways in which we have used TV and film in bioscience teaching. These include clips to set the scene, to convey factual information and/or as discussion starters. Delegates took part in an activity in which a clip from the populist science show Brainiac can be used to kickstart discussion about experimental design (see here for a fuller write-up of this task).

Copyright, the Education Recording Agency and all that: you can legally do more than you think!

Murray Weston (former CEO of the British Universities Film and Video Council) talked us through some of the evolution of the UK rules governing legal use of broadcast media for education. He explained what the current rules are, but also highlighted that important changes are expected from April 2014.

Short presentations offered by delegates

The next phase of the day allowed delegates to describe existing ways in which they use broadcast media in teaching. Three case studies were offered.

1. Critical reviews of TV science documentaries

First up, Prof Jon Scott (University of Leicester) outlined an exercise in which final year students are required to conduct a critical review of TV documentaries on neuroscience topics.

2. Using cold case files TV shows to develop forensic students’ scientific approach

Dr Ian Turner (University of Derby) then described a tutorial in which video clips from cold case series, and associated resources, are used with forensic students to help them improve their crime scene methodologies.

3. Headline grabbing: Using BBC news clips as an essay springboard

Dr Steve Maw (University of Leeds) described an activity he conducts with his foundation-level students in which they write an essay on ethical aspects of a biological or biomedical mews story. More details regarding a similar task can be found here.

Looking for resources? BoB’s your uncle!: An introduction to the Box of Broadcasts

Dr Sandy Willmott (University of Lincoln) gave a demonstration of Box of Broadcasts (BoB), an exciting new resource developed by the British Universities Film and Video Council and their technical partners. BoB allows academics and students in subscribing institutions to access an enormous catalogue of previous and current television for educational purposes. Sandy showed programmes can easily be selected and how the package allows users to select clips within episodes and, if appropriate, develop playlists.

Television and Radio Index for Learning and Teaching: making the most of TRILT to know what’s on and when

To complete the day, we had a computer-based session allowing delegates to set up or develop their own accounts using the Television and Radio Index for Learning and Teaching (TRILT). TRILT allows users to check what has been on UK television (including a longer time period and broader range of channels than BoB) and to set up a weekly email alerts based on keywords of their choice.

Guide for Citing Audiovisual Materials

During the past couple of years I’ve been part of a working group set up by the British Universities Film and Video Council to draw up guidelines for the correct citation of Audiovisual. The fruits of our labours are published today.

The new guidelines offer recommendations for the correct citing of a wide range of media formats

The new guidelines offer recommendations for the correct citing of a wide range of media formats

In an era when increasing emphasis is being place on multimedia, it seems almost unbelievable that this is the first serious attempt anywhere in the world to produce an authoritative guide for what information to include when citing radio, film, TV and a plethora of other media.

As John Ellis, Professor of Media Arts at Royal Holloway, has noted, “Citation exists so that you can find the source of any quotation. The rules have long since been worked out for print sources. However, for moving image and sound, no-one quite knows what to do, so references are usually imprecise and sometimes left out completely.This guide now makes it possible for any writer [including students] to lead their readers to the exact audiovisual source they are discussing.”

The process of producing the new guide has been fascinating (far more so than it might sound!) Once you start to scratch the surface you start to realise the vast range of the different sources, formats and so on that might need to be included. The guide is shared with the academic community in the knowledge that it will very likely need refining, especially as new formats for sharing AV information are developed. Nevertheless I’m proud of this first edition and encourage any of you who are using and citing audiovisual materials to refer to it and, where appropriate, to suggest refinements.

The best and worst of the OU

I have been a long-time admirer of the Open University; my mother completed a degree with them when I was a child and another of my relatives was one of the first ever cohorts of OU students. At a recent conference a presentation on the OU’s new “Science Investigations” module* was truly inspiring – the notion of involving novice scientists dispersed across the planet in collaborative experiments shows real vision.

The ERA allows for legal use of TV and radio programmes

At the same time, however, there is something about the OU that I have found increasingly frustrating. As a frequent user of multimedia clips in my teaching, I take advantage of the Educational Recording Agency (ERA) licensing scheme that permits educators to hold copies of TV and radio programmes specifically for teaching purposes and provided that they adhere to a number of straightforward rules regarding both the storage and use of the material (I have written about the merits of the ERA licensing scheme).

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For some reason, however, programmes that are produced by the OU fall outside the ERA scheme. To hold and to show OU broadcasts you need a different licence. I imagine the source of this anomaly may be historical – the OU may have set up their arrangement with other institutions before the ERA scheme was developed (I speculate, I don’t have any data on this). Unlike the ERA scheme, there is an annual fee (of about £30) to hold a copy of an OU programme and if you decide you no longer want to use the programme then you need to physically return your copy to them. For a number of reasons, which I will outline below, it strikes me that this arrangement is increasingly anachronistic.

The OU run their own off-air scheme, distinct from the ERA

What brings this issue into sharp focus for me is the increasing number of programmes that are branded as OU/BBC co-productions. If these fell within the ERA scheme I would happily use clips of all of the following co-productions within my teaching:

Bang Goes the Theory
The Cell (3-part series)
The Gene Code (2-part series)
Mental: A History of the Madhouse and Sectioned
Justice: A Citizen’s Guide to the 21st Century (and associated Justice lectures)
Can Gerry Robinson Fix the NHS?
Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life
Inside the Ethics Committee (Radio 4)
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For the most part I would be looking to use a clip of perhaps 2 or 3 minutes in each case, rather than showing a full episode (though there may be an exception here for Adam Rutherford’s excellent series The Cell and The Gene Code).
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The popular series Coast, and Jim Al-Khalili’s current series Shock and Awe: the story of electricity  are also OU/BBC co-productions but don’t really fit with my teaching which focuses on bioethics and/or molecular biology. Continue reading

What IS the most important scientific breakthrough of last fifty years?

 

It seems odd to accuse the BBC of “hiding” a television programme in a prime time slot on their flagship channel, but amidst the hype for their Christmas schedule I saw no advertising whatsoever for the latest Robert Winston vehicle How Science Changed Our World (BBC1, 20:00, 23rd December, 60 mins). This is a huge pity because the documentary shone an engaging spotlight on ten important scientific advances of the past 50 years.

Robert Winston chooses his list of the top ten scientific breakthroughs of the past 50 years

Continue reading

Science and Television: friend or foe?

I’m a big fan of both science and television and have blogged previously about their inter-relationship (e.g. Science on the telly and A new model for interaction of scientific research and TV?).  I was therefore very interest to hear Physicist and former pop star Prof Brian Cox delivering the 2010 Huw Wheldon lecture on the topic Science: A Challenge to TV Orthodoxy (available on BBC iPlayer until December 8th).

As the presenter of the excellent Wonders of the Solar System, Cox is ideally positioned to examine the tensions between science and television which, he notes, is “the primary medium for the dissemination of scientific knowledge to the non-specialist public” (01:25).

Brian Cox

Brian Cox is Professor of Physics at the University of Manchester

There are, Cox notes, incompatibilities between the goals of science and television; though he is keen to emphasise that these are “occasional” and that he does not subscribe to the model that there are serious deficiencies in TV’s coverage of science. For example, a practising scientist must never have an eye on the audience, which would de facto compromise the impartiality of the process (08:10). In contrast, television must have their viewers (and reviewers) in mind. Continue reading