Analysis of Broadcast Science as a Capstone Project

For a number of years I have been offering final year projects for undergraduate bioscientists at Leicester in which they examine the science (and sometimes the ethics) of broadcast media coverage on a topic of their choosing. The key tools that facilitate this work are Learning on Screen’s archive of screened media BoB (sometimes called Box of Broadcasts) and the related Television and Radio Index for Learning and Teaching (TRILT). I was delighted on many levels to be invited to give a presentation on Analysis of Broadcast Science as a Capstone Project for the second #DryLabsRealScience network. Slides here.

Firstly, I think the #DryLabsRealScience initiative is a brilliant example of grassroots collaboration across different institutions at a time of unprecedented change [it would be great if University top brass were pulling together in the same manner, but I digress]. Here are academics helping each other to help their present and future students have the most valuable university experience possible, regardless of whether or not social distancing measures restrict some aspects of traditional teaching.

Secondly, I’m always delighted to talk about the potential of BoB and TRILT as resources for both teaching, and I suggest, research in a University context. These are fabulous tools and they really deserve be more widely known and used across many disciplines in the UK HE sector.

Finally, the invitation was a chance to pull together some of my thinking on this type of project – it will hopefully prove the catalyst to finally write up this work in a more formal way. Systematic analysis of print media (using tools such as Nexis and Factiva) is a well-established research model in many disciplines and BoB now offers the scope to conduct similar studies on a boundaried collection of TV and Radio resources.

Using lecture capture tools for uses *other than* recording lectures (1): Taxonomy of applications

Back in 2018 my colleague Matt Mobbs from the Leicester Learning Institute and I undertook a project to identify innovative uses of our institutional lecture capture (LC) system, in our case Panopto.


An outline of the variety of Pedagogies Involving Capture Technology at the University of Leicester (in 2018). The uses are discussed more fully in the text.

Universities around the world have invested huge amounts in both the software and associated hardware to facilitate the recording of lectures, which can subsequently be made available for student to watch asynchronously. A whole conversation already exists around best practice in use of the LC systems for this primary function.  In this project, however, we were more interested in innovative uses of the technology over and above the standard recording of large venue, and largely didactic, teaching; we wanted to know about Pedagogy Involving Capture Technology (PICT) beyond the classroom. With the help of our research assistant Gemma Mitchell (now University of York), we carried out a series of interviews with staff at the University of Leicester to find existing examples of good practice, with a view to producing a guide for the benefit of the wider community. Continue reading

7 tips if your exam has turned into an online assessment

Faced with the sudden closure of campuses, many student expecting to have traditional summer exams in a sports hall or similar venue, are now facing online assignments with revised regulations. The following post offers tips for students facing such a scenario. Note it has been written in the first instance for Bioscience students at the University of Leicester, so some of the specific details may need to be adapted to your personal context.

  1. 24 hours does not mean 24 hours. 24 hour periods have been set for each assessment, but you should not expect to work solidly on it for all of that time. The broad time window is to allow for connectivity, accessibility and/or time zone issues; remember that the intention is to be close to the original exam format.
  2. Revise before the assessment day. Although it is an “open book” format, aim to do the relevant revision in the days before the assessment. Ideally you want to know roughly what you intend to say without looking anything up, and just consult sources to confirm the details.
  3. Stick to the word limit. Since you don’t have the usual 2-3 hour time constraints, a word limit has been applied. The word count has been calculated by looking at past papers to see how much previous students managed to say in exam essays. The limits have been set at, or even slightly above, the length of good answers – you really don’t need to be writing more than this.
  4. Quality > Quantity. As always, the quality of content remains more important than writing “enough” words – i.e. have you answered the actual question asked, in sufficient depth and in a well-constructed essay (e.g. with an introduction and a conclusion?)
  5. Save your answers, and back them up. Remember to save your answers regularly during the day – you don’t want to lose all your work. Save every time you lean back in your chair, go to get a drink or go to the loo. If you don’t automatically have saving to the cloud activated then make back-ups periodically as well. Check whether the system has been set to allow upload of single or multiple versions. If an assignment has been set up to accept multiple submissions before the deadline, you can upload a version of your answer once you’ve got sufficient to make it worthwhile but remember to replace with the final version before the deadline (see point 7).
  6. Use your own words. Remember that answers are going through plagiarism detection software so don’t cut and paste from a source into your answer, not even whilst you are working on it and intend to rephrase later! If you are reading from one or more sources, close them, write what you want to write, then check you got it correct.
  7. Don’t miss the deadline. Aim to submit well in advance of the stated deadline. On this occasion late submission = 0% not a sliding scale of penalties. (And if you are in a different time zone make sure you have the correct time in mind). Know in advance what the procedures are if you experience connectivity issues.


12 Things I learned from the “From Emergency Remote Teaching to Effective Online Teaching” webinar

AdvanceHEOn April 28th AdvanceHE hosted another in their series of online webinar run in response to the Covid19 pandemic. The focus of the session was on differentiating between the unanticipated switch to online teaching and assessment that Universities have had to adapt to in recent weeks, and the development of more thought-through digital learning once the dust has settled.

The session had three presentations. First up was a recorded talk by Dr Torrey Trust (@torreytrust) from University of Massachusetts (Amherst) on The Difference Between Emergency Remote Teaching and Quality Online Instruction. This was followed by Dr Eva Wong from Hong Kong Baptist University sharing, in particular, some insights learned the earlier experience of a sudden campus closure, triggered by the social and political unrest of 2019. Finally, Prof Dave White (@daveowhite) Head of Digital Learning at University of the Arts, London.

Rather than taking you blow-by-blow through each of the talks, I’d like to pick out some highlights and reflections drawn from across the whole session. Continue reading

Biology in Broadcast Media

Back at the start of the lockdown, I noted that it would be a good time for University staff and students to make more use of various online resources, notably the Box of Broadcasts archive of TV and radio programmes (more than 2 million in total). I was therefore delighted to respond to a request from Learning on Screen to curate the Biology section of a new teaching resources collection they are developing.

boblistI have started by the new list by including a variety of programmes which I had previously identified as part of the Biology On The Box project, Over time I will add more news items and other classic documentaries. Of course if you have any suggestions or requests for inclusion then do please let me know. Similarly, I know that they are seeking academics willing to curate collection for different disciplines so, if you think that might be you, do get in touch with Learning on Screen directly.

[Note: the link in the above screengrab is not live. If you would like to access the playlist, click here.]

UPDATE (24th April): rather than start a fresh post on this theme, I add here that Learning on Screen made a promotional video about the playlist (see and they also asked me to host a two-hour “takeover” of their Twitter account. I have make the latter thread into a PDF file, which can be accessed via this link.


Adjusting “exams” as they move online

Universities across the world are having to adjust to the fact that rooms full of students sitting exams is not an appropriate assessment format for May and June this year. As a consequence, teaching teams are needing to think laterally about how to interrogate students about the learning they have gained from their modules.

celebrity squares

Online meetings have started to look like episodes of the old “Celebrity Squares” gameshow

I am sure many places are way ahead of us on this one, but a few reflections on a recent teaching and learning committee meeting (held via zoom) may be of benefit to those who are just getting going in their thinking about this.


  1. Duration of tests and the length of time they are accessible. The amount of time that a test is “live” and the time for which an individual student can respond are not necessarily the same thing. A defined two hour period is not applicable for a number of reasons – including potential timezone differences and connectivity problems. My institution has mandated a “24 hour window” for assessments and it is our understanding at the chalkface (as it was) that this means that they are live throughout that time.
  2. Factual recall questions aren’t going to work. There has, of course, been a long-standing debate about the educational merits of an over-reliance of questions that reward regurgitation of factoids rather than probing higher learning skills. However, a move to remote (ie unsupervised) assessment of students who have ready access to Google* makes this format of question entirely redundant (*other browsers are available).
  3. Students need examples of any new style of questions. A decision that MCQs are not going to be appropriate is only half of the story. Introduction of radically different types of questions is going to require not only production of the actual paper but also additional specimen questions for students who will not be able to draw on past papers for guidance.
  4. Clear and timely instruction. Students are going to need clear guidance before the day of an exam, reiterated in the “instructions” section of the assessment itself. There will be all sorts of practicalities about submission as well as the questions themselves about which students will need advice.
  5. Essay questions will need word limits. For all manner of reasons the standard “three essays in two hours” format is not going to work. More time is inevitably going to mean more words. We all hope that essays represent carefully constructed and reasoned arguments in response to a specific question. Sadly the reality can sometimes be “brain dumps”, in which any material matching identifiable keywords in the title is served up for academics to sift through. A longer time will just allow for more of this unstructured stream of consciousness.
    Even taking a less jaundiced view, a good student is going to be tempted to offer far more material in support of their answer than they would realistically have managed in the typical exam scenario. If we cannot restrict the available time, then another option is to impose a word limit. Having looked at past answers, a suggestion of 1200 words for a 40 minute question (i.e. 30 words per minute) has been floated. The emphasis on “quality over quantity” needs to be emphasised – more is not necessarily better. Of course there may be a minority of student who would have written a longer essay that this, but even they will benefit from tailoring their material as a response to the specifics of the question.
  6. Plagiarism detection, and other “course essay” regulations, are back in play. The kind of measures being considered as “reasonable adjustments” in this unprecedented scenario are much more akin to coursework essays. We aspire to have novel synthesis presented in exam essays, but in the past we would not have penalised faithful regurgitation of material from lectures and other sources. Now, however, there is the very real danger of copy and paste plagiarism from lecture notes, from books and articles, or indeed of collusion between students. The requirement to use plagiarism detection tools is therefore going to be essential. Similarly, students will be able to drop in images taken from sources. Whereas in a constrained exam format we might not have worried about their origins, appropriate citation will need to be factored into marking criteria.
  7. Practicalities about format of paper set and submission requirements also need to be clear. It is not just the content of the questions that need addressing, but also aspects of the delivery of the paper and the safeguards students need to put in place regarding submission. For example it is likely that a paper will be distributed as a Word document, which is actually more accessible than many other potential formats. We know, however, that some elements of layout can be altered during the submission of word documents (eg positioning of images) and so we would probably recommend saving as a PDF before submission (much as we would usually for coursework).

This is not an exhaustive list, and you may instantly spot the flaws in the observations made – if so then do please let me know. I am very conscious that this is prepared in the context of a science program and that other disciplines may see things differently. But I hope these notes will be helpful for at least one or two of you.



Time to call on BoB for help?

[Post updated April 24th, see additional notes at bottom – including details of new playlists, and free trials of BoB]

The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic has forced a radical rethink regarding so much of “normal life”. The cessation of face-to-face teaching at universities is just one of the areas in which people are having to investigate workarounds to usual practice. One of the interesting observations over this past week has been the sudden adoption of technologies which have been around for a while, but have never quite found the level of engagement that they deserved.

bobhomeIf you are a UK academic or student, I would like to add another example into the mix – the online TV and Radio repository BoB ( sometimes known as “Box of Broadcasts”).

BoB has been around in a variety of formats for about a decade. It currently has over 2.2 million copyright-cleared broadcast programmes available to stream, and over 120 universities and colleges are subscribed – if you are at a UK university you probably have access already but never knew it!

I am a massive enthusiast for BoB, and for the related Television and Radio Index for Learning and Teaching (TRILT). For full disclosure I am a Trustee of Learning on Screen, the organisation that runs both resources – but that role stems from my enthusiasm for their potential not vice versa!

I have written several articles and run workshops about ways BoB can be used in teaching. Rather than repeat myself now, here are a couple of pertinent links:

  1. An article Boxing clever in Times Higher Education from 2014 (link)
  2. A seminar Do you know Bob? Adventures with technology-based resources for teaching (and beyond) which I ran in in April 2019 (link)
  3. Another talk As seen on TV: Using broadcast media in university teaching from December 2018 (link) – there are inevitable overlaps between this and (2) but they were tailored for different audiences, so probably worth looking past the initial similarities – the “back end” of the two talks are rather more diverse.
  4. My work in this area was also written up as a case study (link)

In the recent past, Learning on Screen have started to develop subject-specific playlists. A few of us have also tried to co-ordinate disciplinary blogs, which allow for more description of the content and discussion of potential applications. As an example, see our Biology on the Box site.

These are tricky and uncertain time, but I’m hoping that when we get a chance to look back after the storm, the appropriate rise of online tools for pedagogy will be one of the plus points to emerge from the tragedy.

UPDATED (24th April): As the lockdown has continued and with the increasing realisation that emphasis on online teaching will persist for a much longer period afterwards, Learning on Screen have started a series of disciplinary playlists as the cornerstone of the development of more teaching resources. The lists themselves are within the members-only site (via this link).

I was asked to curate a Biology in Broadcast Media list (see this link, again within the members area I’m afraid). Learning on Screen made a promotional video (open access) about the playlist (see and they also asked me to host a two-hour “takeover” of their Twitter account. I have make the latter thread into a PDF file, which can be accessed via this link.

Introduction to the other playlists can be found on the Learning on Screen Vimeo account (here). Where you can also find a video (here) about other current developments, including free trials of BoB until July 2020.