Introducing the BoB Collection

Regular visitors to this site will be aware that I quite often blog about the BoB, the amazing collection of TV and radio programmes for use in education. I was struck recently that these posts are listed in chronological order, which is not always appropriate. I have therefore started a separate page where BoB-related materials are listed in a more systematic way. To access these resources, just click on the new “BoB Collection” tab at the top of this page.



Introducing: “Getting Started With BoB”

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented focus on the value of online teaching resources. Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I am a long-standing enthusiast for a variety of digital tools for University education. In particular, I have been a champion for “BoB”, sometimes known as Box of Broadcasts. This tremendous collection of more than 2 million copyright-cleared TV and radio recordings for educational use has never quite achieved the levels of awareness and acclaim that i deserves.

Following a recent presentation about use of BoB for final year dissertations, I was invited to write a one-page “How to” guide. This is something I will certainly do in the near future. However, that invitation galvanised me into doing something I had thought about for a while, namely producing some introductory videos on using BoB. I have therefore made an initial set of four videos under the title Getting Started with BoB. The videos, available on my YouTube channel are:

  1. Unlocking the potential of TV and radio broadcasts in education looks at logging in, and offers a quick tour around the main features of BoB, including the interactive programme guide.
  2. Using the search tool does pretty much what it says on the tin. Use of a search tool may seem pretty self-explanatory, but there are one or two specifics of searching in BoB that I felt would benefit from clearer explanation.
  3. Making clips one of the great features of BoB is the ability to pick out the extract that is most important for your teaching, learning or research. This video shows how to do that.
  4. Adding clips to your playlists finally (in this first set of videos) an introduction to the “playlist” facility within BoB – helping you, and others, find those nuggets of gold again next time you need them.


UPDATE: It turns out there are also a set of official BoB “how to” videos available via this link. The two sets have slightly different emphases and are complementary.

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.

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.

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

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. Continue reading

Elemental Business: Snapshots of the chemical industry

Like the man who enthuses about a TV show he’s just seen for the first time, only to find that the recipient of their new-found wisdom has just spent the weekend binge-watching Season 4 in its entirety, there is a risk that this post will be re-introducing you to an old friend. Nevertheless, in case you are (a) interested in chemistry and (b) are not already aware of Elemental Business, here’s a quick summary.

Podcasts about the economic relevance of various elements can be downloaded from the BBC website

Podcasts about the economic relevance of various elements can be downloaded from the BBC website

For nearly a year, Business Daily on the BBC World Service the programme has had an occasional feature Elemental Business “looking at the economy from the point of view of the elements of the periodic table”. Correspondent Justin Rowlatt, with the assistance of Prof Andrea Sella from UCL, takes a tour around the industrial and business application of chemicals. I became aware of the series after reading a BBC website article about Bromine. It turns out that there have been at least 24 episodes so far in the series. They are all currently available as both articles and podcasts.

The following links go through to audio for each episode to date. Some elements of particular economic importance (Carbon, Nitrogen and Silicon) have already been given more than one programme,each emphasising a different dimension of their relevance.

All episodes are available direct from the BBC website, including the capacity to download them as podcasts.