Issue Date: February 8, 2010
Several universities have developed video lab demonstrations for their students to watch on portable devices such as an iPhone. Matthew H. Todd and colleagues at the University of Sydney, in Australia, are taking the process one step further. They're encouraging students to make their own photos and videos.
"I'm quite keen on the idea of knowledge coming from the community," Todd says. That, and he figures that his students are handier than he is with fancy phones and video-editing software. "They can school us in the IT, and we can school them in the chemistry," he jokes.
Together with Adam J. Bridgeman, the director of first-year teaching at Sydney, and Peter J. Rutledge, a senior lecturer in charge of chemistry labs for second-year students, Todd has been coordinating the program for one semester, with the focus so far on Sydney's general chemistry labs. "Usually, students just traipse into lab, do the thing they're told to do, and leave. It's a very dissatisfying experience," Todd says. "You want students to get excited about lab," he adds, and engaging them with gadgets they already have in their pockets is likely to be a great way to do it.
General chemistry students at Sydney have certain experiments to do each week, and they have the option to record their procedure and results with their mobile devices. When a student submits a video to Todd and his colleagues, the instructors must approve it for posting. If the video passes muster, it is automatically sent to a viewing gallery for the students, as well as to YouTube. Photos from students go through the same process and post to Flickr, a publicly available online photo repository.
For students who didn't already own some kind of recording device, the Sydney team bought a few video cameras for a few hundred dollars, an expense that was covered by the department's first-year teaching budget. Thanks to seed funding from the university's eLearning unit, the instructors secured the services of a software developer to work with Bridgeman for a few hours. The developer helped Bridgeman set up a user-friendly, password-protected online environment where students could send their videos. Students can't be bothered with a submission system that's not easy to use, Todd says.
Nevertheless, only a smattering of approved videos and photographs have been posted so far. "It may be a question of pushing the idea more," Todd says. Next semester, he plans to encourage the department's demonstrators, who take charge of about 15 students apiece in lab sections that each contain nearly 200 students, to help with the project. Course evaluations should be available soon and will help steer the project for the future, Todd adds.
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