Roger Lewis is a Senior Lecturer in Physics at the University of Wollongong
Mick Pope is the Educational Technologist (Physical Sciences) at UniServe*Science
In a multimedia age, it is sometimes easy to forget about simpler and more accessible technologies such as video. The VITUL project (Video Introductions to Undergraduate Laboratories) is a series of 28 pre-lab videos. The project was funded by CAUT in 1993-4 and led by Roger Lewis of the University of Wollongong's Physics department. Recently, Lewis wrote an article for the American Journal of Physics , commenting on the impact of the video on students marks. The following is an extended abstract of that article.
The Video Introductions to Undergraduate Laboratories videotapes are used as supplementary material, which aim to give students a brief overview of the experiment before they undertake it and concentrate on how to use equipment and how to perform measurements. The perceived advantages of using video in this manner are (i) a consistent standard of pre-instruction across all classes, (ii) presentation of core material by an experienced teacher, (iii) some student control of learning in replaying chosen parts of the tape, (iv) reduction in time spent by staff repeating basic information.
The videotapes are used in both calculus and non-calculus first year courses, with students undertaking twelve experiments. A survey of student opinions (1992-1993) showed they thought the videos to be: helpful, of good quality, of appropriate length, related to the experiment and to have a positive impact on their understanding and performance of the experiment. Lewis conducted a carefully controlled experiment to test if understanding and performance were actually effected. Students were split into two groups, each seeing the videos before the experiment in different halves of the semester. Student were given a `book mark' and a `class mark'. The book mark was given by a marker who did not know when videos were shown, thus eliminating bias. The class mark was given by the demonstrators, so bias may be present. For each student, the `relative difference' between their marks in each half of the year were calculated. The marks were relative to the average class mark, to remove variation due to the difficulty of individual experiments. This mark also compares individual students, with and without the video, eliminating between-student variation. The results show no statistically significant changes in the marks!
Lewis concludes that the student responses suggest that poor content or presentation are not to blame. He suggests that perhaps the methods used were insensitive to the changes that occurred, or that ten minutes of a two to three hour lab are not likely to produce large changes. He also suggests that video is passive and thus unlikely to produce large changes. Whilst not improving marks, the videos have the positive outcomes of; providing a uniform introduction to the experiments, saving staff time, and introducing flexibility as the students viewed the videos at their convenience.
This paper represents a more complete appraisal than the commonplace "the students liked it". The videos are a useful innovation, and suggest that assessment techniques need to be looked at more closely so as to more accurately measure the effect on student learning.
Abstracted by Mick Pope from an article by Roger Lewis
 R.A. Lewis, Am. J. Phys, 63, 468 (1995)
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