Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believedTony Rest
Chemistry Video Consortium, Department of Chemistry, University of Southampton, Southampton SO17 1BJ, United Kingdom
This paper was delivered as the plenary lecture at 'Variety in Chemistry Teaching 2002' held at the University of Keele, 9th-10th September 2002. It provides a 'retrospective' on the 10th anniversary of the start of the Universities Funding Council/Higher Education Funding Council for England (UFC/HEFCE) 'Teaching and Learning Technology Programme' and is illustrated by the work of the Chemistry Video Consortium project for 1992-2002.
A set of PowerPoint slides from the lecture is available from the web site http://www.soton.ac.uk/~ecchemed/conference.htm.
In 1991/92 the Universities Funding Council (UFC), the precursor to HEFCE, decided that the universities should use more new technology in the delivery of learning and teaching. It recognised that for this to happen resources would have to be provided and over the next five years some £50 million was set aside to fund the Teaching and Learning Technology Programme (TLTP). No such initiative has been embarked upon by any other nation.
Project teams were invited to submit bids and three teams were successful in getting bids accepted for Chemistry (see Figure 1), two to start in September 19921,2 and the other3 to start in September 1993. The 'Variety' Conference, therefore, coincided with the 10th anniversary of the start of two TLTP projects and it seemed appropriate to look back at what had been achieved.
Figure 1. Three chemistry teams were successful in bidding for TLTP funds
The strategies adopted by the three Chemistry projects were broadly similar so I will concentrate on the aims, objectives and achievements of the Chemistry Video Consortium project (CVC).
The Chemistry Video Consortium project had the following aims and objectives:
As a result of market research, it was decided to concentrate on providing video clips for (b) because of the high investment of time in practical laboratories and the perceived commonality of techniques and experiments across the UK and the world. To fulfil the general needs for images, i.e. item (c), a database of films, videos, laser discs and CD-ROMs was created in collaboration with the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) and launched on the RSC web site4. This database is regularly updated and a section for pre-16 students has been added to meet the needs of GCSE teachers and students.
Tips from the Chemistry Video Consortium project
It was recognised at the outset that the video material would probably be transferred to other platforms and, therefore, the quality of production would be crucial. It was also recognised that students are used to seeing high quality video in wildlife films and documentaries so that to offer low quality video would turn students off rather than turn them on.
To ensure that the videos and resulting products would be of high quality the following steps were taken:
It was recognised that any products must be user-friendly. In 1992/93 the quality of the video images on CD-ROM discs was very poor and so it was decided to use laser video discs to deliver the images in 1995/965. These have the advantage that they deliver high quality video and they can be used with bar codes which provide quick and simple access to clips and parts of clips so that students can troubleshoot problems occurring during laboratory sessions. The response to the laser discs was excellent with more that 60 departments installing laser disc players and using the sets of discs. The key to getting such a high acceptance was 'road show' visits in 1993 and again in 1995/96. The former were to clusters of about five university chemistry departments over the period of two weeks. The latter involved visiting each department individually over a five month period when the opportunity to meet a 'critical mass' of staff led to incorporation of the laser disc videos into practical classes.
It was discovered that one of the problems with the use of CD-ROMs in the early 1990s was that images had been over compressed in order to put more video onto a particular disc. With better digitisation software and more sympathetic compression a picture quality close to SVHS was achieved in the set of CD-ROMs which was produced in 19996.
An obvious platform for the CVC resources is the Web. However, the high quality video entailed long downloading times for Internet users, complex commercial arrangements and conflicts between management software and user software. Therefore, the currently preferred platform is the stand alone CD-ROM (or DVD). Nevertheless, Intranet access from a dedicated server within an institution's Firewall is possible and this low cost option produces high quality streaming video7. There are, however, problems of conflicting software such that only the videos will stream and the glossaries and the quizzes will not.
Once the images have been digitised and delivered as CD-ROMs there is considerable scope for customising them into new applications (see below) but copyright issues must be settled. Some reasons for customising are:
The technology for customising is moving forward very quickly. Once customisation involved writing complicated computer code but many PCs now come with software packages which will digitise, compress, and edit images and mix these with text and graphics using course management software, e.g. Director and Flash. The way is open, therefore, for individuals to customise images to meet their own needs. Workshops to demonstrate how to customise materials were organised by the CVC in 1998 at the University of Oxford and the University of Central Lancashire and at 'Variety in Chemistry Teaching' in 2001.
The initial product was a series of 19 laser video discs, entitled 'Basic Laboratory Chemistry' which was supplied with bar coded booklets5. These were converted into CD-ROM format in 19996 and re-titled 'Practical Laboratory Chemistry' (19 CD-ROMs).
Once the video images had been converted into CD-ROM format, a series for 'A' level entitled 'Practical Chemistry for Schools and Colleges' (2 CD-ROMs) was produced in 20008 and a series on 'Physical Chemistry Experiments' (4 CD-ROMs) was produced in 20019.
A collaboration with the Centre Developpement Informatique Enseignment Chimie (CDIEC; University of Nice) has led to the production of a dual language set of CD-ROMs entitled 'Le bon geste pratique en Chimie/ Practical Laboratory Chemistry' in 200210. These CD-ROMs were produced using Flash which is more flexible than ToolBook which was used for previous packages. A bonus with the Flash software is that more than one language can be inserted into the software shell and non-Romanesque fonts can be accommodated. This opens up possibilities for a wide variety of packages, e.g. Spanish/English/French, Chinese/English/French. A demonstration CD-ROM covering English, French, Italian, Spanish, American, Brazilian and Russian was produced in September 200211 to show the multiple language capability and to encourage project teams to get involved with producing packages for their own countries.
In addition to finished products, the CVC team has produced several pilot CD-ROMs. The most interesting is probably one for disabled students which incorporated regular video, scrolling text, subtitles and text with variable font and colour options, quizzes, key stroke operation mode, print out for Braille12.
The development of the multiple language option indicates that in the future it will be possible not only to export materials with English as one of the multiple languages but also to take packages in other languages and customise them into English, thus avoiding re-inventing wheels.
Given the necessary funding, it will be possible to do the research and development work: to deliver materials in DVD and maybe Internet format, to extend the 'Chemistry Images' database, develop resources for disadvantaged students and students with disabilities and to produce new video materials, e.g. 'Advanced Practical Laboratory Chemistry'. Many of the storyboards for the latter are already written but filming will require about £250,000.
Although it is becoming easier to customise resources, the pressures of time are such that there is actually less time to engage in such activities because of the pressures to do research. Additionally, it is a fact of life that promotion depends on research and not teaching.
How can we deliver the kind of teaching that the TLTP was intended for? The answer is that we must make much better use of the Learning and Teaching Support Network Centre at Hull and the experiences of colleagues across Europe13, e.g. the European Chemistry Thematic Network14.
Another fact of life is that, while the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) provides grants of hundreds of thousands of pounds for research projects, the funding available for teaching is a small fraction of these amounts. If the decline in the numbers of Chemistry students at universities is to be arrested then government agencies, the RSC and multinational companies need to invest imaginatively in innovative teaching projects and in promoting new materials within schools, colleges and universities. Otherwise splendid initiatives like the TLTP will wither away.
The work of the Chemistry Video Consortium project has been funded by the UFC/HEFCE during the period 1992-96 and by projects and sponsorship in the period 1996-2002, e.g. the RSC and ICI PLC.
A huge debt of gratitude is owed to all those who worked on the videos for 'Basic Laboratory Chemistry' since without their efforts there would have been no videos for the CD-ROMs.
The leap from laser discs to CD-ROMs and then customising new products was carried out by Don Brattan and Oliver Jevons and the development of multiple language CD-ROMs was initiated by Daniel Cabrol-Bass and Jean-Pierre Rabine at the University of Nice.
CAL-laborate Volume 9 October 2002
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