In this post, Dani Orejon walks us through the process of turning a practical course entirely into online delivery, tackling the conundrum on how to properly teach in-situ demonstrations through online laboratories with the help of inventive video techniques and interactive activities. Dani is a Lecturer in Chemical Engineering at the Institute for Multiscale Thermofluids (IMT). This post is part of September-October’s Learning and Teaching Enhancement theme: Innovation in Science Teaching.
As hard as it seems to be to deliver a practical course fully online, this is exactly what we did in academic year 20/21 with Chemical Engineering Laboratory 3 (CEL3). CEL 3 is a yearlong course with practical a component that is significantly challenging to deliver. Yet we adapted the course from traditional delivery of the practical in person, to full delivery online, and again to full delivery online with in-situ demonstrations in the lab. This coming academic year, we will be delivering a hybrid design where in-campus students will provide assistance for off-campus students. This is how we did it…
Online Delivery (Academic year 20/21, Semester 1)
As can be seen in Figure 1, all the objectives for this course could be carefully designed into an online laboratory experimentation (except psychomotor and sensory awareness).
The CEL3 online experience was carefully designed and implemented as modules in Learn. Each student had to conduct five different experiments (Heat Transfer, Heat and Mass Transfer, Packed Bed Hydraulics, Reaction and Separation).
1. Using videos
Each module included videos on the Introduction, Experimental Apparatus, Risk Assessment, Start-up, Experimental Runs and Shutdown. We carefully recorded the videos from different points of view to provide a more immersive experience. We then edited and embedded the videos within the Module online. A video, Workflow of an Online Experiment, shows how students could navigate the different Modules so to complete the online experiment, and the different points of view and digital tools adopted.
2. Interactive activities and assignments
An important component to designing the online experience was implementing interactive activities and assignments in between videos, which helped the students to understand the content conveyed in the videos. For example, students were asked to submit their drawings of the experimental schematics after watching the online ‘Intro’ and ‘Experimental Apparatus’ videos, and their risk assessment after the ‘Risk Assessment’ video.
These intermediate activities allowed the students to take a step back, think and reflect of the different elements. In addition, students could engage in one-hour discussion between academics, demonstrators and the group members who had been assigned to a specific experiment. These discussion helped students solve any questions, issues, concerns, or problems with the experiments, the content of the videos, the analysis, etc. that the students may have encountered because of the lack of in-person laboratory sessions. Figure 2 shows the proposed workflow for completing one experiment online, while Figure 3 shows the steps taken to deliver an online/hybrid laboratory course compared to a traditional, in-person laboratory course.
Online Delivery with in-situ demonstrations in the laboratory (Academic year 20/21 Semester 2)
Delivering an online synchronous laboratory requires streaming video and audio from the lab, and receiving comments from remote students to ensure a back and forth interaction between in-person and remote members of the group. During Semester 1, a number of academics from different disciplines at the School of Engineering joined a working group to develop and implement the necessary digital tools (see Figure 4). The use of the GoPro with a head mount provides an immersive, personal point of view and close-up shots with an enhanced immersive experience, as shown in Figure 5. The Hollyland MARS 300 Pro allowed for wireless connection with real-time latency which avoided the frustration of a circa 6-second delay with standard streaming from a go-pro in stabiliser mode, and reduced tripping hazards (well-known as the number one health and safety hazard in the lab).
In addition to the online material available, students found it extremely useful to be able to see and understand the experiment when it was conducted live using this equipment via in-situ demonstrations from the laboratory.
Course Enhancement Questionnaire responses and comments received from the students were very positive, which was also reflected by several nominations to the EUSA Awards for Teacher of the Year and Innovation in Digital Teaching. Some comments were:
best laboratory course we have taken so far despite the Covid situation.
course was well adapted to hybrid learning.
Chem[ical] eng[ineering] faced a huge challenge to conduct laboratories online, which most students didn’t even think was possible. … remained both committed to making our experience as best as possible by constantly seeking and implementing feedback from students.
It is very reassuring to learn that students enjoyed the course, were able to fully engage over the whole academic year, and learnt almost as much as if they were in the lab.
Hybrid delivery by in-campus students for off-campus students (Academic year 21/22)
This new academic year, students will prepare for in-person laboratories by watching the videos and completing the assignments we created earlier for the online mode of delivery. We have also implemented new quizzes and activities within the module to create a more engaging environment. Further, quizzes are synchronised via Learn so that students are rewarded with a percentage of their overall course grade for their effort on completing the online preparation, removing some strain from the weight of the assignments grades (see Figure 6 for a summary of Interactive Activities).
On-campus students will complete the experiment in-person while communicating, interacting and discussing synchronously with off-campus students, so that both are able to acquire the necessary data to use in the analysis. This will require the digital tools introduced in Figure 4 and 5. Upon finishing the course, students submit an assignment with elements including a Sample Calculation, Oral Presentation, Short Report, Poster Presentation and/or Full Report as appropriate (Figure 7 shows the typical hybrid laboratory timeline).
The Chemical Engineering course CEL3 has undergone substantial changes since the beginning of the pandemic. Multiple video and audio digital tools have been used, initially to provide a full online interactive experience, and then to provide off-campus students with an enhanced, immersive experience with in-situ demonstrations from the laboratory. Furthermore, this academic year, on-campus students will assist and guide off-campus students in synchronous sessions made possible by of these digital communication tools. In future years, a mix of the interactive, fully online approach and in-person experimentation in the lab aims to better prepare students before setting foot in the lab for hands-on experimentation.
For those who are dealing with accrediting bodies, you might be interested to know that the Chemical Engineering Discipline developed a zero-credit course on Practical Skills in Chemical Engineering CHEE08018 to ensure that all students complete the necessary practical skills required before graduating, so as to comply with Institution of Chemical Engineers IChemE accreditation and Higher Education accreditation bodies. In this way, those who cannot attend on campus get their grades and progress as normal, and can return to complete the zero credit course as conditions permit.
A big thanks goes to all the members of the CEL3 labs team (Harvey, Nacho, Simona, Franziska, Seb, Luke, Fraz, Valentine, Gordon and Sean) as well as to Timothy Drysdale (chair), Antonios Giannopoulos and other members of the NTDT Working Group 2.1 (James, Antonios, Nacho, Fraser, Nathalie, Michael, John, Lucy, Allister, Enzo, Jin, Morris, Rohit, Wasiu, Thomas, Tim and Chris), and to Summer Internship student Hannah Linden who has created all the online quizzes and other additional interactive activities.
- The video How have we adapted our teaching over the past year in response to #Covid-19 restrictions? created by the School of Engineering gives some more details of CEL3.
Dr Daniel Orejon (Dani) is a Lecturer in Chemical Engineering at the Institute for Multiscale Thermofluids (IMT) at The University of Edinburgh, and Associate Visiting Professor at Kyushu University Japan since 2019. Additionally, Dani acts as School Postgraduate Progression Committee Representative for IMT, as Teaching Laboratory Manager for the Chemical Engineering Discipline and as Associate Editor for the International Journal of Heat and Mass Transfer. He became Fellow of the Higher Education Academy in April 2021.