VR in STEM teaching – innovations from Science

The team
Our ‘Virtual Reality in STEM teaching’ team is from the School of Science and CAP. We are a mixture of academics, technicians, E-learning support and most importantly a student developer; Dr Sandie Dann, Dr Firat Batmaz, Rod Dring, Sean Slingsby, Samantha Davis, Lee Barnett and Nikolaos Demosthenous. This grouping of both staff and students has so far been a successful blend of knowledge, kickstarting our Teaching Innovation Award project with real energy.

Aims
• Encourage deep learning within lab based teaching
• Allow more focused time for exploration of the experiments without being at risk to themselves or others
• Increase students awareness of the equipment available to them in the labs

Objectives
• Create an interactive resource that allows for practice, familiarisation and visualisation before students enter a lab session.
• Increase student engagement in the module by encouraging them to see beyond the procedural aspects of an experiment.
• Evaluate the tool’s impact on student learning and ability to be transferable.

Progress so far
So far so good as they say… or are these famous last words?
We have met as a group a number of times now to discuss the way we would like our final application to work and which Chemistry experiment in particular to concentrate on developing the virtual reality (VR) for. The real crux of this project is to not get carried away with wanting to try too much. Instead we are concentrating on 1 or 2 activities within the VR as our aim for this project is to prove the concept, rather than becoming carried away with new toys. Following this we would look to expand the offering of different experiments and activities within the application through further projects.
Part of our discussions also included a trip to STEMLab whilst taking a look at what our talented student developer Nik has been testing to date.

Next stages
The next step in our project is to decide on the exact final product we would like to create and for our student developer Nik to begin paid work in September. We will also be visiting STEMLab again to take the 360° images that we hope to include in the virtual reality environment. After Christmas we will be recruiting student testers in order to carry out evaluation of the effect that virtual reality has on their learning.

A ’Blueprint’ for Peer-Based and Collaborative Learning in a Teaching Laboratory

In this post, Dr. Sweta Ladwa provides an update on her 2016 Teaching Innovation Award and explains how peer based learning can be used within a laboratory based teaching environment.

What is the problem, which you are trying address?

In a laboratory-teaching environment, students are very much focused on getting to the end product of an experiment (whether it is a compound and a form of analysis), sometimes without taking in or thinking about the steps to get to the end of the experiment. Students are normally provided with a laboratory manual, which gives detailed instructions for completing their experimental work. These instructions will include a number of ‘core’ techniques pivotal to a student’s time at university. Although the laboratory is sometimes considered to play a supporting role to the lecture in higher education, it is vital with respect to STEM subjects.

Through personal observation, when students are encouraged to discuss their knowledge to their peers in the laboratory, there is much more engagement with the material. Information is retained as knowledge is generally disseminated in their own language without necessarily using a large amount of technical jargon. This will allow students to explore the higher levels of learning objectives.

What are the objectives of the project?

  1. To develop a blueprint to incorporate peer-based learning of core laboratory techniques within modules in Chemistry.
  2. Work with students to develop and evaluate the findings from the project.
  3. Student-led focus groups to test and discuss the blueprint to gain wider student perspective.

How will the objectives of the project be met?

Students will be provided with a laboratory technique, which, in small groups of 2-3 students, they will evaluate research and disseminate the information back to their peers through instructional videos.

Project so far

The initial part of the project was to identify key techniques, which are considered to be fundamental to a students training within chemistry. Once identified, students were selected to carry out pilot studies in order to test the concepts outlined in the TIA. These students were selected from a group of Chemistry Student Helpers, some of whom have also been involved in the Peer Assisted Learning Scheme. Students were then split into small groups and techniques were assigned to them. They got together to plan how to disseminate the information in the form of a video and then started to put together the videos.

What did the students who were involved say about this project?

“It made me think about the techniques more’.

“I still remember what I have learnt weeks later”.

“It was a different way of learning which was enjoyable”.

Next Steps

The next steps for the project are to use student focus groups to gain feedback for the videos and this type of learning from a wider group of students. This will be carried out after the Easter break. A submission has been made and accepted to present at the RAISE conference, which is going to be held in Manchester in September 2017 during which the work will be presented. The findings will also be presented at the University’s Learning and Teaching Conference in May

The Sandbox Project: Using Augmented Reality to Improve Geomorphological Understanding

Continuing our series of updates on the 2016 Teaching Innovation Awards, Prof. Jo Bullard explains how a regular sandbox can be transformed into a unique teaching and learning experience.

Many students and visitors to the Geography Social learning Space over the past few weeks have stopped for a few minutes (or longer!) to interact with the Sandbox that is currently under development.  What is so special about a box of sand?  Well this one has been built using a 2016 Teaching Innovation Award aimed at using augmented reality to improve geomorphological understanding.  When the box of sand is connected to a camera and projector it becomes possible for users to create and visualize landscapes.  As the sand is sculpted, contours are projected on to the miniature landscape.  By hovering a hand over the box, users can make it ‘rain’ over the landscape and the water flow down in to rivers and valleys.

How was it developed?
The basic programming for the Sandbox is open source software developed at UCDavis and Computer Science student Yuan Tian and technician Kip Sahnsi worked last summer to get the computer code running on a special computer.  In the meantime Joanna Bullard and Richard Harland in Geography built the box which is on wheels so that it can be transferred between Geography and Computer Science and also to other events on campus.

What’s next?
There are a few sandboxes now up and running in the UK.  In December 2016 Prof. Jo Bullard from Loughborough University, Dr. Annie Ockelford (University of Brighton), Dr. Lynda Yorke (Bangor University) and Dr. Chris Skinner (University of Hull) jointly convened a session at the American Geophysical Union Fall meeting on Technology-Enhanced Teaching in Geosciences which featured a number of papers exploring how to support undergraduate student learning using augmented reality and we are hoping to include some of these ideas in our teaching in the future.

The Loughborough Sandbox is currently being ‘tweaked’ to improve the visualization and accuracy of the projection data but will be back up and running soon.

Developing and Promoting Learning and Employability Through Blogging

Marco Bohr and Alexandre Christoyannopoulos, recipients of a 2016 Teaching Innovation Award (TIA), explain what they hope to achieve with their project.

What did you want to achieve?

What potential roles can blogging have in Higher Education? How can it enhance learning and the broader student experience? What legal and reputational issues need bearing in mind? How can blogging enhance research dissemination? The aim of this project is to consider such questions and thereby explore the potential for blogging in and beyond the university.

The project aims to consider five key areas:

  1. blogs in relation to student learning, academic teaching and assessment;
  2. legal, ethical, copyright and intellectual property issues in relation to such blogs;
  3. student blogs for self-promotion;
  4. the impact of blogs on student employability;
  5. how academics can use blogs for research dissemination and/or public engagement.

How will you gather this information?

The project involves gathering information on current examples of the use of blogs to enhance student employability across HE. Later in the process, we will organise focus groups with Loughborough students to reflect on when best to introduce blogs in teaching. The project will also involve expanding the content of Socratic Hive, a blog related to two Loughborough modules on ‘politics and religion’ and ‘state, violence and terrorism’. By the end of the project (spring-summer 2018), we aim to disseminate lessons learnt through a one-day event and a research paper.

Remotely Accessed Laboratory Suite (RALS) using the Internet of Things

In this series of posts, we’re looking at how the projects from the 2016 Teaching Innovation Award are developing. In this post, Dr David Kerr and Dr Anthony Sutton, Wolfson School of Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering, reflect on their project progress and plans for the future.

Aims
To create a suite of equipment and an integrated software framework that enables the quick and easy design and implementation of remotely accessed laboratories based on Internet of Things technology. The suite will be designed to provide a flexible and scalable development platform for laboratory-based course material.

Objectives

  • Develop a suit of hardware devices with sufficient flexibility to work with a range of typical sensors and actuators used in science and engineering labs
  • Integrate these with a mobile and scalable software library that will operate on a range of platforms currently used within the science and engineering field (e.g. Matlab, LabVIEW)
  • Provide a suitable web dashboard for students to interact with the system and carry out their experiments
  • Involve stakeholders (technical and academic staff and students) within the Wolfson School and if required, the School of Science, in order to capture a wide range of technical and pedagogic essential and desirable criteria for the system design

Progress so far
Hardware concept – we are concentrating on a modular design concept, to allow a high degree of flexibility and to increase ease of use. Modules will cater for a range of peripheral devices such as actuators, motors, switches, sensors and cameras for real-time vision. The diagram below shows the main hardware layout.

Remotely Accessed Labs

The core of the system is the Raspberry Pi model 3, which acts as a webserver host and controller for the lab. Peripherals are addressed via an I2C serial bus, where Arduino/Genuino architecture is used to interface sensors, motors, actuators and relay switches. The Raspberry Pi also hosts the camera module. The Pi/Arduino architecture was a deliberate choice in view of its wide availability, low cost and ease of maintenance. Furthermore, the necessary software is either part of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) or has a Creative Commons license, and the hardware details are in the public domain.

Software and GUI
We are developing the web dashboard and server software in Python, using the Flask web development environment. All the software is FSF or public domain and there is an excellent developmental community, with an expected long future ahead of it. During the summer of 2016 we dedicated the initial design task to a bursary student for EESE, who constructed a successful prototype and interfaced this to our modular hardware. We decided this approach was preferable to tying in to an existing IoT provider such as ThingSpeak, where GUI development is limited and reliance on a third party could become complex and costly.

We want eventually to build in access to existing local coursework setting and marking systems such a Learn and CASPA. Thus students using the on-line lab could submit their work on line and receive feedback and marks automatically within a realistic time frame.

Pilot lab for demonstration
We are continuing with the development of an exemplar on-line lab for Part B Mechanical Engineering students. This is in progress as a Part C undergraduate project in the Wolfson School. The lab is currently used in conventional form in our first year Fluid Mechanics module MMA800. The demonstrator should be available in a working form by the start of the summer term 2017. Given sufficient time, we plan to try out the remote version of this lab with student volunteers who have already experienced the conventional exercise, and obtain their feedback.

This exercise has proved invaluable in helping to scope out concepts for commonly used interface modules. We intend these to be easy to use by those not familiar with the background hardware and make them in effect “plug-and-play” as far as possible.

User engagement
We intend actively to seek engagement with staff and other potential stakeholders such as Lab Technicians as well as students. A second Part C project is therefore underway to study and collate best practice from a review of existing remote laboratories used in the international FE and HE sectors. We plan to use a small scale survey of academic staff within the Wolfson School to ascertain possible take-up of this technology in the future. The results of the survey will form part of our final deliverables, and inform the final design concepts of our modular system.

To make the system more flexible, we will be looking at ways of building in access to the hardware via more popular engineering software suits such as Matlab and LabVIEW. Matlab is particularly attractive in that it provides excellent data analysis tools with built-in access to the Raspberry Pi and Arduino hardware platforms we are using in the project.

Gamification for Learning in Electrotechnology

Dr Thomas Steffen, a recipient of a 2016 Teaching Innovation Award (TIA), explains how he has applied gamification to learning electrotechnology.

What did you want to achieve?

This project set out with a rather simple idea: to use an interactive simulation tool to teach students the basics of electric circuits in TTB211 Electrotechnology. We all know that electricity cannot be seen and should not be felt, so how do you learn about it? The project quickly gained momentum and additional facets, and now it includes four novel aspects:

    1. a browser based circuit simulation tool (everycircuit)
    2. gamification: a mobile game based on the same tool (circuit jam)
    3. an open source textbook
    4. a set of tutorial questions developed in Germany by Prof Kautz

So how do these work together?

A circuit simulation in Learn

A circuit simulation in Learn

The browser based simulation Everycircuit is great to use in the lecture, and I have done that before. But this time I want to go further, and so I have embedded simulations into a number of summary pages on Learn. Students will also have the ability to modify existing simulations or to create new ones. In my opinion, this really makes a difference, because it turns “magic” invisible electricity into something that students can play with and experience. Have a go with a Parallel resistors simulation.

The gamification aspect relies on a mobile game available in the Google Play Store, which includes a number of puzzles based on the same circuit simulator. So students get a familiar user interface, a portable way of learning, and the motivation of having clear goals and tracked progress. If you have an Android device, you can try a demo at: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.circuitjam . (Providing for students without a personal Android device is one of the challenges here, and there are a number of alternatives available.)

The open source textbook is an existing project at http://www.allaboutcircuits.com/textbook. In many ways, it is rather conventional, but it does offer two key advantages: for the students, it is more accessible and flexible than a library, and for the lecturer it offers the advantage that it can be edited and redistributed. I do not expect to put much effort into the second part this time, but going forward that is a significant opportunity.

Finally, I discovered a set of tutorial questions and exercises developed in Germany for a project in subject didactics in electrical engineering. The theoretical basis is a definition of two threshold concepts: electrical potential, and circuits as models [Brose, A., & Kautz, C. (2010). Research on student understanding as a guide for the development of instructional materials in introductory engineering courses. In Proceedings of the 3rd International Symposium for Engineering Education. Ireland: University College Cork]. The exercises are specifically designed and verified to reinforce these threshold concepts and to avoid common misconceptions found in student responses.

Has this affected your teaching?

Close to the beginning of the semester, I find myself well equipped and prepared to deliver this module, not just from an academic perspective, but also from a pedagogical point of view. Using these resources allows me to free up lecturing time to make the lectures more interactive, it helps to provide ample of simulations, exercises, homework and tutorial questions for reinforcement, and it includes the novel element of gamification to keep students engaged.

How has it been received by students?

The interactive simulation has already been tried in a smaller postgraduate module, and was received very well by the students. The gamification part and the tutorials not been used so far, but a thorough evaluation is planned. An update will be provided once the results are in.

See also:
Further information about the Teaching Innovation Award: http://www.lboro.ac.uk/services/cap/procedures-schemes/teaching-awards/teaching-innovation-awards/

Awards Celebrate Teaching Excellence at Loughborough University

The annual Research-informed Teaching Awards (RiTAs) and the Teaching Innovation Awards (TIAs) celebrate excellence in innovative and research informed practice across the University.

The awards are designed to reaffirm the University’s commitment to recognise staff and students who demonstrate high levels of achievement in both research and teaching.

The Research-informed Teaching Awards reward academic staff who have made an outstanding contribution to the promotion of research-informed teaching at the University.Learning and teaching conference (2)

The Teaching Innovation Awards fund student and staff ideas to enhance teaching and learning at Loughborough. This year, £23,000 has been awarded to fund nine different projects.

The recipients of this year’s teaching awards are:

RiTAs

Dr Line Nyhagen, Department of Social Sciences, School of Social, Political and Geographical Sciences

Awarded for her expertise in curriculum design which clearly demonstrates the ways in which she forges links between her research and her teaching.

Dr Cheryl Travers, Director of Executive Education, School of Business and Economics

For her expertise in pedagogical research which has had a major impact on students over a sustained period of time.

Dr Heike Jons, Department of Geography, School of Social, Political and Geographical Sciences

For her expertise in curriculum design which enables her students to benefit directly from her research over a range of modules.

TIAs

Jo Bullard, Department of Geography and Shung Hua Yang, Computer Science

Using Augmented Reality to Improve Geomorphological Understanding

Karisa Krcmar, Counselling and Disability Service and Lauren Sherar, School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences

An exploration of the benefits of active learning strategies for Loughborough University students with neurodiversity

Ella-Mae Hubbard and Joshua Goodman, Wolfson School of Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering

Understanding and exploiting threshold concepts

David Kerr and Anthony Sutton, Wolfson School of Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering

Remotely Accessed Laboratory Suite (RALS) using the Internet of Things

Thomas Steffen, Aeronautical and Automotive Engineering

Gamification for Learning in Electrotechnology

Sweta Ladwa, School of Science

A ‘Blueprint’ for Peer-Based and Collaborative Learning in a Teaching Laboratory

Lauren Sherar, School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences

Experiential and interactive learning in the teaching area of Physical Activity and Health of Children

George Torrens, Loughborough Design School and Simon Downs, School of the Arts, English and Drama

Development of a multi-disciplinary, self-learning led resource for practice based students supporting training in research methods, design thinking & decision-making

Alexandre Christoyannopoulos, Politics, History and International Relations and Marco Bohr, School of the Arts, English and Drama

Development and dissemination of an informed resource on professional blogging for students and staff

All award winners will be formally announced by the Vice Chancellor and Pro Vice Chancellor Teaching Learning and Teaching Conference on 16 June.

The event will take place at the West Park Teaching Hub where this year’s TIA winners will be exhibiting posters outlining their projects. There will also be the opportunity to explore practice ideas through workshops run by successful TIA applicants from previous years.

To book onto the conference, please email cap@lboro.ac.uk

TIA Winner Lee Campbell’s article, ‘TECHNOPARTICIPATION: Intermeshing performative pedagogy and interruption’, appears in BST Journal

technoparticipationAn article written by Lee Campbell (School of the Arts), entitled ‘Technoparticipation: Intermeshing pedagogy and interruption’ has been published in the latest edition of  Body, Space, Technology.

The article looks at various aspects of e-learning and focuses on Skype as a virtual technological platform, with the scope of ‘generating innovation in terms of subverting the bog standard presentation format of a lecture’. Skype as interruption is examined in order to promote the positive aspects of interruptive elements within performative pedagogy.

Research was enabled by a Teaching Innovation Award which Lee Campbell received; the Award granted him a funded period of research to explore Skype’s potential as a technological social media tool with pedagogic value.

To read the article, click here.

Loughborough Academics Publish Research in Prestigious Journal

2010 Teaching Innovation Awards winners, Dr Lawrence Leger and Dr Karligash Glass (Kenjegalieva), have recently published their work in Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education.  Their research article, ‘What if best practice is too expensive? Feedback on oral presentations and efficient use of resources’, suggests that ‘less resource-intensive [teaching and learning] methods need not compromise learning outcomes’. [1]

To read their article, click on the link below:

http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2015.1109054

[1] Lawrence A. Leger, Karligash Glass, Paraskevi Katsiampa, ShiboLiu & Kavita Sirichand (2015): What if best practice is too expensive? Feedback on oral presentations and efficient use of resources, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2015.1109054, p.1.

Teaching Innovation Award Update: Evaluation of Project Outputs through Workshop

In the latest of the Teaching Innovation Award updates Dr Ella-Mae Hubbard and Professor Carys Siemieniuch reflect on how their project has flourished thanks to student engagement.

The project aimed to address the issue of a shortcoming in student project work by enabling students to engage with procedures in validation and verification through some new workshops.

The team is currently evaluating some of the outputs generated by the Teaching Innovation Award they secured.  The evaluation focuses on a specific new workshop that has been set up; they have completed a “baseline” to help them understand opinions prior to the workshop.  Students who have experienced previous versions of the module will also be consulted; questionnaires will take place following the lecture and workshop; and relevant module feedback will be reviewed.

The Teaching Innovation Award certainly mellaarked a new journey for the team; their project has actually led to the development of a whole new series of workshops.

The team used some principles of ‘lecture flipping’ to help design the workshops and found that moving beyond conventional, simple lectures can be really beneficial and worth the preparation required.

Dr Ella-Mae Hubbard said:  ‘We’ve certainly come a long way since we started, and I think it’s fair to say that our end point isn’t what we expected (and hopefully not actually the end point!). That’s one of the reasons we do these projects in the first place; if we knew the answers before we started, where would be the fun in investigation?’

The team look forward to following up more avenues identified by the project.