Dr Claudia Schneider & Dr Graeme Wells
School of Biomedical Sciences
Faculty of Medical Sciences
Who is involved?
Dr Claudia Schneider, Principal Research Associate, Biosciences Institute
Dr Graeme Wells, Postdoctoral researcher
Stage 3 Undergraduate students.
What did you do?
Used POV (point of view) videos to recreate an on-site experience for final year undergraduates undertaking projects in Biomedical Sciences during the Covid-19 pandemic.
How did you do it?
When it became evident that the Covid-19 pandemic would affect the ability of final-year undergraduates in the school of Biomedical Sciences to undertake on-site laboratory-based projects in the usual way, we planned and delivered a 10-week project which combined the implementation of a series of experiments to address a specific research question with the analysis and processing of pre-existing, unpublished data. The experiments were demonstrated via POV videos, created in-house in the laboratory that the students would have otherwise been working in. The videos were released one by one, mirroring the predicted weekly progress of the project if it had taken place on-site in the laboratory, alongside synchronous group and one-to-one discussions. The associated data was original raw data generated by Dr Graeme Wells (postdoctoral researcher in the Schneider laboratory and project co-supervisor), that the students would not have already seen.
We felt that by giving them a mixture of the videos, which gave the viewer a sense that they are really inside the lab, combined with the ability to get original data to analyse and process, that the experience would be as close as possible to an on-site project.
We planned the experiments based on what the students would be doing if they had been in the lab and kept them quite simple. Dr Wells filmed himself performing recreations of the experiments, using a GoPro attached to his head so the final videos were from a self-perspective. We briefly considered using a mobile phone to capture the footage, but we realised that we could request a GoPro from FMS TEL by emailing in advance.
Experiments included a range of cell culture and molecular biology techniques such as handling of cultured human cells, identifying localisation of specific proteins within cells using fluorescent microscopy, and protein and RNA analysis.
For the first 4 weeks of the project, we released one experiment per week, which involved 4-6 videos per experiment. Videos go through the whole process from setting up an experiment to producing data that is ready to analyse and process further. The experiments were multi-stage processes with different videos for each step, each building on the previous one. The experiment may run over several days, but each video was kept to 5-7 minutes long, and split into meaningful chunks.
Key to the success of this project was the structure and set up. We requested a ReCap folder(1) to be set up to host the videos. This allowed specific permissions to be granted and avoided the students having access to our file area and potentially being able to view existing analysis of the data. Using this approach, all project files were together in one, organised place and the links to the videos were also shared via Teams.
We (supervisory team and students) met as a group at the start of each week, and the data for that week would be released. Microsoft Teams enabled us to organise protocols and data files into folders very clearly. Each week, students were advised to post online notes of the weekly experiments and outcomes. This enabled the students to keep an electronic “lab book” similar to the records created while working on-site in the laboratory, which helped the supervisory team to guide the students towards good notetaking and also to monitor their understanding of the protocols and outcomes. The following week we would give feedback on the previous week’s work and then give details of the data for that week. This approach provided us with a clear overview of the whole project and enabled us to assess the progress of the students.
Why did you do it?
To give the students a more authentic experience when they could not come into the laboratory due to the pandemic, by providing them with a virtual experience of a practical project. The practical work during the final year project is the highlight for many undergraduate students and we wanted to create this highlight as much as possible.
We also wanted to give them the chance to be involved in an ongoing research project and to experience the excitement of new results and finding out what they mean. The data that we gave to the students is new data that we are currently analysing in the laboratory, and the students have been able to be part of discussions, working out what the results mean alongside us, replicating as close as possible the experience of generating and analysing their own original data.
In the future
In this virtual project, the students began at the initial research question, and they have worked through very new, pre-existing data that we knew would help to answer this question. The students therefore had guaranteed results, which means that their progress was quick, giving them the feeling of what would happen if everything went really smoothly. In addition, the students also had the experience of being involved in the planning and development of the project and they had access to other aspects of our work in the lab, making them a part of our research team.
However, during ordinary laboratory projects, students would not always be able to generate meaningful data every week, often because they are not familiar with experimental procedures at the beginning which means that they may make mistakes during the experiments. In addition, it may turn out during the project that the experimental setup may not be suitable to answer the research questions and/or that specific experiments just do not work as originally planned.
It is therefore fair to say that students performing a virtual project will have missed out on the often frustrating, but very important experience of having things go wrong and learning how to deal with this.
In the future, we would therefore aim to find a middle ground by combining the experiences and benefits that we have taken from this year’s virtual approach with some on-site experience for the students, if circumstances will allow this.
What would you do differently next time, or what would you advise someone who was planning to try this with their students?
The filming took a lot longer than expected. We captured the process all the way through, from start to finish, as if conducting the experiment. When we made small mistakes, we sometimes left them in. It was fun; but did involve work to edit and add text labels to the videos to make them more understandable.
To capture the videos, Dr Wells put the GoPro on his head and filmed short clips of each step of the experiment. He realised that he often ended up having to repeat things to get certain sections: sometimes the angle of the camera wasn’t quite right when consistency was needed, or sometimes he was holding something in his hands and they weren’t in the frame.
He also did the voiceovers separately, so he had to consider the length of each segment; ensuring that there was enough time to describe that step of the experiment. There were occasions where that did not work very well, and he had to edit the footage to lengthen it. Repeating the filming of the segments took time, and we had to keep hold of the GoPro for longer than initially anticipated. However, FMS TEL were flexible and supportive.
Our advice: plan everything really thoroughly and book the GoPro for longer than you think you need to! You might also need to have a couple of practice runs to learn how to use it if it’s new to you, and it might be worth considering live commentary instead of separate voiceovers to save time on editing.
We noticed that the students’ understanding of the experimental procedures increased video upon video, which was demonstrated by their contributions to our weekly discussions.
For students who have little lab experience it can be very daunting when they first see the project outline. However, in spite of the COVID-19 disruption, the students quickly got to grips with the complex concepts that were applied in the ongoing project.
The students really valued the videos; they reported that they enjoyed them and wanted more! This was especially true in the final weeks of the project, when the focus of the work had shifted more towards analysis of the raw data as well as performing database searches to validate a provided high throughput bioinformatics dataset.
They said the videos were clear and easy to follow and almost made them feel as if they were inside the lab.
Short clip showing an example of one of the videos
(1) Email Recap@ncl.ac.uk.