#FEMSmicroBlog: Learn Microbiology on YouTube!

05-02-2021

Learning laboratory techniques by watching video tutorials can be very effective. Videos are freely available to everyone, and this non-traditional learning approach has been particularly helpful during home confinement imposed by COVID-19. Project leader Katrina Lacey, co-author of the recent paper “Video-based learning to enhance teaching of practical microbiology” in FEMS Microbiology Letters, explains more in this #BehindThePaper interview for the #FEMSmicroBlog.

 

Can you explain what your paper is about?

Our paper “Video-based learning to enhance teaching of practical microbiology” in FEMS Microbiology Letters describes the development of a first of its kind online repository of cross-curricular teaching videos illustrating key microbiological laboratory techniques. We developed at NUI (National University of Ireland) Galway a suite of forty professionally edited instructional videos promoting STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering and Math) learning.

The videos are hosted on the YouTube channel ‘Microbiology teaching videos at NUI Galway’. In the last 18 months, the channel accumulated over 80,000 views across 60 countries. We also carried out comprehensive surveys of the NUI Galway student groups who had used the videos as part of their learning in Spring 2020.

The results were resoundingly positive, revealing an increased understanding of the techniques, greater engagement with practical content with significant benefits for visual learners among 2nd and 3rd year undergraduate students. In addition, a large majority of our final-year student demonstrators reported being much more confident in their science communication skills with their students.

Informal feedback gathered from teaching staff indicated that students appeared to be better informed when attending practical classes, and that the quality of their learning increased. This shows that the videos are having the desired effect, and is for us as educators a ringing endorsement of our efforts.

 

What led you to take on this project?

It began on September 2016 when I was teaching a group of undergraduate students the concept of single colony isolation. You could hear a pin drop as I clicked on to slide number ten. I looked up, hoping that I was inspiring, but before me I saw a raft of confused faces. I thought, ‘There has to be a more impactful way to convey these vital concepts and I need to be able to find it. We owe our students more.’

Thus, the concept of using online video as an adjunct to our teaching was born. The project didn’t happen overnight however, as after securing funding we embarked on an arduous but ultimately fulfilling two-year journey that culminated in something we are truly proud of.

Our videos have helped to illustrate some of the most fundamental as well as some of the most complex microbiological techniques. This is often difficult to achieve with large student groups. We want people in all stages of their scientific career to watch our videos and immerse themselves in what it looks like to be a scientist. We want people to approach their future careers in the sciences without trepidation, and to be empowered by learning laboratory-based techniques routinely taught throughout our four-year BSc in Microbiology.

More importantly, our online video repository has become key in helping not only students at NUI Galway, but also people from all over the world. From the outset, not only did we aspire to create professionally produced online teaching videos, but we wanted them to be accessible to all. The videos hosted on our YouTube channel are freely available to everyone. 

 

How do you think students and teachers around the world can benefit from your work?

Non-traditional approaches in STEM learning are extremely important in complementing textbooks that often may overemphasise factual knowledge and rote learning over the development of a deeper understanding.

We believe that our videos will constitute an important online teaching support to educators in a broad range of fields, and will help mitigate future scenarios resembling what we are currently experiencing because of COVID-19 (home confinement, mandatory remote instruction).

During 2020, the Microbiology teaching videos at NUI Galway have been a lifeline to our members of staff in the Microbiology Department. Our videos have been used for online teaching across all undergraduate student cohorts. 

Results of survey of 2nd year BSc Microbiology students on the use of in-house videos to support their laboratory learning (N=170). (For more details, see the paper.)

 

Was this a very different experience from your ‘normal’ work as a microbiologist?

Yes and no. Our approach was very scientific as we are hardwired to tackle all endeavours as scientists. It was key for us to have professional, user friendly videos produced with scientific rigour which would stand up to scrutiny. We approached this project like any other with systematic and meticulous planning and execution.

We spent an enormous amount of time editing each single video. For each individual video we had three camera angles recording every aspect of the experiment, including close-up shots of the more intricate aspects. This culminated in a gargantuan volume of raw footage that had to be whittled down to between 3-5 minutes, while not losing any of the integrity of each method.

We went through each video frame by frame, and then overlaid each video with voice over so there certainly were many levels of complexity. We also had a non-scientific videographer, who was extremely patient with our process (disclaimer, both authors of the paper were extremely pedantic when it comes to the minutiae of each video). We feel the finished product was reflective of our level of professionalism and attention to detail.

Before we could start giving ourselves high fives, however, we had to road test the videos on the very students we designed it for. We rolled out the videos as a core component of Microbiology undergraduate teaching at NUI Galway throughout the 2019-20 academic year. This resulted in over 27,000 views in their first year alone.

A member of the team at NUI Galway performing an experiment for the YouTube channel ‘Microbiology teaching videos at NUI Galway’ under the eyes of three different cameras.

 

About the author of this blog

Dr. Katrina Lacey (katrina.lacey@nuigalway.ie) is a Senior Technical Officer and second year microbiology co-ordinator in Microbiology, School of Natural Sciences at NUI Galway (Ireland). Upon completing an Honours degree in Marine Science, she diversified by undertaking her PhD in Microbiology in NUI Galway. She has been teaching undergraduates for the past nine years and it is through this teaching that she identified a real need for supplementary teaching supports in STEM teaching. As PI with Professor Gerard Wall,  she was awarded €20,000 from NUI Galway’s “Student Project Fund” to support a two-year video-making project which culminated in the development of the dedicated YouTube channel Microbiology teaching videos at NUI Galway.

About this blog section

The section #FascinatingMicrobes for the #FEMSmicroBlog explains the science behind a paper and highlights the significance and broader context of a recent finding. One of the main goals is to share the fascinating spectrum of microbes across all fields of microbiology. #BehindThePaper interviews aim to bring the science closer to different audiences, and to tell more about the scientific or personal journey to come to the results.

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The #FEMSmicroBlog welcomes external bloggers, writers and SciComm enthusiasts. Get in touch if you want to share your idea for a blog entry with us!

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