Michael Seery discusses how creating videos in the lab can improve students' practical skills

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Source: © Keith Morris / Alamy

Chemistry Education Research and Practice (CERP) published an interesting paper recently on using student-produced video lab reports (the article is free to access). The authors suggest that with prevalence and ease of use of mobile phones, recording videos is a viable alternative to the traditional lab report.

Why video?

In the article, the authors advocate the use of video in order to address an on-going problem with students being unable to report significant figures depending on glassware used in the lab. The rationale is likely similar to that discussed in my previous post on stop motion animation. Organising thoughts to create a video means that students will likely need to develop an understanding of what it is they are trying to explain. In addition, the authors write that the videos provide useful feedback opportunities.

But there is probably more to say about the rationale for this kind of approach. In his Endpoint in a recent issue of Education in Chemistry David Smith argues that students should be creators and not just consumers. Students are graduating into a world where they need not just the ability to recall knowledge, but where there is an ever increasing pressure to be able to create and communicate across a range of platforms. Approaches such as this might be a useful way to develop those skills.

Using it in the lab

In their implementation, the authors asked the students to produce a video in parallel with completing a standard laboratory class. Students were required to conceive their experimental protocol and then produce the video in groups of three or four. A time limit of five minutes was imposed on the video to prevent long time lapses. 

In their appendix to the paper, the authors provide some useful filming guidelines. This includes a useful workflow, along with tips and prompts for producing a good quality video to ensure the demonstration can be clearly observed. There are also tips on audio, lighting and editing the video. In addition, the authors provide a grading rubric that they gave their own students for the assessment of this task. It’s very useful, and one that could be applied to a range of scenarios. It’s interesting to note that the rubric focuses on laboratory technique rather than production quality.

I like this idea. I think it has great potential, both as a means of constructing a mechanism where students need to carefully plan a procedure and as having a record of the actual practical work and skills conducted by students, which can be graded and discussed with students afterwards. The latter point especially – grading actual practical work as opposed to practical reports – is something sorely missing from our curriculum. It must be worth giving over one or two of the many dozens of laboratory practicals students complete to something where we can examine these practical skills in more detail and throw in the development of some communication skills in the mix!

Image © Keith Morris / Alamy