Teaching Innovation Awards Winner

University of Birmingham

Collaborative Teaching Laboratory
Edd Kyi, Dr. Philip Craven, Dr. Scott White, Dr. Tim Jackson, Dr. Christopher Avins


One of the tenets of the Collaborative Teaching Laboratory (CTL) is to provide an enhanced, personalised learning experience through the innovative use of Educational Technology. But how can you personalise the in-lab experience beyond the traditional use of audio-visual equipment and overcome poor line of sight or groups of eager students huddled around a bench vying for a good look? One way we are meeting this is by using a cost-effective labcasting model, one that was initially devised to meet the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To provide a lab experience during the pandemic, virtual camera software, coupled with multiple moveable webcams, was used to augment the standard video conferencing platforms (such as Zoom); providing a multicamera feed to allow for greater visual detail. Split screen, picture-in-picture, and other “scenes” were utilised to offer the best viewing experience of the practical experiment. The presenter can change “scenes” live, ensuring best views as the demonstration progresses. Synchronous interaction between the broadcaster(s) and viewers through live chat also produces a dynamic atmosphere.

Multi-camera display.
Multi-camera display.

The majority of the CTL’s member schools used this mode of delivery. The School of Engineering demonstrated their rigs and experiments to first- and second-year cohorts, including those in international locations, using split screens and picture-in-picture to simultaneously show the various operations and output data.

The School of Biosciences utilised the model to allow unique teamworking activities. Student groups were split into remote and in-lab members. Those in-lab would share views of the bench and carry out the physical elements, while remote members would assist with instructions and data analysis.

Labcasting allowed the Department of Electrical Engineering to provide feedback to their students through PGTAs. Each student group had their own breakout rooms which were visited by PGTAs. The process means that student assessments, such as analysis and report writing, become possible in hybrid working. There was also evidence of community building amongst students within these breakout rooms, the kind of interaction that was difficult during the pandemic.

Both staff and students provided positive feedback, such that the model has been expanded to all 540 lab based PC’s can be functioning labcasting stations, opening up the potential for new activities and approaches. While successful in providing a meaningful learning experience in trying times, there is no true replacement to the practical in-lab experience. The best use of the labcasting model is not to replace but enhance the in-lab experience by bring the student as close to the bench work as possible.

The School of Chemistry have been providing an almost 1-2-1 learning experience through broadcasting their daily briefings and demonstrations to students at PC stations direct from inside fume cupboards. The students have the same setup allowing them to call the academic from their own fume cupboard for advice.

A student using the labcasting model.
A student using the labcasting model.

With the extended use of the labcasting model, the CTL now provides an all-round learning experience enhanced by EdTech; consisting of high-quality materials and quizzes for pre-lab preparation, an enhanced and unique in-lab experience, and smart worksheets for post-lab assessments.