Teaching Innovation Awards Winner

Queen Mary University of London

Dr. Lesley Howell, Dr. Tippu S Sheriff, Dr. Chris Jones, Mark Hudson, Gideon Woldeslassie
Teaching innovation award winner badge


When the pandemic hit, the practical chemistry team were tasked with identifying innovative and novel approaches for the delivery of practical chemistry. Furthermore, it was imperative that approaches were inclusive ensuring international students/those shielding were able to participate. Aware of the challenges these students faced, we became interested in the application of mixed reality for delivering practical chemistry and purchased a Microsoft HoloLens2. The headset is worn by an academic and enables students to view what the academic sees. This is aided by holograms/interactive features. A second academic facilitates Q&A, monitors chat and runs Mentimeter quizzes. We adopted a “Blue- Peter” style approach to the set up with experiments prepared at different stages to reduce down time, enabling more skills to be covered in a shorter session time. Although initially its use was intended for a small cohort, following the announcement of another lockdown in January 2021, we rolled out this innovative and creative approach to all Y1/Y2 students. To the best of our knowledge we were the only department to employ mixed reality during this time to deliver practical chemistry classes.

Staff member using the headset.
Staff member using the headset.
Student view of what the headset wearer sees.
Student view of what the headset wearer sees.

Due to the limited number of in-person classes in 2020/21 we also changed the focus away from getting the right answer/highest yield and more towards the development of key skills/techniques. This was to support the use of the HoloLens2 technology as an academic performing the experiment is likely to get the right answer the first time around. We wanted to ensure students were focusing on the skills associated with each experiment and not just writing down the final answer. The manual was converted into a more pictorial based manual reducing the cognitive overload. This skills based approach was further supplemented by the use of lab simulations/smart worksheets from Learning Science.

The feedback from students was incredibly positive; 89% agreed the HoloLens2 was effective for the delivery of practical chemistry and 84% agreed it had improved their understanding of the experiment/techniques (93% response rate). Some example comments include “The experience with the HOLO lens was amazing”, “the use of Hololens when not able to attend the lab worked well and both lecturers together were able to provide an engaging experience” “One of my favourite sessions was the HoloLens where the lecturer was demonstrating the experiment in real time.” These comments demonstrate the effectiveness of mixed reality in delivering practical chemistry as well as its potential for enthusing students.

In summary, we have introduced an innovative and novel approach to the delivery of practical chemistry. Subsequently, this summer (2021) we have co-created with our students pilot instructional guides using the HoloLens2 headset as “pre-lab resources”. These allow students wearing a HoloLens headset (outside formalised teaching time) to work through a skill/technique, such as the rotary evaporator, in a step by step fashion and repeatedly if needed so they become both familiar and confident with the technique. We believe these innovations will play an essential role in the delivery of practical chemistry in years to come not just at QMUL but across the HE landscape.

Mixed reality technology supporting undergrad labs.