Facing overcrowded labs and enrollment growth, Larry Genalo and Michelle Grawe knew something needed to change.
The overcrowding led to an “overlapping of sections and multiple classes using the same space at the same time,” said Grawe, the teaching laboratory coordinator for materials science and engineering. “It was hard to manage, and not as safe as it should be.” The more frequently the labs became overcrowded, the more the learning experience diminished for the students in the lab.
So Grawe partnered with Genalo, a university professor and associate chair of the department, to brainstorm on how to solve this problem. Genalo suggested conducting the traditional pre-lab sessions through a series of online videos, which would take the students out of the lab for an hour each week.
“There was a time when these courses used to have one section of the lab and you would spend the first hour of your scheduled three hour lab doing the pre-lab: telling students how to use the equipment, what the safety processes are, what they’re going to do in this specific experiment, and so on,” said Genalo. “Now, some of these courses have six sections of that lab, which meant an instructor was having to spend six hours doing the same pre-lab six times a week, which seemed kind of silly.”
Genalo said that by doing the series of pre-lab safety videos for equipment used in the labs, the instructor only has to do the presentation once. It also frees up the students’ schedule by taking them out of the lab for one hour each week, thus easing some of the overcrowded lab problem. Grawe also said that these videos will standardize the pre-lab across all the sections, meaning all students will have the same training upon walking into the lab.
To make the videos, Genalo and Grawe applied for a grant from the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT), which had announced a Flipped Classroom Initiative sponsored by the Office of the Senior Vice President and Provost. According to the CELT website, the initiative would bring “innovative flipped and hybrid approaches into academic courses across the university.” The goal was to post the videos on Blackboard Learn along with other material that was relevant to the experiment and students would complete the pre-lab online before coming into the lab for class.
After a meeting with Steve Couchman, Grawe acquired help on the project from the Environmental Health and Safety Department. Couchman, the communications manager for EH&S, said that EH&S would house the videos through the department’s Learning Management System. The videos would be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for students to complete as their schedules allowed.
Couchman was excited to partner with MSE because both departments had safety as their main objective.
“These videos tie in beautifully with what EH&S does because it’s all about safety,” Couchman said. “It’s about using equipment properly. It’s about protecting students, protecting faculty, and protecting staff.”
Because EH&S has been creating these types of safety videos for a while, Couchman played a huge role in hiring the videographer and graphic designer needed to complete the project. Jared Calvert, a senior in journalism and mass communication, and Chen Zhang, a graduate student in graphic design, came aboard as the final two members of the team.
In total, 18 videos were created; each one focused on a different piece of equipment used in the sophomore introductory labs of MAT E 214, 215, and 216. The videos vary in length, with the shortest video lasting only a couple minutes. Calvert said they tried not to make the videos too lengthy and clocked the longest video at slightly over ten minutes. If a piece of equipment was particularly complex, Calvert would break up the videos into segments.
While these videos were made with particular classes in mind, Genalo said that, because these pieces of equipment are used again in other labs for different experiments, the videos can be reused in other courses as well.
To make each video, Grawe would send Calvert the standard operating procedures already documented for that piece of equipment, and Calvert would then turn that document into a readable script, with occasional input from Grawe.
“Jared did a really good job of converting a lot of standard operating procedures into readable scripts, especially considering he doesn’t have an engineering background, because a lot of it was like reading a foreign language to him,” Grawe said.
The two would get together to film the piece, making sure they had screenshots of a computer or any other elements they needed. Calvert would then take the footage and edit it together with the voiceover he created. Finally, the video would be sent to Zhang to add in the graphics and other elements she had created from a template so everything would look uniform.
“There’s a system to how each video looks and each video has a written script of what’s being spoken,” Grawe said.
Developing that system was the biggest challenge that faced Grawe and her team. Calvert said the first videos were a trial run of figuring out what would look best on film and what routine worked for everyone. He said that, by the third video, they had a better idea of what they wanted to do, which made putting the courses together a lot easier.
Grawe said another challenge was making sure the videos stayed consistent across the board. They had to make sure everything looked exactly the same in case they had to go back and film some material again.
“I’d try to wear the same thing and have my hair the same way in each video to avoid having a time-lapse where the viewer could tell the segments were filmed on two different days,” Grawe said.
Despite the challenges, Grawe was especially grateful for Calvert and Chen’s work ethic.
“They made the job easy because the quality of their work was so high,” she said. “We were really fortunate to hire these particular students because they’ve done a great job.”
While the filming crew faced the challenges first, Genalo said a new set of challenges awaits on the horizon. Quizzes are being planned to accompany each video as a way to see if students have accumulated the information presented in the pre-lab video so that they can participate successfully in the following lab session.
“When you watch an EH&S video, almost all of them have a quiz at the end for the viewer to complete, and if you don’t pass the quiz then you don’t get the certificate saying you completed the training,” Grawe said. “These videos will be no different.”
Grawe explained that the certificate verification will be linked to the Blackboard Learn system, so if the instructors do not get that certificate for a student, that student will not be permitted to do the experiment with the rest of the class. Couchman said this will allow for instructors and lab coordinators to make sure students are doing what they are expected to do prior to walking into the lab.
“This is a great way to ensure that students are following safe practices and conducting experiments safely,” Couchman said.
In addition to these videos and quizzes, Genalo said instructors will likely need to add a supplemental section and quiz detailing the specific experiment students will be conducting on the machine. These additional information sessions and quizzes ensure that students not only know about the piece of equipment and how to use it safely, but what exactly they are expected to do with it. It will be up to the instructors to decide how they present this section of the pre-lab.
Genalo expects that adding the supplemental sections and quiz will be a challenging aspect of the project because it will involve a lot of instructors with varying teaching styles and preferences for receiving student work.
The videos will be integrated into courses starting this fall.