Author: Helen Wilkes

Video production during (and beyond) a pandemic

Hywel Jones and Ollie Inglis, Digital Learning Specialists in the Ed Tech team

Just a few weeks into the first national lockdown, we began our roles as Digital Learning Specialists, joining an Ed Tech team responding to the global pandemic and its disruptive effects on teaching. Fortunately, our team had a great work ethic, so we could begin creating compelling and innovative learning resources right away, even whilst working remotely.

Despite the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, the change of routine has bought several advantages to our work in education technology. We have seen a shift in perspective towards video and digital media in the Faculty of Engineering. The use of video began as a necessity due to students working from home around the globe. More than ever, we are seeing staff embracing the potentialities of video and animation in their modules. Digital media has evolved into a format we consistently utilise to create rich and engaging learning experiences.

In the first lockdown in March 2020, faculty members needed a way to continue lab classes in the coming autumn term. The Ed Tech team were able to help as we have skills in video production, animation, and H5P. Appreciating that academics have a busy work schedule, we quickly developed a video workshop for academic staff, which outlined what we could offer in video production, animation, and H5P, along with a production process that should take up minimal academic time. We only require the academic to script, be available for filming, and give a final QA on the video we produce.

During video production, we struck up great working relationships with the academics. They trusted our expertise in filming, and we let them direct us in terms of capturing the experiments. Building this relationship has been hugely beneficial to our team. In addition, we have found that the engagement and demand have continued either through word of mouth or by the same academics returning for additional video content.

One of the great benefits of working in higher education has been the ability to continue our essential work filming on campus. When on-site, we’d follow the social distancing and safety measures put in place by the college, which was reassuring. It has provided a welcome break from working at home, allowing us to meet with our academic colleagues.

From our conversations with staff that we’ve worked with on the success of the videos, the responses have been overwhelmingly positive. They have shared that their students have enjoyed the videos too, with some saying they preferred them as they got to see more of the experiment. Staff are also seeing other uses for the videos that they didn’t expect e.g. giving prospective students a flavour of the course or even using the videos as part of an online course.

We are now seeing a shift in more staff wanting to realise the benefits of video in a post-covid world:

  • Video can become a useful revision material.
  • Video can complement face to face teaching activities (e.g. lab demonstrations.)
  • Video can be used in pre-sessional resources.

During the summer, we successfully held 19 workshops with over 40 attendees. For the autumn 20/21 term, we promptly delivered over 80 pieces of video across four departments. We are now filming and editing work for autumn 21/22 and can help academic staff in Engineering to create high quality educational digital content.

If you have an idea or would like to chat with us to learn more about what we do, please contact us. Our SharePoint page has guidance on video production.

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Meet our new learning technologists

Our Ed Tech team recently welcomed three new learning technologists to Imperial. Find out more about Miki, Nadia and Joe, their first few weeks and how they can work with you in the future.

Miki SunMiki Sun

I joined the Transformation Team as a Learning Technologist in the beginning of 2021. My role focuses on engineering pedagogy transformation, with technology enhancement in teaching, learning and assessment. This provides a perfect opportunity to grow my knowledge and experience. I studied and worked in Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland, previously, where I was an online learning developer supporting online course delivery in the School of Engineering. I’m delighted to support colleagues in innovative course curriculum and assessment design, and looking forward to meeting everyone in person.

I’ve had informative induction and training sessions by our team leaders and inside College. I like the well-thought, well-organized Design Planning Flow approach. I’ve enjoyed learning and building my knowledge on the Blackboard VLE (I used Moodle before) and online assessment tools such as Mobius. I have also attended several meetings and met many friendly and interesting colleagues from the faculty and different departments. It’s great to get to know how things work in Imperial.

Nadia Hussain

I recently joined Imperial as an Assistant Learning Technologist in the Faculty of Engineering. Before I joined the Ed Tech team, I completed my PhD in Computer Science and worked as a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) at Brunel University. In my first few weeks at Imperial, I’ve been working on Autumn Term module data analysis, converting the Design Process Flow (DPF) from MS Word into flow diagrams and have answered user queries. Starting my job in the pandemic was slightly strange to begin with however with time I’ve become used to working from home.

I enjoy working with the digital learning and assessment tools that Imperial use and offering assistance to staff. I am particularly fond of using Blackboard. I look forward working more on WISEflow and other new digital tools in the future. So far, I’m enjoying my time working here and the staff are wonderful!

Joe DriscollJoe Driscoll

I have recently joined in the role of Learning Technologist (STEM), which means I will be helping the team to apply their impressive video, animation and assessment capabilities to technical Engineering course content. I’m joining after completing my PhD in Maths at the University of Leeds. The research was born out of a paper of Simon Donaldson and Richard Thomas, two of Imperial’s finest! At Leeds I was involved in their Maths Outreach programme, providing extra-curricular sessions to local schools was good fun and great experience. I’m hoping I learned a thing or two about creating learning resources that will help with my new role.

In my first few weeks I have been focusing on conversion of traditional paper-based exams into a digital format. This is not without its challenges, but the art of maximising the learning outcomes for students is one I am gradually honing. I have been working with the Möbius platform to do this, whilst it has been a learning curve, I’m excited by the potential scope of applications for this tool.

During the pandemic I have been in Leeds, where I moved to almost 5 years ago after graduating from UCL. I have been especially grateful for the Yorkshire countryside and fresh air over the last year, but I’m also excited at the prospect of moving back to London soon.

Looking forward I see so much potential for the services we in the Ed Tech team can provide. I think we will be able to build and grow our expertise to support the department in new and exciting ways. To make sure we are offering the best possible service to the department, we are keeping up to date on all the latest technologies and their application to higher education. As an example, I recently attended a TALMO (Teaching and Learning Mathematics Online) workshop where I learnt lots of useful tips and tricks for online teaching and assessment. My favourite talk was from Dermot Green (Queens University Belfast) who explained how he made his own “Lightboard” to make online lectures more engaging. You can see this in action on his YouTube channel. The student feedback from the “Lightboard” lectures was very impressive.

I’m really looking forward to working with everyone in the Faculty of Engineering and thanks for such an enjoyable start to life at Imperial!

Behind the scenes at the Data Observatory

Dr Anna Cupani, Stakeholder Engagement Manager, Data Science Institute

The Data Science Institute is home to one of the most visited, photographed and filmed spaces at Imperial, our Data Observatory. You may have seen it as the backdrop of many high profile visits, but it is also used as a tool for interactive group work with businesses and policy makers or with students exploring the surface of Mars or checking Bitcoin transactions in real time. We have even had a string quartet playing in there!

With its 64 screens arranged in a semi-circular environment, it is an immersive space where high definition images can make you feel like you are on the Mont Blanc on a sunny day or allow you to dive into a London map of bike users. After having hosted tens of visits in there, I am still not tired of the surprised “wow!” and the gasps and brief silence that follow the moment people step into the Observatory.

The Data Observatory in action

After 5 years of excellent service, our loyal window on the world of data was in need of an upgrade. For months, the visualisation team had been working behind the scenes, creating our Open Visualisation Environment. Finally, 2020 was the time to upgrade the hardware!

We had the shipment of the new screens arranged for the week before Easter, and a planned refurbishment scheduled the week after it. Then, at the beginning of March, anticipating the national lockdown of a few days, all College activities went remote and visits to the Observatory were cancelled. Things were about to become much more complicated. With access to the College reduced to the bare minimum, labs closed and group activities banned, all engineering works had to be put on hold. We could not even travel to the Institute. But we still had a pending delivery of 64 screens that could not be dropped in Dalby Court or under the Queen’s Tower indefinitely!

Dr Ovidiu Şerban, leading the visualisation team, recalls those frantic days of “trying to coordinate remotely with several teams”. Security liaised directly with the College warehouse staff who know their way around everything – and had proper PPE and training. The day before delivery, Ovidiu got a call from the logistics team at Imperial that one member of staff had tested positive for COVID-19 so, following College protocol, all rooms involved and the furniture in there had to be disinfected before anything could be done in there.

Finally, on the 23rd April, the screens landed safely in our boardroom. “I asked for a photo to prove that it had all gone according to plan!” says Ovidiu.

It was only at the beginning of June, with travel allowed and safety measures in place on campus, that the proper dismantling of the old equipment could start, with support from DSI colleagues and under strict social distancing rules. Andrianirina Rakotoharisoa, our system engineer, explains how it took 2 days only to remove the screens “…and then you need to dispose of all that material! For every half a day of work, we needed half a day to manage the recycling.” Recycling was also tricky during the pandemic as removal was not so frequent.

A room full of monitors stacked on the ground
Old monitors ready to be disposed of
A room with a semi-circular arrangement of mounts for monitors
Ready for re-assembly

Re-assembling the observatory was another lengthy task that stretched well into August. “We underestimated the alignment time,” admits Ovidiu, “We fancied some more advanced technology but ultimately an old school bubble leveller was what worked best”. In parallel, the team also re-did the network configuration at hardware level and refurbished the storage system. While doing some testing, Andrianirina identified some issues with the motherboard of 5 of the screens: “it took us a while to figure out where the problem was. Apparently we had spotted a unique bug and the supplier sent a team to the Observatory to have that sorted”.

Thanks to some helping hands from the DSI team, and after some other equipment issues were sorted, finally at the beginning of November the Data Observatory was ready to open its doors again. We are really looking forward to welcoming researchers and visitors to explore data in our brand new Observatory again in 2021. We get a feeling that we will see some epidemiological data up there, sooner or later…

Dr Anna Cupani

No time to take a breath: Managing a project on air pollution during lockdown

Claire Dilliway, Project Manager for INHALE, explains how a study focussing on the air we breathe could continue to run as the world stayed at home

I joined Imperial in December 2019 to manage an EPSRC Grant called INHALE. INHALE aims to study our exposure to and the impact of urban air pollution on our health at multiple scales – from the cellular level, to our organs (particularly respiratory health), and considers the dispersal of air pollution in West London. It brings together an interesting (and jolly nice) and diverse team from Earth Science and Engineering, the National Heart and Lung Institute, Materials Science, the Data Science Institute and our partners at Edinburgh University and at the University of Surrey.

After many fruitful, formative (career-wise) years working in an overseas development-focussed think tank, I was excited to be working again with my original passion; Environmental Science. I was just starting to feel comfortable navigating around campus and knowing where our project staff were when the pandemic hit!

The initial impact will be familiar to many; a shift to working at home, getting the right office equipment, acclimatising to a life dominated by MS Teams as well as (for me, with 2 primary school aged children) a sense of impending doom as it looked increasingly likely that the schools would shut. INHALE was affected in a few broad areas in the early days of the pandemic. Firstly, we had to stop collecting particulate matter from the Secret Gardens near the health centre at Imperial as it was not possible to have staff on site to monitor and maintain the equipment. Secondly, it was not possible to work in the labs where the particulate matter was being imaged and analysed. Finally, we were unable to start the recruitment for the Clinical Trial which had been due to get off the ground in the summer of 2020.

A gif models how air pollution flows around buildings.
The above gif, by Dr Laetitia Mottet models how air pollution flows around buildings.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that we have had a quiet lockdown but in fact there has been a lot going on – thankfully, as I hate being bored! The modelling and data aspects of the project have made great strides, we have been able to start the analysis of the particulate matter thanks to some hard work and favour pulling from colleagues with open facilities, and research staff have been able to take advantage of this time to write papers and plan. As lockdown eased a little in May, more access was possible. We were able to arrange for a network of stationary sensors to be installed around South Kensington Campus to run a very interesting study of pollution levels as the economy started to get moving again which continues to provide valuable data. We were also able to re-start the particle collection around that time too. We are now getting ready to start the Clinical Trial shortly and are actively looking for volunteers who live and work in Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham.

The pandemic has also presented opportunities for the INHALE team who have a unique set of skills and experience to address some of the many questions which it has presented. We have put in various funding applications including to model the effectiveness of facemasks and the ‘2 metre rule’, and to investigate the spread and potency of airborne COVID-19. Fingers crossed!

Claire Dilliway

Experiences of a remote internship

Read about Earth Science and Engineering PhD student Jemimah-Sandra Samuel’s experience of completing an internship remotely this summer

One of my goals as a student at Imperial College London is to gain relevant industry work experience. Before this summer, my STEM experiences have been in teaching and tutoring roles, although I have always looked forward to applying my skills and experience in an industry setting. So in my previous years at Imperial College, I attended several career fairs both within and outside the university to increase my insight on the job application and recruitment process in the UK. At the end of 2019, I decided to apply for internship opportunities for the summer of 2020, and I was successful in my application to bp. This past summer, I completed a petroleum engineering virtual internship with bp, an experience that has been truly stimulating and rewarding.

Initially the internship was to be held at one of bp’s sites in the UK, but with the turn of events around the world due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a chance that this summer industry experience was not going to come to fruition. Even worse was when bp announced job cuts, as part of their plans to reimagine energy and reinvent bp. On the contrary, all thoughts or fears that the internship could be cancelled were dissipated by the proactive and open responses of bp people and culture team. They kept us up to date at the different phases of the transition to remote working and a virtual internship, even when it was decided that the internship would be shortened. Overall, it was very reassuring to know that bp was continuing with the 2020 summer internship.

In my PhD, I work on reservoir engineering related subjects, so working in a petroleum engineering internship team was a great opportunity to develop petroleum engineering expertise and exposure. I experienced first-hand the fast-paced nature of decision making and implementation of processes in industry in addition to how industry differs from academia with respect to making decisions that maintain the financial bottom line. I got a feel for what it takes to manage one of the world’s supergiant oil fields in the middle east and I added a new petroleum engineering software skill to my technical arsenal, Petroleum Expert’s PROSPER. This is besides other soft skills I picked up during the internship including an agile way of working, working in a diverse team on lots of different fronts, safety in an industry context and specifically to decrease carbon emissions from the upstream hydrocarbon sector. I also took part in training on different topics in the petroleum industry such as net-zero, HC value chain, and personal development on different learning styles, communication and weekly lunch and learn sessions, to mention but a few.

Although the entire internship was virtual, I must say that it did not feel as such. I was part of daily stand up meetings with my immediate team and several other catch-up meetings. bp was indeed inclusive, as I was involved in global and regional asset management meetings from the first week and day, respectively. All the staff I came across were always willing and happy to share their experience and discuss various subjects/topics both technical (for my internship project) and otherwise (company values and goals), including bp CEO, Bernard Looney, and the Upstream Subsurface Lead, Flores Aries.

Arial shot of a forest, with text: Reimagining energy for people and our planet' with bp logo

During the internship, it was very useful to have already been exposed to MS Teams for virtual communication at Imperial. As a PhD student in modelling-based research, I was already working from home through Imperial College’s Remote Desktop Connection, to achieve my research goals. This made it easy to switch to working on the windows virtual desktop that bp provided for interns to work on their internship projects. Furthermore, my participation in the MS Azure AZ course hosted virtually by the Department of Earth Science and Engineering prepared me for using MS Azure virtual desktop (IaaS) during my internship. All these made my technical transition into the virtual internship easy and comfortable.

Having now completed this internship, my appetite has been whetted to take on more responsibility in an industry-based role. I have directly experienced real industry scenarios coupled with my academic experiences, and how being adaptable and flexible are undeniably crucial to being solution-driven in industry roles that are fast-paced and continuously changing in needs. I have now returned to Imperial to complete my PhD with more focus, energy, drive and commitment to making the remaining time count through an agile way of working. And in the next year, I look forward to moving on to work in the industry.

Educating Engineering teams on Teams

In what has been an extraordinary year to work in digital learning, Alastair Gemmill, Senior Learning Technologist, reflects on how he and the Ed Tech team developed a series of training sessions to ensure learning and teaching staff were ready for the start of a mixed mode term in October 2020.

As part of the faculty’s preparation for Autumn 2020, the Ed Tech’s Maintenance and Review Team were tasked with designing training sessions to familiarise staff on using MS Teams for teaching. The sessions started in July 2020 and comprised 50-minute sessions which explored MS Teams features, considered the hardware requirements and discussed how staff plan to deliver remote teaching.

We originally scheduled 4 sessions a week for 10 weeks and estimated that around 200 staff would book a place, but to date over 450 staff have attended training, mostly delivered by Learning Technologists Mecnun Karayijit and Marcel Wilson-Roe. Due to increased demand, we added a further 8 sessions.

A person talking into a laptop
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Feedback has been very positive with a 16% increase in confidence levels post-training and average rating of resources as 4.2 out of 5. We collected feedback and were delighted that attendees spoke highly of the sessions:

“The training session provided many useful tips and was delivered very well.”
“Friendly and approachable delivery, thank you.”
“…it was very helpful and the presenters very knowledgeable”

In response to demand from the community we are now offering virtual whiteboard training covering annotating using MS tools, using a second device to annotate virtually, replicating a visualiser using mobile devices and collaborative whiteboards. Over 90 staff have signed up for this complementary workshop.

Overall, while the summer preparation period has been busy, we feel excited by the enthusiasm of staff to develop their teaching in new ways and are confident that the term will be off to a good start.

Sign up for Teams for Teaching training
Sign up for Virtual Whiteboard training
Self-help guidance is available on the Staff Help site
Sign up for Instructional design support

If you have any questions on use of Teams for teaching or other training requests please email the Ed Tech team

Redesigning labs for home learners in the Department of Materials

From building virtual electronic circuits online to test capacitor material performance to performing kitchen chemistry experiments measuring the flow of slime, Priya Saravanapavan from the Department of Materials explains how they have been adapting their teaching and lab work to remote delivery.

Engaging in the learning of Materials Science and Engineering at Imperial is a combination of understanding fundamental scientific principles and exploring engineering processes. Laboratory teaching is especially geared towards introducing and exploring principles students have encountered in lectures and applying these to different types of materials and a variety of engineering scenarios.

For example, one of the Year 1 summer term labs centred on solidifying students’ knowledge of capacitance and impedance—the foundations of which they learn in the Properties and Maths modules. In the original plan for the lab (before COVID-19), students would have used different dielectric materials (materials that can be polarised by applying an electric current) to make capacitors and measure their impedance and capacitance. When campus closed and the department had to convert all summer teaching to remote delivery, the priority was to deliver the fundamental learning objectives with as much hands-on learning as possible. Last week, Priya and her colleagues lead a practical for students using LTspice, a circuit simulator that allows the probing of an electrical circuit to study dielectric materials. Students used the software to model smooth and rough plate capacitors to look at how the capacitance/impedance is affected by pores of different size and geometry and, by using a materials selection database, to explore different dielectric materials.

A screen shot of LT spice software showing two electrical circuits and corresponding graphs
LTspice software in action

There were many challenges, mainly that components of the labs needed to be created, visualised and tested, supporting documents written, GTAs trained—all within the six-week period before summer term began. The teaching fellow team delivered 4 such labs with varying learning objectives and delivery modes—working with existing data, using simulations, using research data and carrying out kitchen chemistry experiments. This week students were initially going to explore the viscoelastic behaviours of different ‘slime’ compositions using a lab-based rheometer. Instead this week they are carried out a similar experiment, but instead of working in the lab, they will use ingredients they can find in their own kitchens.

MS teams screenshot showing students making slime in their home kitchens
Students making slime in their home kitchens

Feedback from students has been positive. Dewen Sun, first year academic rep, said, “The lab sessions we have had so far were successful in terms of achieving their teaching purpose. In general, the knowledge we are supposed to get from the labs has all been delivered successfully. There have been some issues: mainly GTAs being unfamiliar with the content of the lab and as students we’ve had to learn new software in a short period to complete the lab with some having to contend with access issues. Despite these problems, I do believe the current session has been effective in giving us the practical knowledge about the theories.”

As a department, we are happy with the outcome of these redesigned lab sessions. Jason Riley, Director of Undergraduate Studies, commented, “These laboratory classes have been carefully redesigned to deliver experiences that fully meet the module learning objectives with students, for example, building virtual electronic circuits, to investigate how material selection influences how a capacitor performs, or performing kitchen chemistry experiments to gain an intuitive understanding of the flow behaviour of different substances and link those to their applications. There are a few issues to iron out but, with time, we will be able to achieve better delivery. The successes and valuable lessons learned from these labs will help us incorporate some of the remote delivery aspects also to our campus-based labs for future years.”

To find out more about our undergraduate courses in Materials Science and Engineering, visit the Study website.

Sampling Sardinia on screen

Students in the third year of Imperial’s Geology course, one of the courses offered by the Department of Earth Sciences and Engineering, usually take part in a field trip to Sardinia. This year, course leaders translated the course to an online environment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Virtual Sardinia is a new way of learning geology that is accessible to everyone. This virtual field trip lets students wander around and inspect 3D models of real rocks in the game engine Unity. It aims to provide as realistic an experience as possible, since geological field training is intended to prepare students for working in the real world. It nevertheless lets students do more than would be possible in real life, including hovering in the air with rocket packs and exploring abandoned mines. Above all it aims to be fun, because to a geologist, fieldwork is geology fun.

Virtual view of a rocky beach
The beautiful beach at Torre del Porticciollo

Emilia Dobb, a student on the course, tells us more:

Despite a lot of students feeling disappointed that they couldn’t travel to Sardinia on a field trip, I was very excited that the trip had become virtual. I have a disability which means I can’t normally attend fieldwork, so the experience has been extra special for me.

The virtual fieldwork has been amazing so far. Our lecturers have put so much effort into making the trip fun and immersive. They have developed an app for us to explore 3D outcrops, and accommodated them with high-resolution photographs, 3D images of rock samples and even incorporated a virtual microscope which we can use to analyse the rocks through thin sections.

The trip has consisted of taught fieldwork in the morning and self-fieldwork in the afternoon. This means students in Asia can participate in the taught sessions too and do their self-fieldwork in the morning before the next guided fieldwork starts. Along with the use of the app, Google Earth has supplemented our learning and allows for good field observations from photos that already exist on there. Ironically with virtual fieldwork we have been able to study some localities that we normally wouldn’t have been able to if we’d have actually gone to Sardinia, as they’re too dangerous on the roadside. Following the fieldwork at the different localities, Dr Matthew Genge then summarises the observations and interpretations we’ve made, just like he would in the field, but over Microsoft Teams instead.

This is the first fieldwork I have been able to attend since fresher’s week in my first year, and I’ve loved every minute of it. I feel like I’ve learnt so much, and it’s been great to be able to apply what I have learnt in lectures to real-life examples in the field – which is exactly what fieldwork is about, but normally I wouldn’t get that opportunity.

A virtual grassy hill top
The view from the top of a volcano
A virutal view of a dark mine shaft
Mapping the abandoned Argentiera silver mine.

The app has been pretty fun to navigate. We have an AI demonstrator for the fieldwork in the app called GeeDee (Geology demonstrator), who has quite the attitude. I’ve grown quite fond of her and find myself talking to her when she gets in my way or disappears out of view…this is what happens during lockdown! We can walk around the outcrop as we would in the field and can even drop a field notebook to get a sense of scale, and use a compass-clino for dip and dip direction measurements. There are glowing spots on the outcrop which give us more information, such as the photographs and 3D rock samples. So far, we’ve driven quads around huge quarries (which I tend to crash and get stuck!) and used a jet pack to fly above a volcano to look at its shape, as well as to fly back onto the clifftop when we’ve fallen off! We’ve encountered goats, snakes and sharks too!

I’d like to say a huge thank you to our lecturers for putting this incredible experience together for us all. They’ve really made the best of an unfortunate situation.

To find out more about our undergraduate courses in Earth Science and Engineering, visit the Study website.