Lights, cameras and interactive online learning

While 2020 had seen the team in the preparatory lab (Ms Puglia, Ms Nicole Kountouri, Ms Wendy Larrad and Ms Christine Alaan) doing an incredible job at quickly adapting to an online learning model, capturing photos and videos of experiments which students could later view . They were aware the experience was still lacking.

“When we first went online, we had been working with still photos, so the first step taken was recording videos of certain techniques pertinent to the practicals.

“It was a lot better, but the students still weren’t getting the opportunity to interact with us, to look at what was happening on the bench and ask live questions as we worked,” Ms Puglia says.

With no background in video production and having taught herself the basics to establish the video library, she began looking for ways to innovate.

“It started with some of the med students, I just set up a simple tripod and webcam connected to Zoom,” explains Ms Puglia.

“But then they wanted more. They were asking to be able to see the stained slides under the microscope. They wanted to see more and be more involved.”

With no one in the team particularly adept at audio visual and the limitations of lockdown, Ms Puglia turned to a source close to home, her fourteen-year-old son, Antonio.

“He’s really into technology, so he understands the language. I would tell him what I wanted to achieve, and he would just tell me how to achieve it and what I needed to buy,” says Ms Puglia.

“Our control panel for instance, is something gamers use. We’ve programmed in the different camera streams, and it allows us to easily flick between them as we teach.

“Rather than having to return to the computer desktop each time and change programs, we can just hit these shortcuts and go from talking to the camera, to showing an overhead shot from the bench or look at a slide under the microscope. It’s a streamlined experience.”

When the team brought their solutions to University of Melbourne Dr Jessica Welch, Senior Lecturer, she encouraged them to run with it.

“We had actually received a number of funding grants for online learning for various subjects, so we pooled the money to enable Eleanora to purchase the equipment she needed,” explains Dr Welch.

“We had seen what she had achieved in 2020 setting up all the videos, so we trusted her completely to go ahead and purchase what was needed. What she has produced is incredible, she has gone so far above and beyond.”

The system is now so detailed that an instructor can place something under the microscope and ask the students in a Zoom room to circle what they see and annotate it.

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