(March 2017) Birkbeck University boasts 67 digitally connected Zeiss microscopes. With around 240 face-to-face students and a growing number of international distance learning students, the department has taken a pioneering approach to teaching by not only creating a Digital Classroom environment, but also video recording all lectures and live streaming them online. The Digital Classroom investment project was led by Gerald Roberts, Professor of Earthquake Geology and Head of Department. Here he shares his experiences about their new digital approach to teaching and learning.
My feeling was that in order to develop a better learning experience… it is helpful to demonstrate that the department will provide something unique in its teaching of STEM subjects.
I wanted to provide more than just microscopes for our students as I believe they need to be taught using digital instructions from the lecturers, with the ability to capture their own imagery.
Furthermore, the hardware and software we planned alongside the microscopes allowed us to link in an electron microscope, digital hand-specimen visualizers, and digital lecture notes, alongside the images from the ZEISS teaching microscopes. Students can also access live or archived digital video footage of the classes on their computers, tablets and mobile phones.
Dynamic Learning & Teaching
Since the installation of the Digital Classroom, we are seeing a much higher level of interaction between the students and lecturers. The staff value the technology because it makes their lives easier and more interesting with a higher level of intellectual conversation.
It gives them [staff] more confidence as a lecturer, using the most advanced technology possible.
The feedback we are getting from the students themselves is that they absolutely love the Digital Classroom!
One main difference is that students are now making their own archives of the digital images they are seeing during class, which they could not do before. This means that the staff are receiving fewer poorly-informed queries because the students now have access to better quality teaching materials and are working at a higher intellectual level. They are less likely to email us because they didn’t understand a certain topic in a lecture, which reduces our work-load and improves their experience.
We are delighted to confirm that, since the installation of the Digital Classroom, we have seen our departmental National Student Survey ranking increase from fourth in the UK to first in the UK, based on student satisfaction!
A linked incentive from the government is that, if we are awarded the top grade, we can increase our tuition fees in line with inflation. It is also envisaged that top grades will serve as a mark of prestige that should encourage students to apply to top-rated departments.
The Digital Classroom also gives us the ability to attract the best caliber of academic staff, as it always delivers the “wow factor” when any prospective lecturers visit the department.
I would absolutely recommend ZEISS because they offer high quality microscopes, excellent aftercare, and a huge enthusiasm from their team. They took a genuine interest in our project, with the desire to learn from us and offer a bespoke solution.