Lab skills OERs!

Relaunch of the Virtual Analytical Laboratory (VAL)!


YouTube channel

It has been an interesting experience completely revamping VAL which was first published in 2008 as a project at De Montfort University. Back then, videos were produced in large AND small file formats to accommodate these new fangled mobile devices. Videos and animations were produced in short time-frames again to facilitate downloading and use. How times have changed and how simpler things are now. The entire website has been revamped and set up as a sub-domain on the Biology Courses server.

Consequently the original website of over 100 webpages and 150 resources has now been condensed – slightly – to around 70 webpages and around 75 video and animation resources. Many of these files are also in other formats such as PDF transcripts and include some quiz questions.

Getting back into FLASH!
The relaunch was not without pain as I had to get back into using Adobe Flash again but for the first time on a Mac. It certainly isn’t the smooth operation that it is on a PC but I got there in the end. Another great widget included the Screen Capturer Lite APP for the Mac which very easily let me grab video clips to import into Flash.

Silent movie backdrop
I used the CC backdrop from CopyCatFilms which was just the job. I added some old movie crackles and lines within Flash.

Proud moments!
I look back at the resources – willingly provided by colleagues, the lab technical staff at De Montfort University who were always fantastic, and also students, and I feel really proud. Some parts of these Open Educational Resource (OER) projects were in collaboration with the Leicester Royal Infirmary, who again, were very happy to provide case studies, images, materials, and their amazing team of biomedical scientists where happy to be filmed and recorded.

Looking at the SurveyMonkey feedback from over the years, and Google Analytics to track global users and activity, VAL is certainly well-used. From the ‘trash collector’ in the US who commented “I have always wanted to know how a microscope worked”, to publishers such as the Oxford University Press and associations including the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, many people seem to be linking to VAL as a resource.

The future?
I maintain VAL, Biology Courses and SCOOTER – all the De Montfort University OER projects in my own time. Server space is cheap. WordPress is a great platform for disseminating OER on the web, although all of the sites including VAL have their ‘back ends’ produced in Dreamweaver. Updating them therefore is easy enough. Many people have told me that this isn’t a very sustainable approach, but these OER projects and resources have been ‘sustained’ for longer than others. Far to many great initiatives and project resources have dropped off into the void. I make things as ‘sustainable’ as you feasibly can by also using Jorum, Merlot and OER Commons to share and back up my work in case I get run over by a bus.

I would warmly welcome anyone to use the materials – reuse and adapt them, and if people would like to contribute OERs, I’d gladly assist with that. I’d also recommend the resources are placed on and other national repositories.

Do Tweet me if you have any questions or would like to be involved.


Science teaching resources

The Biology Courses team have just returned from two conferences in London and Cambridge in the UK where they have been talking about their science teaching resources that are being shared around the world. De Montfort University is one of many UK universities opening up the doors to education, hence the term “open educational resources” or OER which refers to resources and materials that are being shared.

science teaching resources

CC BY-SA: Cambridge by Viv Rolfe.

What makes something “open”?

Science teaching resources and learning materials such as lecture notes, PowerPoint slides and video on any subject can be made “open” by applying an open license like Creative Commons. In the past, these materials were copyright © of the university or the individual lecturer, and this mostly meant that sharing them was not permitted. For OER, copyright still stays with the university or individual, but they have signed permission to license the resource for open use. The photograph above for example is “BY-SA”. “BY” means please attribute the author or photographer and “SA” means share alike and gives you permission to adapt and modify the OER if you then share it back with everyone.

Why are we sharing our science teaching resources?

The simple answer to that is why not! The same subjects are taught all over the world so why don’t we all help each other and save time by sharing our teaching materials? This saves me time as a lecturer and also the OER are available to all learners so the ability to learn about new subjects whoever you are, and wherever you are in the world, is suddenly an option.

We have focused on our health and life science teaching resources because we specialise in some areas so can also share our expertise for example in forensic science, midwifery and biomedical science. The resources we share come in a range of useful formats so they can be used as they are on computers or mobile devices, but hopefully, if someone wanted to alter them or update them, they could take the file and amend it themselves.

There are also wider national reasons why sharing science teaching resources is important. The government are keen to support STEM education – that is, science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This includes encouraging pupils in schools to study STEM, to continue to improve university education and also to provide STEM employers with the high-quality graduates they require. By sharing good quality teaching materials, this can give young people a taste of science to hopefully inspire and encourage them; OER can provide existing students with supplementary resources to support their studies; and some specialist OER can also be used for work-based training.

As open education in the UK continues to grow as part of the government-supported OER programme run by the JISC and the HEA, there will be increasing numbers of learning materials to use for free on the internet. Our “Biology Courses” website which was only launched this year will continue to be populated with university taster materials and a range of science teaching resources available for everyone to use.


Speech and Language Therapy Biology Course

It was great to mark the start of the Queen’s Jubilee tour at De Montfort University. As Speech and Language Therapy has been taught in Leicester as part of biology courses for just over 60 years I was keen to be involved in the Speed Lecture series marking the visit. There was more background noise on the day than I had imagined there would be, but I carried on regardless.

I have been at De Montfort University for 6 years as the Head of the Speech and Language Therapy Division and I am keen to raise the profile of our excellent work so this seemed like a good opportunity. Our team runs the Speech and Language undergraduate degree programme, “BSc (Hons) Human Communication – Speech and Language Therapy”. This biology course requires 300 UCAS points for entry and attracts students who are interested in human biology.

It is a four year programme and is fully accredited by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists. During the degree students spend time out in practice to gain experience working with multi-disciplinary professional teams and working with patients. There is a strong scientific component and students learn about anatomy and physiology, and also technology, psychology and linguistics. In years three and four students focus on clinical practice and carry out an original research project into aspects of communication, for example stammering.

Graduates of the Human Communication degree enter healthcare, education and research into speech and language therapy. If you are interested in biology at university and want to find out more about studying Human Communication, you can visit the UCAS website ( This website also lists many other relevant university biology courses.

Professor Jannet Wright