Testing the use of spatially explicit online platforms for the delivery of computer-based practicals


Staff lead: Max Reuter
Student leads: Lilly Bartsch, Makarim Omar
Genetics, Evolution and Environment
This project explored new ways of using online technology to teach statistics at UCL. Specifically we were aiming to improve the delivery of practical computer session accompanying the undergraduate module Computational Biology (BIOL0029), a statistics course for second and third year Biosciences students. An important part of the module are weekly coding practicals where students apply newly learned coding techniques under the guidance of PGTAs. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, practicals were converted from two-hour in-person sessions in a cluster room to one-hour online tutorials. Student feedback has deemed these tutorials less effective and inclusive; the condensed format prevented students from working at their own pace and the online delivery did not allow for interaction among and between students and PGTAs. Here, we built on recent developments in pedagogy (McClure and Williams 2021) and test a novel approach to delivering online practicals, based on the spatially explicit online platform Gather.town. This platform replicates the interactions of in-person sessions, by letting participants control avatars in a virtual space and allowing voice and video interactions between individuals that are ‘physically’ close on the online map. We recruited paid volunteers who had previously taken the online version of BIOL0029, either this or last year, to run two trial sessions that replicated real-world computer practicals. Analysis of questionnaire responses from the participants indicated that the Gather.town practicals were very well received by students across a range of statistical aptitudes. Participants appreciated the engaging and intuitive interface and the possibility to more easily interact informally and privately with their peers and the PGTAs. As a consequence, Gather.town was much preferred to alternative online platforms, such as Teams or Zoom. Face-to-face teaching was however still the preferred way of delivery. Our trials suggest that spatially explicit online platforms provide a promising solution to delivering effective tutorials where face-to-face teaching is not feasible, e.g. under the constraints of social distancing and/or limited room capacity. The platforms help learning by allowing students to have the more natural interactions among peers and with the teaching staff that are lost in standard online settings. While our test sessions have taught us valuable lessons that we can use to improve the use of Gather.town and similar systems, the lacking implementation of a full range of accessibility features remains a hurdle to implementation in a real-life teaching setting.


The staff-student collaboration was the highlight of this project, and I would recommend the ChangeMakers scheme for this opportunity.

Using students’ expertise in identifying extra educational resources to be incorporated into the teaching material to support student learning of advanced human genetics and statistics

The team
Dr Elvira Mambetisaeva
Student leads: Laura Caton, Aanadita Kothurkar, Keerthana Sunilkumar, Tom Roberts.
Genetics, Evolution and Environment
What happened?
The ChangeMakers project “Using students’ expertise in identifying extra educational resources to be incorporated into the teaching material to support student learning of advanced human genetics and statistics” aims to enhance student learning of these subjects by complementing module teaching material with available on the Web short educational multimedia videos chosen by students. Some students find advanced human genetics and statistics difficult as they require competencies in mathematics and understanding complex concepts in genetics. This project tries to address this issue. Research shows that university students are increasingly using short educational videos available on the Web to meet their own learning needs. They help students quickly to recall prior knowledge or to close the knowledge gap they might have. In this project, the ChangeMakers partners Dr Elvira Mambetisaeva and four students from the MSc Genetics of Human Disease and the BSc Biological Sciences first identified the topics in human genetics and statistics that students find difficult drawing on their experiences of learning these subjects. Then, they gathered the list of links to educational videos and resources for identified topics using their perspectives of understanding how these resources were helpful in developing their own competencies. Finally, they divided the compiled resources into two groups: the first group of resources will supplement the reading list for students so that they can use it prior to starting their study of these subjects. The second group of resources will be incorporated into the module Moodle resources along with lecturers’ material to be used by students during their study. The list of identified educational resources is in the process of evaluation by current MSc Genetics of Human Disease students. In addition, module organisers will go through the list of suggested links before incorporating them into module resources.
What advice or encouragement would you give to someone thinking of doing a ChangeMakers project?
(A) Identify an area where students’ perspectives and experiences can change students learning to be better and (B) identify student partners who are enthusiastic and wants to work in a partnership with you.
A clear understanding of the goal of your project by all partners is very important for the success of the project.