So argues Dr Chris Willmott, Senior Lecturer in Biochemistry at the University of Leicester.

In a recent article for Viewfinder, entitled Science on Screen, Dr Willmott discusses his use of clips from films and television programmes in his university bioscience teaching. Dr Willmott considers a number of ways in which clips from science programmes and popular films (even those which get the science woefully wrong) can be used as teaching aids, all of which are designed to promote engagement with the subject, and which can be incorporated into a flipped learning session.

He categorises his use of clips from films and television programmes in the following way, which you can read more about in his article:

  • Clips for illustrating factual points
  • Clips for scene setting
  • Clips for discussion starting

Obviously not all science programmes get things right, but rather than being off-putting, this can be a great starter for a teaching and learning session. In the following example, Dr Willmott explains how he makes use of a clip in which Richard Hammond ‘proves’ that humans can smell fear:

Students are asked to watch the clip and keep an eye out for aspects of the experiment that are good, and those features that are less good. These observations are then collated, before the students are set the task of working with their neighbours to design a better study posing the same question.

If you’re interested in using visual content to aid the teaching of science then there are an increasing number of visual resources available. Dr Willmott mentions the Journal of Visualised Experiments in his article, a journal which is now in it’s tenth year, and which has over 4,000 peer-reviewed video entries. It’s a subscription only journal, and we don’t have a subscription, but if it looks good and you speak nicely to your faculty librarian then who knows what might be possible!

A resource that we do subscribe to is Box of Broadcasts, a repository of over a million films and television programmes. Accessible to academics and students (as long as they are in the UK), BoB programmes are easily searched, clipped, organised in playlists, and linked to from NILE. Plenty of material from all your science favourites such as Brian Cox, Iain Stewart and Jim Al-Khalili and even the odd episode from classic science documentaries like Cosmos and The Ascent of Man.

A free, and very high quality visual resource is the well known Periodic Table of Videos, created by Brady Haran and the chemistry staff at the University of Nottingham. Also of interest to chemists (but not free) are The Elements, The Elements in Action, and the Molecules apps developed by Theodore Grey and Touch Press. Known collectively as the Theodore Grey Collection, these iOS only apps may end up being the best apps on your iPad.

Not visual at all, but still very good, is the In Our Time Science Archive – hundreds of free to download audio podcasts from Melvyn Bragg and a wide range of guests on many, many different scientific subjects from Ada Lovelace to Absolute Zero.

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