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March 31, 2021 Wednesday 04:12:52 PM IST

Remote-friendly student project presentations enable creativity and risk-taking

In a two-year study that could help guide educators in developing the post-pandemic new normal, student groups at the University of Michigan assigned to make video presentations showed more creativity and risk-taking than groups making conventional in-person presentations. Higher education, along with society at large, anticipates a shift in the balance between in-person and remote activities even after COVID-19 is controlled, say Wen and colleagues. While many might assume hands-on learning is best done entirely in person, the study presents an alternative perspective.

The team began conducting the research in 2017--well before anyone knew COVID-19 was coming--as an effort to examine how different formats improved engaged learning outcomes. They split the students in a mass and heat transfer chemical engineering class into two cohorts: one doing an in-person presentation to high school students, with a poster and a demonstration; and the other making videos posted online. The 248 students who participated self-reported the degree to which their method enabled creativity, risk-taking, teamwork, self-confidence, communication, and social responsibility.

At first, the students had some doubts about the video format. But the study revealed its potential. For one, it unlocked a larger range of experiments that the student teams could demonstrate--they were no longer limited to something that would run in a few minutes. Experiments that needed hours or days could be shown with time-lapse approaches.

In an in-person presentation, students have to get the demo right the first time. In contrast, a video can be reshot until the experiment works properly, enabling students to dream up more difficult concepts.

In addition, the video format encouraged a larger range of narrative methods. The "talking head" approach may most closely resemble a conventional presentation, but students also performed skits to explain concepts, added background music to the demonstrations, or made the entire presentation into a song. They also used multiple locations, special effects, and animation.