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UWE puts learning on tap with podcasts

Scientists at the University of the West of England will use podcasts to teach water analysts at Wessex Water up-to-the minute skills in microbiology.

The scientists, Dr Stephen Gomez, Karen Croker and Dr David Lush have won a bid with funding from HERDA (a South West Regional Development Agency) to develop bespoke learning materials which can be viewed as video pod files. The podcasts will offer higher skills training in microbiology for water analysts, based at the Science Centre of Wessex Water.

Water analysts have the job of ensuring the quality of our water and are involved in regularly testing the quality of tap water, river water and water coming out of treatment plants.

The UWE team will work closely with Pentachoron (also included in the bid), a company formed by two students, who have developed an intelligent video pod delivery system, called CORE (Collaborative Online Resource for Education). Pentachoron will customise its software for Wessex Water so that CORE can track employee usage and allow users to customise their own homepage with individualized playlists of videos. CORE is password controlled so only Wessex Water's employees will be able to access the learning material, ensuring the security of any sensitive training information about the company.

Traditional podcasting techniques allow users to download audio or video files to their computer or mobile device. But in an educational context it is important for material to be as up to date as possible. The CORE system allows users to view but not download material and CORE can be viewed on an internet enabled mobile phone so that learning and training material is available on demand and also at the point of demand.

Karen Croker says, “In the field of microbiology, techniques and procedures are constantly evolving. As a university we are well placed to understand these new developments and we are also aware of the needs of employers and of scientists in the workplace. This project is a kind of You-tube for scientists - the podcasts are short in-depth presentations by academics giving the latest information on microbiological topics with demonstrations of new techniques.

“A key feature of this system is its flexibility. The scientists will be able to access the material when they need it, so they won't need to leave the workplace to attend a course, but will be able to learn and practice new skills on the job. This project with Wessex Water offers a real opportunity for UWE to deliver higher skills directly to the workforce and this system could well become a model for other areas.”

Emma Dykes, of Wessex Water says, “This project meets the needs of our employees to have access to further study in microbiology, in a way and at times which suit them. We feel this project will not only broaden and deepen the knowledge of our analysts, but it will also help Wessex Water meet the new benchmark standards set by the Drinking Water Inspectorate which will come into force in January 2008.”

The UWE team have already been recognized for their work in this area. 'Profile' a personal and secure electronic portfolio of students' work – like an electronic CV – won first prize in the 'e-Tool of the Year' competition sponsored by the Higher Education Academy and Toshiba computers in 2006.

Lesley Drake | alfa
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