Shareville is an online learning resource developed by the e-learning team at Birmingham City University. In essence, it is a virtual town with a hospital, university, school, law practice and care home. Environments are presented as 3D panoramas that students can explore, accessing material relevant to their area of study.
Much of this comprises of video scenarios: when a character in a location is clicked, the user is presented with a short video showcasing the character’s circumstances, followed with questions about it. Different answers lead to different consequences, again shown as a video. Quite complex scenarios can be simulated and decisions explored.
As well as videos, other resources can be accessed including documents, pictures and websites. For example, a room in the care home may have several characters each with their own situation, a filing cabinet full of relevant documents, a telephone with answer phone messages on it and so forth. It certainly leads to a more immersive and engaging way of learning.
Use at City
The School of Health Sciences at City University London has recently started using the system in their own teaching and, working with the MILL, developed their own scenarios to populate one of the rooms in Shareville’s Children’s Health Centre. These scenarios are aimed at student nurses and showcase a teenage girl with mild autism, a toddler with Downs and a young boy with hyperactivity. The scenarios explore how a nurse should deal with patients and their parents, who often need most of the help and support.
The videos were filmed in the MILL’s TV studio against blue screen – the idea being that the characters can be placed into the computer generated rooms of Shareville. There’s a good reason for this – some of the locations, such as care homes and hospitals, are impossible to film in and so a virtual computer-generated set is the only solution.
They say never work with children or animals but as it turned out, the filming went without issue and all the children, none of whom were professional actors, did an admirable job on the day.
Several issues did arise though. Although the MILL has a brand new blue screen, it was quite difficult to light evenly and we had to combat several dark shadows under tables and chairs. Also, the room had quite an echo that made the sound a little too deep. A way to combat this would have been to use lapel microphones, but these would have to be hidden under clothing with the risk of rubbing. Plus, toddlers and microphones are not the best combination!
It was also a good test for the MILLs new camera, a Panasonic GH2 dSLR. The video recorded was of impressive quality but a big issue did arise. The camera’s video format is 4:2:1, which means the colour information is recorded at a much lower resolution than the brightness information. Although the footage looked fantastic, when the blue background was removed the edges of characters and furniture became quite blocky and not particularly sharp. Getting it to look good took a lot of tweaking with the blue screen filter. One way to avoid this would have been to use an external capture drive, using a recording format with higher colour detail, say 4:2:2. This would have lead to much smoother edges. Still, considering these limitations the final footage looked really good.
At the moment, the video is with Birmingham City University ready to be dropped into the computer-generated environment, but see below for a still before and after blue screen removal.
We hope that in future, more scenarios can be filmed for use in the school and perhaps other schools can find a use for what seems to be an innovative and useful teaching resource.