NUI Galway science students win international documentary award

 Dr John Murray (centre, holding MEDEA Award statuette) and some previous History of Life student film-makers celebrate this year's win at the 2019 MEDEA Awards in Belgium.  Front row L-R: Orla Bath-Enright (2014, holding dinosaur skull), Alida Zauers (2015, holding clapperboard). Middle row L-R: Shane McQuillan (2019), Rebecca O’Connor (2015), Oscar Ryan (2018), Eavan Collins (2014), Weston Harding (2019). Back Row L-R: Bébhinn Anders (2015), James Burns (2019), Seán Wheeler (2014). 
Photo: Aengus McMahon

Dr John Murray (centre, holding MEDEA Award statuette) and some previous History of Life student film-makers celebrate this year's win at the 2019 MEDEA Awards in Belgium. Front row L-R: Orla Bath-Enright (2014, holding dinosaur skull), Alida Zauers (2015, holding clapperboard). Middle row L-R: Shane McQuillan (2019), Rebecca O’Connor (2015), Oscar Ryan (2018), Eavan Collins (2014), Weston Harding (2019). Back Row L-R: Bébhinn Anders (2015), James Burns (2019), Seán Wheeler (2014). Photo: Aengus McMahon

An innovative project at NUI Galway which encourages students to explore the evolution of life on earth through the medium of film has received a significant international teaching award.

The History of Life film project was overall winner in the category for ‘User-Generated Education Media’ at the 2019 MEDEA Awards in Belgium. It also scooped the ‘Audience Favourite’ prize among the shortlisted finalists, which was decided through a live vote taken by the international delegates attending the ceremony.

The MEDEA Awards were established to recognise best practice in the use of media in education and are supported by the Media and Learning Association.

Since 2011, final year undergraduate science students at NUI Galway taking the class module History of Life have worked in small groups to produce short documentary-style films on any aspect of evolution they choose. A diverse range of topics has been investigated in the nine years the project has been running, including the origin of life on earth, the evolution of the first forests and land animals, catastrophic past mass extinction events, and the emergence of early human ancestors. These short films are then uploaded to a specially created YouTube channel where they have reached a wide global audience online.

The project was developed and is run by geologist and palaeontologist Dr John Murray from Earth and Ocean Sciences in NUI Galway, with continuing support from the University’s Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT ).

Life’s origins

Dr Murray says this teaching initiative is "primarily an exercise in science communication".

"It allows students to enhance their learning through visual expression and experimentation. The message all of these student-produced films convey is an extremely important one - it principally concerns the story of where ultimately all life on earth has come from, including humans.”

Dr Murray says the majority of the students have no prior training in film-making, nor do they have any production budgets, but it has not proven to be a limitation.

"The student teams have consistently risen quite admirably to the challenge and the very high levels of enthusiasm, imagination and creativity on display in these films has always been nothing short of inspiring.”

The finals of the 2019 MEDEA Awards took place in June in the historic Town Hall of Leuven, Belgium.

Entries came from all over Europe, as well as Australia, Canada, Iran, Mexico, Morocco, Turkey and the USA.

You Tube

According to the judging panel, the History of Life film project is a "very good attempt to encourage students’ interest and curiosity in science, and also to help in building their research, communication and presentation skills. The project already has quite a good database of videos that can be used for different purposes both from teacher and learners, both for classroom and individual use".

A short film compilation explaining more about the project, which was premiered at the MEDEA Awards event in Leuven and features music by alt-rock Dublin band Empire Circus, is available on the History of Life YouTube channel:
All past student film productions are available on the playlist section of the History of Life YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNgZkv0CmDcdCpAuWvnJArQ/playlists.

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