Proceedings of The Physiological Society

University of Cambridge (2008) Proc Physiol Soc 11, PC50

Poster Communications

Evaluation of the effectiveness of the virtual microscope in teaching histology to veterinary students

F. M. MacMillan1, S. D. Barnes1, S. A. Joyce1, C. D. Nobes1, P. D. Langton1

1. Physiology & Pharmacology, University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom.


At the University of Bristol histology is taught alongside physiology. Histology has traditionally been taught in practical classes using light microscopes (LM) and glass microscope slides of tissue specimens. As part of the ‘The Applied & Integrated Medical Sciences Centre for Excellence in Teaching & Learning (AIMS CETL)’ we have developed a virtual microscope (VM) using digital scans of our collection of histological specimens. Users are able to navigate around the virtual slides at a range of magnifications on networked computers using a software application ‘Digital Slide Box’ (Slidepath,Dublin). The VM was introduced for the teaching of histology to first year veterinary science students in 2006-07 when it was used in 3 histology classes. In 2007-08 the VM was used in all 12 classes. To evaluate the effectiveness of histology teaching to veterinary students using the VM, we are undertaking a number of studies. We report here the findings from two such studies. 1) In April 2007 students undertook a formative histology examination that they knew to be in the same format as the end of unit histology examination. This consisted of three slides, with ten questions per slide. One of the slides was a section of bone that the students had studied using the LM. This same slide and questions were part of a formative ‘midsessional test’ for a new cohort of first year students in December 2007 who had studied the section using the VM. Using cohort analysis, the examination scores achieved following instruction using the LM or VM, were compared. The class score improved significantly from a mean mark of 29% in April 2007 (n=103, SD=18.5%) to 59% in Dec 2007 (n=106, SD=18.9%) (p<0.0001, unpaired t-test). More data from exam questions will be available in June 2008. 2) A study to test the student’s learning experience using the VM vs LM was undertaken in January 2008. A tutorial was delivered to the students on the fundamentals of renal pathology using pathological renal tissue. Following the tutorial students were divided into groups. Two groups investigated the tissue further using either the VM or LM, the third was a control group and used neither. The student’s prior and post tutorial knowledge was tested. Students then had the opportunity of using both the VM and LM and completed a questionnaire of their experience of the LM and VM. The results of the tests showed a significant increase in the scores post tutorial but showed no significant difference between the three groups of students. Results of the student questionnaire showed that the students prefer the VM as a learning tool and do not perceive any difference in image quality between the LM and VM. In summary, first year veterinary science students prefer the VM over the LM to study histology. Preliminary data from formative examinations suggest the VM is a more effective learning tool.

Where applicable, experiments conform with Society ethical requirements