Proceedings of The Physiological Society

University College Dublin (2009) Proc Physiol Soc 15, PC70

Poster Communications

The Virtual Microscope in Histology Teaching: Evaluation of Effectiveness and Student Preference.

F. M. MacMillan1, S. D. Barnes1, J. C. Hamilton1, I. S. Steane1, P. D. Langton1

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


At the University of Bristol histology is taught alongside physiology and has traditionally been taught in practical classes using light microscopes (LM) and glass microscope slides of tissue specimens. As part of the ‘The Applied and Integrated Medical Sciences Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning’ (AIMS CETL) we have developed a virtual microscope (VM) to deliver digital scans of our collection of histological specimens via the internet. Users are able to navigate around the virtual slides at a range of magnifications on networked computers using a software application ‘Digital Slidebox’ (Slidepath, Dublin). The VM was introduced for histology teaching within the department from 2006. Our previous study (MacMillan et al. 2008) on first year veterinary science students, with previous experience of the LM and VM, demonstrated that learning outcomes are not hindered by the use of the VM over the LM and may well be enhanced. In the current study we investigated the effectiveness of the LM vs VM in a group of first year BSc student volunteers with limited previous experience of LM and no experience of using the VM. Student volunteers (n=27) were given a prior knowledge test based on identification of structures in two histological images taken from the virtual microscope (spinal cord and lung tissue). The students were then divided into two groups (n =13 and 14), with both groups undertaking self-guided tutorials on the spinal cord and lung however one group used the LM for the spinal cord tutorial and the VM for the lung tutorial and the second group did the reverse. On completion of the tutorials the students re-sat the prior knowledge tests and completed an opinion questionnaire. The students’ test scores improved following the learning sessions and the improvement in scores was greater when the students had used the VM for the tutorial rather than the LM. The scores were tested for statistical significance using a one way analysis of variance and Tukey’s post comparison test. There was a significant improvement in the scores in the group doing the lung tutorial on the LM (p<0.05) and to a greater degree of confidence in the group doing the lung tutorial using the VM (P<0.01). There was also an increase in student scores following the tutorial on the spinal cord, the increase was significant for the group using the VM (P<0.01). The questionnaire results show that the students considered the VM to greatly improve the opportunity for group learning and that it was more useful as a learning tool than the LM. In summary, the improvement in test scores following the tutorials provides evidence that the VM is a more effective learning tool than the LM. Questionnaire data demonstrates that the students find the VM easier and more enjoyable to use than the LM when studying histology.

Where applicable, experiments conform with Society ethical requirements