Proceedings of The Physiological Society

University College Dublin (2009) Proc Physiol Soc 15, PC74

Poster Communications

Using a virtual microscope to link structure to function in undergraduate histology teaching

S. D. Barnes1, P. M. Headley1, J. R. Harris1, J. A. Mitchell1, P. D. Langton1

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


The virtual microscope (VM) is core project within the Applied and Integrated Medical Sciences (AIMS) Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL). In collaboration with Slidepath (Dublin) we have created a digital archive of ~300 histological images by scanning our existing glass-mounted tissue sections. We have previously reported how we have embedded the use of the VM within our laboratory teaching sessions (MacMillan et al., 2008). In 2007-08, the VM was used in histology classes for around 900 undergraduates, consisting of first and second year medical, dental and veterinary students. In Bristol undergraduate histology has historically been coordinated and largely staffed by the department of Physiology and Pharmacology. It is also our policy that where possible, academic staff who give a particular series of lectures also run the associated histology practical(s). The purpose of this is to facilitate the integrated teaching of function and structure. To encourage students to reflect on structure-function relations, we have developed a series of VM-based formative on-line quizzes, using the Digital Slidebox (DSB, Slidepath) software, that test student’s understanding of structure-function relationships as well as recognition of cells and tissues. Quizzes are scheduled at the beginning or the end of laboratory sessions and we are currently evaluating the impact of this difference on measures of student performance. In quizzes, cells or structures are annotated and labelled alphabetically as ‘items’ and quizzes constructed to be similar to extended matching questions, e.g.: 1. Which of the structures indicated can conduct action potentials at high speeds? 2. Which item indicates cells which are a source of platelets? 3. Which item indicates epithelial cells understood to be specialised for antigen uptake? 4. Which item identifies an area of lymphoid tissue undergoing B cell clonal expansion? 5. Which item identifies an area of tissue with an exocrine function? For each question there may be up to 15 options labelled A, B, C etc. Staff regularly analyse cohort results and provide further formative feedback that focuses on features that students have dealt with poorly. In addition, some summative assessments that were previously based on light microscopy are now delivered in a format based on these formative quizzes. We have found the VM to support learning with increasing grades despite more challenging examinations and to be highly popular with students (MacMillan et al., 2008). The 2008 mid-session examination in first year medicine returned an average of 72% with a range from 20% to 100% (n=229). Our findings support the principle of linking the teaching of structure (histology) with function (physiology).

Where applicable, experiments conform with Society ethical requirements