Case Studies

Virtual Microscopy

Pathology Professor Uses Virtual Microscopy Adaptive Tutorials to remediate students’ common misconceptions with personalized adaptive feedback.

A/Prof. Gary Velan A/Prof. Gary Velan School of Medical Sciences University of New South Wales

The analysis of students’ interactions has allowed us to identify common misconceptions and to refine our feedback. We are able to teach more students more cost effectively. We have improved the quality of student learning. We have saved time for more research.

Another virtual microscopy VMAT example
VMAT made with Smart Sparrow's Annotate tool

Intro

For seven years, Associate Professor Gary Velan has used Virtual Microscopy Adaptive Tutorials (VMATs) to teach histology and histopathology to medicine and science students at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Australia. Prof. Velan creates VMATs to remediate misconceptions held by students regarding microscopy pathology—a practice that otherwise would not be possible to perform in a large virtual class. Since first implementing VMATs have been received enthusiastically by students, who perceive that they learned more from VMATs than from exploring Virtual Slides independently. A/Prof Velan also has evidence of improved performance in practical examinations following the introduction of VMATs.

Challenge

According to A/Prof Velan, microscopy is a key component of learning in pathology and several other disciplines in medicine. However, many students find interpretation problematic, and large practical class sizes make it nearly impossible for demonstrators to assist all students having difficulties with the content. A/Prof Velan needed a tool to engage students with whole slide images, and to provide remediation on misconceptions.

Solution

A/Prof Velan creates VMATs to remediate misconceptions held by students regarding microscopy pathology—a practice that otherwise would not be possible to perform in large practical classes of more than 140 students. Through the use of VMATs, A/Prof Velan can define regions of health and disease, create questions around these topic areas, and provide dynamic, personalized feedback including, text, images, video and links to further resources.

Virtual microscopy VMAT example
A drag and drop VMAT question

In an extension of this work, having already played a key role in developing the Annotate tool within Smart Sparrow’s Adaptive eLearning Platform, A/Prof Velan developed a series of Virtual Microscopy Adaptive Tutorials (VMATs), using digital images, to enable online practical examinations in Histology, Embryology and Pathology. In November 2014, for the first time, online practical examinations with automated marking were employed in the UNSW Medicine program. These assessments had traditionally involved students viewing digital images and answering questions in an exam booklet.

Results

Since introducing VMATs into the UNSW Medicine program, A/Prof Velan has received enthusiastic responses from his students. In online surveys, more than 90% of students agree that they learn more from VMATs than from exploring Virtual Slides independently. A/Prof Velan also has evidence of improved performance in practical examinations following the introduction of VMATs. Overall, Virtual Microscopy Adaptive Tutorials were shown to improve student performance by 56% on standard exam scores. His medical students have scored significantly better in practical examinations on questions related to the topics of VMATs than on other questions.

Graph Description: 2 consecutive cohorts of students who were asked questions relating to the histopathology of myocardial infarction and asthma in a practical examination. The first cohort did not have access to VMATs, while the second cohort did have access. There were no differences between cohorts for topics not covered by VMATs (data not shown). The analytics provided by the platform enabled areas of difficulty to be documented and addressed. Students were also able to benefit from rich feedback, such as “heat maps” which show where students placed their markers in drag and drop questions, with the correct region highlighted.

Furthermore, by creating online practical examinations with automated marking, 50 hours of marking time was no longer required for each iteration of the Histology, Embryology and Pathology practical examination, which runs three times per year.

Student Quotes

“This would be a brilliant resource to refer to and use to deepen understanding. PLEASE make more of them!!!” – student

“This was great, more of these would make learning histopathology fun and easy!” – student

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