Virtual slides combined with Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) are powerful tools when teaching pathology and related subject areas.
Jack Cleutjens, MD, is a biologist working at the Department of Pathology at Maastricht University. Here he describes how medical students collaborate online using this system.
“The original system involved one student behind one computer,” says Jack. “But now groups of students can work together on the same slide. We use a whiteboard system where group members can access the area, see all changes, and engage in a group discussion online.”
Once their discussion is completed, they input their information into a Wiki, where the tutor can review the content. “For the tutor, this is easier than having a Word file which you need to create, edit and send by email to all the students,” says Jack.
This new system is popular with the students. The obvious advantage is that all students in a given group are analyzing the same slide, rather than spending time adjusting their equipment. As Jack says: “Some students will go on to use a microscope when they become professionals, but most don’t.”
“What’s the most important thing?” he adds. “It’s not adjusting the microscope, but recognising the pathophysiological mechanisms behind it. Why are those cells there? What is changing within the tissue?”
Although the efficacy of this new system has not been empirically tested, the anecdotal evidence and user feedback suggests that the students are happy using the virtual slides. “We’re not completely sure how the system actually improves the student’s learning experience,” says Jack. “But the feedback is positive. They like it, and they go back to it.”