Virtual Microscopes

Virtual Microscopes

Dr Malcolm Hole and Dr David MuirheadDr Malcolm Hole and Dr David Muirhead, School of Geosciences, tell us about how they use new technology to enhance students’ learning of lab skills out-with the classroom.

Below, hear how Dr Hole and Dr Muirhead respond to some questions about their interesting, innovative teaching practice.

What did you do?

We implemented the use of the UK Virtual Microscope to aid and enhance the teaching of optical mineralogy and petrology at Levels 1 and 2 UG Geology.

Why did you do it?

In part to alleviate the pressure on staff due to large class sizes, but also as a mechanism to enhance learning of laboratory skills out-with the classroom.

How did you develop the idea?

We initially trialled this as a series of online MCQs to go alongside UKVM samples that matched our own collection. Very quickly we realised that students were fully engaged with the VM and so we built its use more explicitly into the course curriculum.

What were the challenges?

Learning how to integrate the software with MyAberdeen and designing something that could complement learning and not cause confusion for the student or indeed staff.

What were the benefits to you?

We had a better control over the students learning and could see them using the enhanced mode. We could use the laboratory time more efficiently for practical samples and allow the UKVM for study and consolidation – we have opened up the use of further materials that would typically have to be left out due to time constraints. Furthermore, the use of the targeted UKVM MCQs allows us to weekly monitor assessment use and therefore improve our retention stats. etc

What was the impact on student learning?

Significant improvement in mineral identification that has been consolidated in their future years. Students are able to more readily utilise microscopes and thin section material but also have engaged more fully with online materials and become proficient at using MyAberdeen more rapidly.

How did your students evaluate the experience?

We used survey data as part of a publication (in review) to evaluate their experience.

What did your students say?

They loved the integration of the VM and traditional microscopes and particularly enjoyed the online tests and how user friendly they were. Many of them felt they were very well prepared for both exams and the transition up into Level 2. Furthermore, it led to a Teaching Excellence Award for a member of staff.

What hints/tips do you have for others in the future?

Most of this work involved us redesigning course materials. Integrating online or technology to courses is great, but they must be done not simply as an adjunct, but to become an integral part of the student learning journey within that particular course. Often we do not like to change our courses, but in reality this kind of change is hugely beneficial and we should be open to such ideas.

Further information

Please email Dr Malcolm Hole or Dr David Muirhead