Monday, January 28, 2008

Putting the microscope on Flickr

Last semester I taught an Introductory Microscopy laboratory course. The course was basically divided into 3 parts:

1. Microscope operation
2. Basic histology
3. Specimen preparation

There was no required textbook for the course and a lab manual containing protocols and theory was provided. In past offerings of this course, students had great difficulty with the 3-week long basic histology section because they had very little resources they could study with at home. The laboratory manual was not detailed enough to compete with commercially available textbooks in histology. So students had difficulty studying away from the lab. A histology textbook was not added to the required readings list because it was difficult to justify the additional cost if this textbook was only to serve a 3-week period in the course. (Histology textbooks are expensive!) In the absence of any significant material to study from at home, it proved difficult for students to assimilate the material with the mandatory laboratory time alone. Some were creative and used Google to surf some online histology sites at other institutions.

This year we tried something different. We (*Thanks Nancy!*) photographed all the histology specimens used in the lab and we posted them all to the Flickr photo sharing website. Additionally, we annotated the photos to give students a guide to the hallmark features of the specimens. With this resource available to students anywhere they could find a computer, all of a sudden studying away from the lab became much more effective. The results were such that the grades went up when compared to last year! Students reportedly loved the online Flickr resource. They found it a major advantage to their studying and they placed great value in being able to visualize on the web the exact slide that they used in class.

From an instructor perspective Flickr was a joy to use. No special technical knowledge was required to use it. No significant photo editing, no HTML coding, very easy to annotate photos, organization of photos was simple and the best part was that it was free. Flickr is completely free if you use less than 250 images. So the effort to create this student resource was very manageable.

So clearly this was a win:win for both students and instructors.

Want to see it? It’s publicly available here.

What do you think? Would this work for you? Post your comment below.