Personnel Image

Written By

Bianca de Loryn


College of Public Health, Medical and Veterinary Sciences

Publish Date

26 January 2024

Related Study Areas

A slice of life

Learning to work with the microscope (also known as histology) is a skill that students within the Bachelor of Biomedical Sciences learn from their first year. JCU Senior Lecturer Dr Alexandra Trollope shares how she and her colleagues are doing the hard work to turn histology into a fun and engaging online experience.

Dr Alexandra Trollope’s mission is to make sure that JCU’s first year Bachelor of Biomedical Sciences students know their way around a microscope. Her students need to understand what they’re seeing underneath the glass slides, and which part of the body a certain tissues sample was taken from.

Learning microscope skills can be challenging, Alexandra says. Cells from the body will look different on a slide depending on how the tissue was cut, for instance, or how cold the original material was when it was prepared for the slide.

“Fixing, processing and staining of the tissue samples can also be done using different techniques, and so the same thing might look a little bit different under the microscope depending on how a sample has been treated,” Alexandra says.

Alexandra wants to make sure that students are equipped with the right skills to understand these variations. “In the beginning, we make sure that the students will see the same tissue with the same staining, and so they can become confident identifying certain tissues that they're seeing consistently,” Alexandra says.

“When they move on to different tissues and different stains, students are going to be able to apply that foundational knowledge more effectively,” Alexandra says.

Alexandra Trollope.
Working with a microscope.
Left: Dr Alexandra Trollope (provided).

Glass slides in the virtual world

To make working with the microscope even more user-friendly, one of Alexandra’s research assistants has taken photos of about 20 glass slides in JCU’s collection, and they are now available on JCU’s own virtual learning environment—Learn JCU—and via the JCU App.

Alexandra says that she, along with Associate Professor Monika Zimanyi, also put a lot of extra work into making the online resources interactive and fun to use, so that students are motivated to use them more than just once.

“We narrated over the top of them, we wrote the texts, and we did some practice questions that we aligned to the learning outcomes,” she says. “It’s to engage the students and to get them to continuously find use with the resource over and over again.

“We also wanted to make consistent, interactive virtual slides that the students could navigate themselves. This was so they could pick and choose what they engaged with,” Alexandra says.

Finding out what students want

Publishing the resources online doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody is going to use them. “We know that 80 per cent of our students did go in and used one of the slides,” Alexandra says. “Our biomed students were spending up to 30 minutes working with a particular slide, and around 90 per cent engaged with a resource more than once, which was positive to see.”

Alexandra says that everybody is a different learner, and that this can also be seen when looking at the statistics. “You do tend to find the really enthusiastic students go through and use every single slide. Other students might look only at one or two slides.”

Alexandra was keen to learn more about how students engaged with the online resources, and asked her students what she and her colleagues could do to improve the database. “They wanted more quizzes and questions,” she says, adding that she and her colleagues are currently updating the resources based on the feedback. “We will put more questions in and make them more diverse as well.”

Alexandra Trollope.
Stomach histology slide.
Left: Dr Alexandra Trollope. Right: A snapshot of what students see on their digital learning platform. (Both provided.)

Working in the biomed lab

Alexandra’s students get to see slides online but also work with them in the lab. “Students prepare their own tissues in the lab and put them on glass slides,” she says. “They get to have that actual experience as well, and they'll learn, for instance, what an air bubble looks like under the microscope.

“They will know they made the air bubble because they didn't put the coverslip on properly, for example. It’s all about building that understanding.”

Finally, engaging with the online learning content has shown to help students when it’s time for the practical exam in the lab. “Students will come in for the exam and have a microscope in front of them that they have to interact with,” Alexandra says.

“In the lab exam, there's a slide under the microscope, and the students need to use the microscope and answer some questions about what they see,” she says. “They need to be able to describe and identify the structure of cells, tissues and organ systems. If they have engaged with the online material before, they will do better in the exam.”

A versatile resource for health-related subjects

For now, this online content is only available for students enrolled in a Bachelor of Biomedical Sciences or the Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery. The virtual slides continue to be updated, expanded, and developed for future learning.

“The hope is that we can use these resources in more and more subjects at JCU, and potentially across more disciplines,” Alexandra says. “This is where we want this resource to be easy to manipulate and change, if we need to, so that we can use it across the board in different disciplines and adapt it for flexible learning along the way.”

Discover JCU Biomedical Sciences

Are you fascinated by the inner workings of the human body? Be at the cutting edge of scientific progress in health and diagnostics by starting a career in biomed.