The Medical Educator’s Resource Guide

John R. Cotter, Ph.D.

The websites reviewed by the Medical Educator’s Resource Guide in this issue – one from the Medical University of South Carolina, another from the University of Iowa College of Medicine and a third from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center –are used by the schools for laboratory instruction in histology.

The digital images of all three websites resemble the histological specimens that would be studied with a microscope. The websites differ substantially, however, in the way the content of the materials is presented and displayed to an online audience. The website at the University of Oklahoma is structured as an atlas and uses static labeled digital images. The other two websites utilize virtual microscopy and are structured to resemble a microscope laboratory. As Robert Ogilvie, Professor Emeritus of Cell Biology and Anatomy and Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina, pointed out in his 2006 IAMSE audio seminar, virtual microscopy uses computer software to simulate the process of viewing glass microscope slides with a microscope.* He also stressed that virtual microscopy may or not use virtual slides.

At Dr. Ogilvie’s institution, the images are viewed with WebMic, a virtual microscope that scans and magnifies the snapshots of digitized histological materials. The students are guided in their study of the images by a laboratory manual that explains the relevant aspects of the morphology contained within the images and the steps that are needed to be taken if the images are to be thoroughly examined. In contrast, the website at the University of Iowa utilizes virtual slides. The difference is subtle and, according to Dr. Ogilvie, related to the digitization of the entire specimen contained on a glass microscope slide.

With virtual slides, the users can, if they wish, explore any sector of a slide and the cellular details of a specific area of the slide at higher magnifications. The technological difference is apparent when comparing the magnification features of the two virtual microscopy websites. There is also some perceivable but modest difference in the loading times for the images at higher magnifications when the field of view is moved.

If you know of a website that teachers and students working in the medical sciences would find useful, please consider submitting a review to The Medical Educator’s Resource Guide. You can do so by contacting us by e-mail (

Interactive Histology Atlas. University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center

The Interactive Histology Atlas from the University of Oklahoma’s College of Medicine is a collection of digital images taken of microscope slides selected from the school’s teaching collection. The slides are organized into organ systems and tissue type laboratories, making navigation easy and intuitive.

A total of twenty different laboratories are available for review, each containing digital images from as few as one (blood and hematopoiesis) and as many as nineteen microscope slides. The actual number of images is greater with the major structures contained within the microscope slides being presented separately within the context of the individual slides.

A short explanation that describes the particular function and microanatomy of an organ or tissue introduces some of the topics. The structures contained on the slides are listed and linked to labeled images. The digital images of the light microscopy slides are of high resolution allowing for easy recognition of cellular details illustrated by the images. The images are organized in a way that allows the user to contemplate a structure before an example appears on the computer screen.

Users looking to find a histology site that can be used as a study aid will find this one helpful. (Reviewed by Philip Brondon, M.S., University at Buffalo.)

The Virtual Slidebox. Department of Pathology. The University of Iowa.

The appeal of virtual microscopy is that digital images can be examined in much the same manner as real specimens would be examined with a microscope. Thus, the accessibility of histological slides is extended beyond the laboratory environment.

At the University of Iowa, the concept has been applied to normal histological materials and pathological specimens. The digital slides can be viewed through a range of magnifications thereby allowing the examination of an entire specimen. Additionally, the brightness can be adjusted and a specific area of the slide selected via a ‘toolbox’ located within a separate frame. The histology of some of the specimens is described using a format reminiscent of an atlas or laboratory manual. The labeling of the images is minimal and predominantly associated with the ‘Comparative Search Tool’. Working with the specimens, therefore, requires some histological knowledge and/or accompanying texts. At the University of Iowa, the virtual slides are used as one part of a package of instruction that also includes labeled digital images and microscope slides. **

The ‘Comparative Search Tool’ offers the potential of side-by-side slide analysis. This is helpful when learning to distinguish between tissues of similar morphology, normal and pathological tissues or tissues from different species of animals. Additionally, some of the comparative slides are annotated and allow the user to hide or show labels while viewing a slide.

The loading times for the images can sometimes be delayed, but the time is not excessive given the overall quality of the images. The best quality and color was obtained on a computer monitor with a resolution setting of 1280 x 1024, though a resolution of 1024 x 768 still performed well.

Conceptually, this online resource is well organized and easy to navigate through portals on the main page. The website is a good supplement to texts, classroom instruction and/or microscopy. The comparative capabilities of the website are very helpful. The website is best viewed with a monitor resolution of 1280 x 1024 or higher, though lower resolutions do not negate the overall usefulness of the site as an ancillary learning tool. (Reviewed by René Lisjak, M.A., University at Buffalo

WebMic and Companion Manual of Histology Exercises. Medical University of South Carolina.

The site is a virtual microscope laboratory for histology. It consists of a collection of digital images (WebMic) that is available through the American Association of Medical Schools and MedEdPORTAL*** or by contacting Dr. Robert Ogilvie at Local installation and use of WebMic is possible by contacting Dr. Ogilvie. The supplemental laboratory manual mentioned in the introduction to the Resource Guide that directs the students in their use of WebMic is available for purchase.

WebMic, which covers all aspects of a course in histology, is remarkable for the way the collection of nearly 160 digitized specimens reproduces the viewing of microscope slides with a microscope and facilitates the identification of structures contained within the digital images. In the microscope mode of the application, two images are displayed on the monitor screen. The smaller of the two images provides an overview of a specimen and is used as a reference to focus on areas that are examined at a greater magnification in the second larger image. The field of view of the second image, which mimics the way specimens are seen through a microscope, can be selected from the smaller image or by dragging the larger one. In the full screen mode, the field of view is not limited. It displays the entire specimen. In either mode, users can view the images without labels or with labels applied to select structures and test their ability to identify structures. In some instances, the images are annotated with information about key structures or terms applied to structures in the digital images. These features make the application an extraordinary learning tool.

The combination of virtual microscopy and user interaction at this site is innovative and a valuable addition to what is offered at most on-line histology websites. (Reviewed by John R. Cotter, Ph.D., University at Buffalo.)

*The audio seminar “Implementing Virtual Microscopy in Medical Education” was given by Robert W. Ogilvie, Ph.D., on May 16, 2006 and accessed on November 1, 2007. The talk shall be found on the International Association of Medical Educators website at
** Heidger Jr., P.M., Dee, F, Consoer, D., Leaven, T., Duncan, J., Kreiter, C. Integrated approach to teaching and testing in histology with real and virtual imaging. Anatomical Record (The New Anatomist). 2002; 269 (2):107-112.
***MedEdPORTAL is located at

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