Advantages of live microscope video for laboratory and teaching applications
Many STEM sub-disciplines, especially those in life and earth sciences, involve spatial thinking and reasoning tasks that require students to combine aspects of mental rotation, disembedding, and penetrative thinking skills (i.e., cross-sectional relationships and identification, volumetric reasoning). Recently, cognitive science researchers recognized the unique importance of these skills for successful science education. Current work demonstrates that visuo-penetrative thinking abilities can be developed and improved through short, repetitive exercises that involve viewing, sketching, and comparison with various perspective images of the relevant objects.
We investigated the utility of live video microscopy techniques as a teaching and learning tool for collegiate students using an inexpensive digital imager to identify microscopic biological specimens. We hypothesized that shared real-time viewing of microscopic bodies, in conjunction with active learning exercises, increases the engagement, learning, and understanding of complex 3D microscopic structures. We conducted qualitative surveys on students in an introductory botany course at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to determine the efficacy of live video imaging. Further, because these methods are extensible to distance or online teaching and learning environments, we also characterized the advantages and disadvantages of microscopic video conferencing.
Preliminary results from qualitative surveys indicate the use of live microscopic video techniques enhances the identification, visualization, and comprehension of intricate microscopic structures. In addition to improving students’ 3D understanding of microscopic biological structures (crucial for developing strong identification skills), video-based microscopy improved students’ spatial thinking skills. These results suggest that video integration in microscopy education can aid the development of both technical and spatial thinking skills, notably improving students’ abilities for critical thinking and problem solving. Quality microscopy techniques are also reinforced using video rather than static photomicrographs. Using live video, students directly engage in microscopy training and share insights with the educator.
We recommend using a video microscope imager to evaluate the efficacy of digital, live imaging in STEM education. Collective active learning will improve traditional teaching methods to develop microscope skills and specimen identification among college students. Moreover, the advent of readily available personal computers and portable devices with video capabilities allows for regular and immediate access to video and animated reference images. Thus, a global network of microscopy scientists in a variety of disciplines can benefit from digitization and collaboration utilizing video imaging.