University of São Paulo: Online platforms help students learn about human body tissues

The Institute of Biomedical Sciences (ICB) at USP used two alternatives to keep the teaching of Histology as faithful as possible to laboratory experiments, during the distance learning period in the pandemic: the Microscopia On-line website (MOL) and the Omero Virtual Laminar . Now, with the full return of face-to-face classes at USP, resources are still available for consultation, which helps graduate students to study when they are out of the classroom.

Histology is a subject that consists of the study of the tissues of the human body. It is a compulsory subject applied at the ICB to students in the first years of graduation of practically all courses in the health and biological sciences. His teaching is largely based on observation under microscopes.

Created in 2004, MOL is a free and open access platform, except for commercial use. Developed by the senior professor of the Department of Cell Biology and Development at ICB, Paulo Abrahamsohn, it ranges from general and more basic modules to more specific to each discipline.

“In 2017, we updated the site to its third version. During the pandemic, we continued to increase the collection and we now have almost five hundred pages of content with images captured by microscopes from our department and digitized, which include human tissues, with the exception of eye and ear images, which are being implemented “, informs Abrahamsohn. He adds that “this is important because some students have only a small part of the discipline in their curriculum, while others have it complete, with more specific modules in their area of ​​training. Like dental students, who need to study the details of oral histology.”

Professors Paulo Abrahamsohn and Fábio Siviero, creators of virtual platforms for the teaching of Histology – Photos: Disclosure/ICB
Abrahamsohn defines the site as a “tutorial” for teaching Histology. The definition is based on the type of content, which presents in a didactic way what is being shown in the images. “We try to include in the text all the details of what is being shown so that the student can study on their own. Also, when you hover the mouse over the illustration, it changes color and indicates the structure that should be observed. This helps the student to locate them, something they have difficulty seeing, even during face-to-face classes”, he adds.

The Virtual Laminar is defined by its creator, Professor Fábio Siviero, also from the Department of Cell Biology and Development, as the “Google Earth” of Histology. Like the Google platform, it allows browsing, zooming , annotating, measuring structures present in the slides, among other available resources, in addition to storing a large database.

“We started the Virtual Laminar in 2009 in person, using computerized rooms; in 2015 we started to make an online version available, when we introduced the first blades on a server using the Omero platform”, highlights Siviero. It is a free software for hosting high definition images, which allows the use of images of all types (jpg, .png, .tif, etc.), including clinical images and images of formats used in research (DICOM, zvi etc.). .), such as those used in tomography, magnetic resonance and electron microscopes. This made it possible for us to navigate through them and for the student to be able to use the tool without feeling great differences in relation to the microscope”, highlights Siviero.

With increased demand during the pandemic, the platform underwent a major overhaul. With the remote classes, it was necessary to host more content so that the platform could cover more subjects. “We created a new version, updating the software and introducing a larger slide collection that includes slides of systems histology (area of ​​histology that deals with organs), developmental histology, fertilization, among other topics. Today we have 166 slides available for use anywhere and over 600 slides for internal use on the ICB server. Before that, we had a relatively small online collection. It was just the basic histology main slides.”

breaking barriers

During the pandemic, MOL recorded a significant growth in the number of hits. “We reached an average of 40,000 monthly visitors, a growth of 30%. And because it is an open access tool, we have visitors from different regions of the country, Latin America, other Portuguese-speaking countries and even the United States, Asia and Europe,” says Abrahamsohn.

The Virtual Laminar is a platform for use only by USP students who take subjects related to the teaching of Histology at the ICB. In this way, it is applied to 3,700 students in 14 units, distributed in 44 subjects. But, with the high demand created by remote teaching, it became available to students from other USP units, such as the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Science (FZEA), on the Pirassununga campus, and by the Medicine course at the Faculty of Dentistry of Bauru (FOB), in addition to other public institutions in the country that requested its use, such as the Federal University of Bahia.

positive feedback

“The feedback we had from students is that it is possible to adopt classes in this model with tranquility, remotely, simulating the practical class in person. In addition to recommending that teachers use it in class, we also think it’s important for students to use the Laminar after class. Histology is like teaching a foreign language, it takes practice to recognize new vocabulary. Students receive guided study guides, which are essential for this practice”, says Siviero.

To MOL, the return is also positive. “It is a content that some teaching materials use as a complementary study to the classes. But many students also use it during practical classes, as they say the site helps them keep track. We usually receive many emails with praise and even asking for corrections of small mistakes that we sometimes make. It’s a sign that they read carefully,” adds Abrahamsohn. The positive reviews are boosted by the fact that both platforms are responsive, which ensures that images can be viewed on any mobile device without significant loss of quality.

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