Shared Visions – Yale Students Use iPads to View Live Microscope Images
(Photos by Carl Kaufman / Photo and Design)
A Yale biology student uses an iPad to study a live image from the instructor's microscope.
By Roger Ngim
MMN Managing Editor
On the tables in Maria Moreno’s Yale classroom, amid the notebooks, racks of vials, boxes of gloves, and the laboratory equipment one expects to find in a biology laboratory, iPads glow with images of cells of a worm, fish, or onion. The students are not viewing pictures from an e-book or the web; the images are live, broadcast wirelessly to multiple iPads from a shared digital microscope and projected on a screen at the front of the classroom.
The system, piloted at Yale this fall semester, marks the first time this combination of digital microscopy and mobile technology has been used for teaching purposes in the United States. Moreno (pictured at right), Research Scientist/Lecturer in the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, believes the technology will become indispensable in laboratory teaching.
Room to Expand
Using a free application from microscope manufacturer Leica, students connect their iPads to a computer running Leica DMShare software via a closed network, allowing them to view and capture images from a camera built into the powerful microscope controlled by the instructor. Students can zoom, crop, and annotate the images (using existing iPad applications such as Skitch) before adding them to their papers, laboratory notes, and personal libraries. Though not fully implemented yet at Yale, each enabled microscope has the capability of supporting 16 laptops and mobile devices, according to project facilitator Matthew Regan of the Instructional Technology Group (ITG).
For the instructor, the setup saves valuable class time. Previously, Moreno would have to stop lecturing to take pictures. Additional time was needed to download and share those images.
“This technology allows the instructor to explain to all the students simultaneously what they are actually seeing in real time,” Moreno said. “This was basically impossible using the previous technology where every student would take turns looking under one microscope or every student would be looking individually at different specimens.”
Students in Moreno’s Introduction to Model Systems in Biological Research course recently conducted an experiment on the model organism Tetrahymena thermophila in which together they observed a process called phagocytosis as it unfolded. In such experiments, the iPad app allows students to capture as many images as they wish and contribute to a shared database – though some can become distracted by the fascinating images. “The students sometimes forget to take the picture,” Moreno explained at Lux Talk on mobile technologies on Sept. 28. “So they arranged themselves to take pictures at different intervals to cover the whole time course.”
Marta Martinez Wells, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, agrees that mobile technology can increase collaboration, and is particularly excited by the way students can use these tools to access web resources and share experiences and data. But she offers a reminder that pedagogical need must drive the introduction of a new technology. “One thing that I have learned, you cannot adapt classes to the iPad. You have to adapt the iPad to your classes.”
Wells is currently employing the microscope-iPad setup in her entomology course, in which students spend time studying such things as the characteristics of dragonfly wings and the innards of a giant hissing cockroach. She plans in a future course to have students take their iPads into the field and use them to record and post observations, as well as to facilitate the collection of specimens.
Moreno and Wells both have the goal of paperless classrooms, toward which they believe mobile technologies will play a key role. “I think the iPad in the classroom will become a staple item, especially when laboratory protocols are available in iBook format,” Moreno said. “When this is done, the entire course will be paper free and all the information will be available electronically to the students and teaching assistants. The protocols will be interactive with embedded hyperlinks to relevant materials, references and videos that demonstrate basic principles of biological research.”
Moreno and Wells proposed the digital microscopy project, which was realized collaboratively by Bass Library Access Services, the Center for Science and Social Science Information (CSSSI), and the Instructional Technology Group (ITG). The project received funding support from Dr. Timothy O’Connor, Associate Provost for Science and Technology.
The microscopy project is only the “tip of the iceberg” in the application of mobile technology to laboratory teaching, Moreno said. “At the moment, we are basically using it for data capture and retrieval, but, as you can see, the possibilities are endless.”
Contact Roger Ngim at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The live microscopic image can appear simultaneously projected in the classroom and on multiple iPads.
Published in Monday Morning News, October 1, 2012, Volume 6, No. 37
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