Scott Cory, a Teaching Assistant at Wake Forest University (USA), instructing students on how to use a digital lab notebook.

A Digital Teaching Laboratory for Microscopy Focused Education

Dr. Glen Marrs is the microscopy facility director at Wake Forest University (USA). He caught our attention when we learned of his Microscopy Training Center, an extensive teaching laboratory designed to promote microscopy education.

The center currently supports eight courses ranging from Parasitology, Developmental Biology, Developmental Neurobiology, Mycology and – of course – Biological Microscopy.

Dr. Glen Marrs in his microscopy teaching facility, Wake Forest University (USA)

Dr. Glen Marrs in his microscopy teaching facility

We spoke with him about the design and goals of the Microscopy Training Center as well as Dr. Regina Joice Cordy, an Assistant Professor of Biology and one of the many faculty who use the center for her classes.

Dr. Marrs – tell us about the Microscopy Training Center:

In the university setting, the resources for microscopy-based education are often eclipsed by research-centric goals for equipment allocation and core resources. However, university graduates require advanced microscopy training to be competitive, productive and successful in their STEM career paths.

Biology students work in the microscopy lab viewing flagellar parasites in the Parasitology class taught by Dr. Regina Joice Cordy, Wake Forest University, USA.

Students working at the Wake Forest University Microscopy Teaching Center.

Our goals for a microscopy based teaching facility:

  • Utilize active microscopy-based learning as a dynamic lecture/laboratory tool
  • Provide access to modern imaging modalities, including fluorescence
  • Maximize digital image sharing and evaluation capabilities
  • Create a unified teaching setting for an entire group of students

Our set-up:

The Wake Forest Microscopy Training Center is a dedicated room for up to sixteen students to observe images using ZEISS Axiolab compound fluorescence microscopes and ZEISS Stemi 305 stereo microscopes with real-time camera display on iPads, on wall mounted monitors or, (the old-fashioned way) via the microscope eyepieces. Monitors display live camera output that is readily visible to the entire class and iPad captured images can be wirelessly transmitted to any monitor.

Which ZEISS microscopy solutions helped you realize this teaching facility?

We were able to meet these goals economically, in particular, with the acquisition of the cost-effective scientific ZEISS ERc 5s cameras that utilize a variety of sharing mechanisms and can be controlled wirelessly.

Integrated LED-based light sources for the Axiolab compound microscopes were an economical addition to support fluorescence imaging.

And a variety of wireless digital connection modalities are now inexpensive and common; these are harnessed to facilitate teaching via monitor mirroring from user supplied laptop, tablet or phone.

Bee leg

Bee leg

Acquired with ZEISS Stemi 305

Lycopodium strobilus

Lycopodium strobilus

Acquired with ZEISS Axiolab

Pumpkin stem

Pumpkin stem

Acquired with ZEISS Axiolab

Mixed pollen

Mixed pollen

Acquired with ZEISS Axiolab

Tongue specimen

Tongue specimen

Acquired with ZEISS Axiolab

Examples from Dr. Marr’s Biological Microscopy course (click to see the next image).

Dr. Cordy – tell us about your utilization of the Microscopy Training Center:

Dr. Regina Joice Cordy teaching microscopy for parasitology, Wake Forest University (USA)

Dr. Cordy uses a ZEISS Axiolab light microscope.

In Parasitology, the largest teaching challenge I face is that I must provide sufficient time and hands-on assistance to allow the students to each get familiar with multiple types of microscopes so that they are able to locate and identify specific parasite species and stages in the teaching slides that they are given.

This requires us to have multiple types of microscopes for all students to be able to spend a large amount of time on them as well as multiple instructors who can assist during the learning phase. I am able to use the excellent technology and personnel of the Wake Forest Microscopy Teaching Center to accomplish this. 

In my Parasitology course, students start out learning the basics of dissecting and compound light microscopy and are introduced over time to various methods including isolating live nematodes from a petri dish using a dissecting scope, mounting and staining samples, using an oil immersion lens, doing live cell microscopy, performing white balance and taking clear images, and performing post-image processing. With a smaller group of undergraduate students who take research for credit, we are also able to venture into fluorescence microscopy using fixed cells and nuclear dyes.

What features of the lab are the most helpful for your classes?

Dr. Regina Joice Cordy of Wake Forest University (USA) teaching Parasitology in a dedicated microscopy teaching facility.

Dr. Cordy teaching Parasitology.

I really love the fact that the microscope images can be displayed to a large screen so easily and that I can quickly glance around the room and see how the students are progressing with the laboratory exercises. This allows me to offer students instant feedback from across the room, and even quickly show them something on my microscope using my own screen, so that they can see what they should be looking for.

I think the students are most appreciative of the fully digital experience enabled by the Microscopy Teaching Center. So much of their lives, our students have operated with the latest technology in the palm of their hand, and yet our classrooms often struggle to keep pace with technological advances.

I believe that the students find it helpful to be able to digitally photograph what they see, edit images on an iPad, airdrop their photos to their laptop, finalize their assignments using a digital lab notebook, and submit them via a course website. There is no pen and paper and I feel that this fully digital format suits this particular generation quite nicely.

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