Open Access Open Badges Research article

Virtual microscopy system at Chinese medical university: an assisted teaching platform for promoting active learning and problem-solving skills

Yanping Tian1, Wengang Xiao2, Chengren Li1, Yunlai Liu1, Maolin Qin1, Yi Wu2, Lan Xiao1* and Hongli Li1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Histology and embryology, Third Military Medical University, 30# Gaotanyan St, Chongqing, Shapingba District 400038, China

2 College of Basic Medical Sciences, Third Military Medical University, Chongqing 400038, China

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BMC Medical Education 2014, 14:74  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-14-74

Published: 9 April 2014



Chinese medical universities typically have a high number of students, a shortage of teachers and limited equipment, and as such histology courses have been taught using traditional lecture-based formats, with textbooks and conventional microscopy. This method, however, has reduced creativity and problem-solving skills training in the curriculum. The virtual microscope (VM) system has been shown to be an effective and efficient educational strategy. The present study aims to describe a VM system for undergraduates and to evaluate the effects of promoting active learning and problem-solving skills.


Two hundred and twenty-nine second-year undergraduate students in the Third Military Medical University were divided into two groups. The VM group contained 115 students and was taught using the VM system. The light microscope (LM) group consisted of 114 students and was taught using the LM system. Post-teaching performances were assessed by multiple-choice questions, short essay questions, case analysis questions and the identification of structure of tissue. Students’ teaching preferences and satisfaction were assessed using questionnaires.


Test scores in the VM group showed a significant improvement compared with those in the LM group (p < 0.05). There were no substantial differences between the two groups in the mean score rate of multiple-choice questions and the short essay category (p > 0.05); however, there were notable differences in the mean score rate of case analysis questions and identification of structure of tissue (p < 0.05). The questionnaire results indicate that the VM system improves students’ productivity and promotes learning efficiency. Furthermore, students reported other positive effects of the VM system in terms of additional learning resources, critical thinking, ease of communication and confidence.


The VM system is an effective tool at Chinese medical university to promote undergraduates’ active learning and problem-solving skills as an assisted teaching platform.

Virtual microscope; Active learning; Problem-solving skills; Assisted platform; Chinese medical university