Virtual microscopy or rather high-resolution digital microscopy is an efficient an often successful assistance in teaching microscopy at schools or universities, especially at medical faculties and faculties for natural sciences. Disciplines that profit from this are, among others, anatomy (eAnatomy) with its histology course (eHistology), pathology (ePathology) with practical histopathology courses, hematology (eHematology) with its courses on cytomorphology and biology with courses on general microscopy, e.g., parasitology or cellular biology.
It is important that students can benefit from the advantages of digital or virtual microscopy without any limitations. Especially the spatial and temporal independence that comes with using such a virtual or web-based microscope is appreciated by students. The students are no longer bound to the microscopy lab or course rooms for their studying, so that studying can be made more efficient and attractive.
Offering a digitalized histology course over the internet is a big advancement for education at the university level. The possibility to add annotations to the important areas of the specimen is an enormous didactic improvement that facilitates better orientation of the students within the specimen. These so-called annotations are usually text files that are provided as an overlay on top of the specimen. After clicking on the region, that is either marked by a pin or by a coloured semi transparent area, an annotation can be accessed, showing, for example, the medical finding with written explanation. This new way of labelling specimen opens new possibilities in the modern teaching of microscopy and can be described as a “textbook within the histological picture”.
The combination of fast barrier-free transmission of the images with a self-explaining and didactic as well as optical attractive microscope is a challenge. Especially nowadays it is important that the virtual microscopy systems function on mobile devices. The variety of hardware must be considered when developing internet-based virtual microscopy. Thanks to mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets, the “pocket microscope” is nowadays already possible. These technologies allow internet-based assistance of face to face education in the sense of “blended learning” on the one hand but also e-learning in its pure form on the other hand.
It is important that teachers and lectures take part in the development of the platform for virtual microscopy that is created for the students. The choice for a system for virtual microscopy should be made considering the central aspects of successful teaching and learning.