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  • Dr. Erik Yeo

Aurora Lights Up Cloud-Based Learning

Updated: May 3, 2022

Histopathology education is increasingly moving online. Drivers of this change include cost-control imperatives and demand for constant access to interactive modules. But is the online model compatible with courses requiring dynamic, microscopic examinations of biological material? The answer is “yes” – provided we use systems purpose-built for these applications.

For today’s students, 24/7 access to interactive educational resources has become the norm; the efficiency of self-learning modules that provide immediate feedback – and the convenience of on-demand availability – have been impossible to ignore. And although educators accustomed to traditional in-person education may have found the transition difficult, they increasingly accept that it brings advantages not just for the learners, but also for the educators.

Traditional microscopy courses require the purchase of enough instruments to serve a class, a room to house them, and a set of slides for the course in question – not to mention the maintenance costs of each microscope and the material replacement costs (it’s very common for students to break slides!). Online education eliminates these expenses; purchase and maintenance of microscopes is unnecessary, multiple, fragile slide sets are replaced by an unbreakable virtual slide set (that can be changed or annotated as required), and a dedicated microscopy classroom is no longer needed, allowing valuable space to be repurposed. That’s why we are now experiencing a shift to remote, self-directed learning – one that seems to be irreversible.

Is it that easy?

Achieving these efficiencies while delivering top-class digital microscopy-based education calls for a considered approach. What an education module actually needs: an interactive capability to instruct and guide students, automatically correct their answers as necessary, and direct them to supplementary material – all in a self-contained system students can operate without instructor input. Digital pathology solutions designed for the clinic don’t have these attributes – which is why dropping a standard digital pathology system into an educational environment simply doesn’t work.

Generic online educational platforms can’t readily be applied to pathology because they are not designed for microscopy.

Conversely, generic online educational platforms can’t readily be applied to pathology because they are not designed for microscopy. Video-conferencing tools rely on screen-sharing technology that cuts corners in terms of color representation and pixel-level accuracy – fine for sharing PowerPoint decks, but inadequate for dynamic, detailed examinations of whole-slide images (WSIs) and useless for assessing images of thick tissue through multiple focal planes. Standard platforms are further limited by internet connection speed; bandwidth issues that cause image pixelization are unacceptable in pathology education.

The right tool

It’s clear that sophisticated online microscopy education requires a purpose-built system to address the technical challenges of remote slide examination – ideally, a WSI viewer that operates like a virtual microscope. To address this need, Aurora mScope has been working with global, university-based educators in anatomy, histology, and pathology for over a decade. The result? Our purpose-built system, Aurora mScope Education.

We have deliberately kept mScope neutral with regard to scanner format; our open architecture permits users to view slides scanned and annotated even with years-old systems. By the same token, mScope users can be confident that they will still be able to view their images a decade from now. This is one of the key differentiators of our technology; other WSI viewers cannot support all current and legacy scanner formats.

Critically, we designed mScope to permit unlimited WSI annotation. Educators can link any amount of textual information to the image or to specific elements within it. For students, hovering the cursor over a feature on a slide triggers a popup identifying the element and hyperlinking to further reading. The annotation system is highly flexible; teachers can turn popups on or off or link them to questions for students to answer. These features separate self-learning from traditional microscope-based learning and are immensely valuable educational aids.

Note, too, mScope Education’s ability to accommodate unlimited numbers of students – we have had 500 individuals access the same image simultaneously. Each student can log on from a different location using a different type of device. Furthermore, students can rotate slides to find the best orientation and examine multiple slides simultaneously (for example, to compare normal and abnormal pathology) – capabilities lacking in standard microscopy. Thus, the platform is like a multi-headed microscope that facilitates interactive group learning at an unparalleled scale, giving students everything they would get from normal microscopes and more!

Aurora mScope Education Features

  • Specifically designed for microscopy education

  • Cloud-based solution; no downloads required

  • Secure login control for class management and monitoring

  • Accessible to unlimited numbers of students simultaneously in real time

  • Class and conference facility assists with scheduling

  • Permits traditional microscopy manipulations (zoom, scan) as well as rotation, annotation, and simultaneous examination of multiple WSIs

  • Highly flexible annotation facility; fully dynamic and interactive images

  • Compatible with virtually every legacy slide scanner format globally from the last 15 years

  • Flexible service offerings: educational material development (for instance, slide scanning to save clients the expense of scanner purchase for only a small number of slides), hosting services

A view to the future

Online learning is not the answer to every educational need and medical education will always require in-person instruction – but remote education is growing in importance, not least for pathology. Educators wishing to move pathology education online should consider tools designed specifically for microscopy-based courses to ensure that they can deliver exactly what the students – and teachers – need. Not only can tools like Aurora mScope Education offer benefits that standard online teaching platforms cannot; they even prepare students for real-world digital pathology by educating them within a fully digital environment that reflects tools they will find in a hospital setting. Furthermore, it’s not a static resource; users have access to Aurora’s service offerings and to the continual improvements made to the system via Aurora’s global collaborations. But, most importantly, Aurora mScope Education provides more sophisticated instruction than is possible with standard microscopy – at a lower cost.

Read part 2 of this article by clicking here.

About the Author

Dr. Erik Yeo is a Professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and the CEO and CMO of Aurora mScope.

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