The OU centre for STEM pedagogy
There is a need to better understand what works best for students who study practical science online in order to improve their overall learning experience. In this project, we explored students’ and teachers' perceptions about how the Virtual Microscope (VM) is used in online and distance teaching and learning settings.
In Study 1, we interviewed 11 and surveyed 139 students from the Open University and the University of Aberdeen who were using the VM in online and blended learning conditions respectively. Students in blended learning conditions were found to be more engaged and satisfied with the use of the VM due to its systematic use in module design, its complementary use with a physical microscope, and the ongoing provision of tutors’ support and guidance. Equally good perceived learning gains were reported by both blended and online only students.
In a follow-up study, we interviewed 12 teachers from the Open University who had previous experience of using the VM in online and distance learning courses and who had varied roles such as authoring VM activities, authoring courses or were members of the course design team (yet not involved in authoring activities). Findings revealed a variation in how the VM is integrated in different Health and Earth science modules. Also, teachers raised the need for better supporting students when interacting with the VM and proposed a set of ways for improving both the pedagogy and the functionality of the VM software.